Tenth Anniversary Message From The OFW Journalism Consortium
23 Feb 2012
Tenth Anniversary Message
Care and feeding of migration journalism, a decade hence
Adopted from an essay written by Pulitzer Prize winner and juror Jacqui Banaszynski
IN a serene compound a decade ago, a writing plot was conceived. That humid January afternoon inside a Jesuit-run university, three men dipped into their warm coffee cups to hatch their hot idea.
The idea was received warmly, and other veteran and young journalists, some nonprofit advocates, and German, Dutch and Filipino donors joined in the fray. The piloting of that idea called "migration journalism," then loosely called by one of the brains behind the idea, has now become staple fare into Filipino journalism.
The migration journalism idea of the Overseas Filipino Workers Journalism Consortium -yes, that "backyard news service" that's less institutionalized and underfunded than other nonprofit and commercial news media groups- is now a decade old.
The Consortium was formed in a developing country where overseas mobility has cared for, and fed, a middle-income economy and her local communities, economic sectors, and families. This social phenomenon called overseas migration has become the Philippines's brand in the globalized world.
And this ten-year-old global nonprofit media service has, in its volunteering best -and with all the limited financial resources it has- fed Philippine news media outfits and overseas Filipinos hooked electronically with stories that try to show Filipino journalists can probably write better. That outcome was the conspiracy hatched ten years ago against Philippine journalism, to quote a Consortium pioneer.
It hasn't been easy, though, to care and feed migration journalism.
The volunteer reporters and editors of the OFW Journalism Consortium operate in an environment in which journalism in the Philippines remains young in history and, many times, market driven in approach. A Filipino reader can easily see the difference between a Filipino's news or feature story with counterpart stories from journalists in developed countries.
Given our exposure to the conduct of Filipino-style journalism, offering stories that are packaged differently has been the constant struggle of the Consortium's volunteers. Stories compiled as newspackets (the Consortium's primary news product) are hard to come by, for editorial and non-editorial reasons. Volunteerism even constrains, or has constrained, the care and feeding of this nonprofit news media service's operations.
Can't overseas Filipinos, those moneyed individuals exposed to cosmopolitan living, help finance the editorial operations of the Consortium? Nicely-edited stories are the soft sell to them, especially since these stories are offered for free since the beginning. We probably have ourselves to blame: spoiling audiences with free lunch all the time.
What about the companies that have raked a lot of money from the "Pinoy abroad" phenomenon? Editorial independence, amid the showcase of fairness and balance plus writing wit, ain't a worthy business proposition to them.
How to care and feed migration journalism and sustain such an endeavor? Here's our "operations manual" or sorts:
1. Remaining loyal to readers. Readers' loyalty yields independent mindedness for a grace, enabling journalists to think of story angles mainstream news media outfits might have missed out. The downside of readers' loyalty is financial sustainability, but being cash-strapped has its editorial rewards (see next item).
2. Receiving appreciation from readers and news media outfits using our stories. That's the best return on investment the OFW Journalism Consortium has been getting all these years. People's appreciation is what voluntarism does to the volunteer, hoping that the returns can be more -and financially tangible- in the future (actually, there have been some "small" financial returns -and patience is a virtue).
3. Boozing with reporters and friends as one's investment. In the last four years, Thursdays beside beer, pulutan and friends talking about the conduct of journalism are anticipated "classes." These dates can, in some way, sustain people's involvement into migration journalism. These also keep journalists in their toes on how to improve their craft and their news reporting (see next item). More importantly, Thursdays are when the "most underused skill" in journalism -thinking (to quote American narrative journalist Anne Hull of the Washington Post)- is being harnessed.
Though, somebody should always bankroll these Thursday sessions, this being a form of "investment" into pursuing good journalism.
4. Learning to be scolded by editors. The biggest secret weapons of the OFW Journalism Consortium are its editors, those who provide the unconditional love to reporters. Thursdays help nurture editor-writer relationships that can go beyond journalism and that can extend to envisioning innovation in Filipino journalistic practice and writing.
5. Self-learning by reporters. This has been tough for Filipino reporters, especially those accustomed to deadline reporting and approaches that tell, not show, facts and contexts.
6. Trying hard to be storytellers. Storytelling is journalism that is different from usual news and feature writing. Over the years, the Consortium's stories aren't exactly the best forms of Filipino narrative journalism (unlike those of Filipino-born Pulitzer Prize winners Tomas Alex Tizon and "illegal" immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas). Narrative journalism is "difficult, lonely journalism," says Katherine Boo of The New Yorker magazine, that audiences on Facebook and Twitter may not welcome. But if this means seeing one's story become timeless yet engaging the reading public, perhaps the pains of doing narrative journalism can be continually tolerated.
7. Volunteering. This is what makes the OFW Journalism Consortium unique compared to other nonprofit news media outfits. Voluntarism and editorial independence actually make a good combination, especially to pursue an editorial conspiracy like the OFW Journalism Consortium.
This newspacket to welcome the tenth anniversary of the OFW Journalism Consortium is, quite frankly, seven months late from the group's "most recent" edition. Of course, being seven months late is not the way to care and feed migration journalism and its readers. It has been hard to care and feed migration journalism, to produce stories that Filipinos abroad deserve to continually receive freely.
Yet it is also heartwarming to note that news media outfits and some overseas Filipino readers still search for the Consortium's stories. A decade after the writing plot called the OFW Journalism Consortium was conceived, and which is now being cared for and fed painstakingly, appreciation and gratefulness go to those who have found value into our work.
These voices of gratitude, as well as the stories we have written and we will try to continue writing, still matter.