Having been born in a country whose history is tainted with media killings and intimidation, people often ask me why I would want to become a journalist in the Philippines.
It’s pretty simple actually.
Though it’s true that journalists are some of the most underpaid, persecuted, underestimated, and taken for granted workers in the world, they’re also among those whose existence is genuinely needed in any society.
As a reporter, I can tell people what is happening around them and give them access to information that they need to make informed decisions, information they wouldn’t normally have access to.
In other words, public service.
I mean, at the end of the day, wouldn’t you want to be able to tell yourself that you did something for other people?
Now, how did I become a journalist?
It started in fifth grade when my English teacher asked me to come in for some sort of test. I didn’t know what it was for but I went anyway. When I got there, I was told to write an essay or a poem. After a few days, I became a staffer of the elementary school paper.
The next year, I became associate editor of the elementary school paper, entered competitions for student journalists, and became editor-in-chief of the elementary yearbook.
After that, I was hooked.
And I think that’s one of the most important things that should happen to a person, to find early on in life something that he or she would enjoy doing for a very long time.
For me, it was writing.
Now I asked myself, what should I do since I already found that something? I took steps that would enhance my skill in that craft.
So when I was in my senior year and was already the paper’s editor-in-chief, I didn’t have any problems filling out college applications because I knew what I wanted: I wanted to write, but I wanted to write things that mattered.
So I chose journalism.
And since I wanted the best journalism education the Philippines could offer, I applied to the University of the Philippines, the institution which opened my mind to what was actually happening in the world.
But getting into my university of choice was not the last hurdle. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep on doing something I did not love or like so I had to think hard if I would actually go through with my journalism studies. So I joined the college publication and took an internship at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which proved to be what I needed.
When I graduated, I decided to work for a television network that I had faith in, which is GMA Network. That’s when I realized that you’ll only really learn about your chosen profession when you’re already there living it.
So I always tell younger journalism students: if you’re going into journalism thinking you’ll get rich, you’ll be disappointed.
The pay, most especially in newspapers – at least those with smaller circulations, is small, sometimes barely above minimum wage.
I won’t be sugar-coating it: the job requires long hours and mental and physical strength despite the small pay.
That’s because journalism is a profession you get into for the love of it.
But what the work lacks in compensation, it certainly makes up in fulfillment.
I mean aside from the assurance that you matter in the world for helping the public, you’ll honestly be able to tell yourself that you tried to make a difference in society.
To quote something I read, “you may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.”
Also in this profession, you’ll get meet a lot of people, some of whom would actually change the course of history.
Imagine being able to shake hands with the President, talk casually with senators, cover the first automated national elections, attend the historic wake and funeral of a beloved Philippine leader, or be in the presence of the UN Sec-Gen and the US Secretary of State.
It’s like having a backstage pass to history. What would be more fun than that?
So when somebody arrogantly asks me, what do you do?
I tell them: I deliver information people need to know, I also tell stories close to people’s hearts, I unearth things which can topple corrupt and abusive governments, and I write articles which instigate change in society.
Then I ask that person: What about you, what do you do?