Rappler 10th anniversary

Rappler at 10: How can you not grow in this newsroom?

Jodesz Gavilan

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Rappler at 10: How can you not grow in this newsroom?
I was really not the best journalism student. I was probably not the person on top of my batch mates’ minds when they thought of someone who would be serious in this field. But Rappler took a chance on this intern.

We are publishing a series from Rappler employees, old and new, as part of our commemoration of Rappler’s 10th anniversary in January 2022.

It was the summer of 2013 when I first found myself in the midst of Rappler employees. I was a wide-eyed 19-year-old journalism student who applied for an internship at no other place but this young up-and-coming media organization whose roster was smaller than my college batch. 

I didn’t know if I’d get a slot, nor what I’d do if I ended up rejected since it was a requirement for my junior year. Fortunately, on the first day of April in 2013, I received an email that started my Rappler journey. 

On my first day as an intern, I was sweating, my heart rate off the charts, having underestimated the distance between the nearest MRT station and the old office along Julia Vargas Avenue. Little did I know that it was a sneak peak of what life would be not just for that summer, but the majority of my 20s. 

I am now 28 years old, and a senior researcher of the investigative unit. By April 2022, I shall have spent eight years with Rappler, or nine if you count the months I spent as an intern and the year I was a contributor of campus stories. 

I’ve always had imposter syndrome, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I would be able to do the kind of stories and other journalism-related projects in the past eight years if I worked in another place. 

You see, I was really not the best journalism student. I was probably not the person on top of my batch mates’ minds when they thought of someone who would be serious in this field. If you went back in time and told my 18-year-old self where she would be a decade later, she’d probably throw up out of anxiety. 

FIRST ELECTION COVERAGE. The author during her first election coverage as a Rappler intern in 2013.

But one constant thing about Rappler, the founders, and the editors, is that they really get to you, see through your insecurities and doubts, and tap that fire inside you that you may be hiding or do not even realize you have in the first place. 

I remember the first time I was sent out to the field by then-news editor Miriam Grace Go (Miss Gigi), now the head of investigations. It was the election campaign in 2013, and I was trailing a senatorial candidate who was supposed to meet the leader of a religious group in an establishment. All along I was wondering why I was sent out alone, when my batch mates often tagged with reporters or went out in tandems. I never really knew the answer, but I knew I had to do my best. 

I thought then: if Miss Gigi trusted me enough to do this, then maybe I could offer something after all. I learned a lot that hot day on the field in Makati, including how to be both charming and persistent as the front desk officers tried to shoo me away because there was supposedly no meeting there that day. (Surprise, surprise: there was a meeting and, thankfully, I was there.)  

That has basically been my guiding light all these years. I have to do my best with whatever task I take on because it is a reflection of my desire and potential. Whether in stories I pitched or delegated to me by my editors, in the big investigative series or the daily coverage or writing assignments, in my podcast series or the first time we live-streamed it – every single assignment is a chance to do my best. 

Why wouldn’t I? In Rappler, editors do not just assign an issue for you to closely follow just because you are the only available person. They often take into consideration a lot of things, including the researcher or reporter’s interests and potential in this field. In many cases, it’s us, the reportorial staff, who suggest what we want to do. 

Nurturing environment

Of course, one can only do so much if not given the space to flourish. There’s never a shortage of room for growth in Rappler. The editors and supervisors nurtured an environment where they not only give you space and opportunities to grow, but also let you explore the ways you can grow until you find the sweet spot.

I have always been faithful to the written word. I never saw myself as a multimedia person, nor someone comfortable enough to even record my voice. My first editor, now managing editor Chay Hofileña, could only shake her head as I explained my way out of a live video. But, eventually, I opened myself to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there is life outside the word processor. 

It was not hard to find the opportunities to explore when I got the courage to do so. When I became interested in podcasts, Ma’am Chay and Rappler multimedia strategy head Lilibeth Frondoso gave me the resources and space to experiment with this medium, on top of my daily assignments. 

Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories, the product of them taking a chance on my idea, just recently aired its 200th episode and will mark its third anniversary in March 2022. It also now has its weekly live-streamed version, where I sit down with reporters for an in-depth discussion on current affairs. This would not have been possible without the bosses’ encouragement and support.

I guess what I’ve done is a realization of what the Rappler founders, whom we call Manangs, often tell us in the newsroom: if you want to do something beyond your comfort zone, you have to try it once. And try it again until you feel comfortable enough to learn more. You do not give up just because you feel afraid, or that you messed up the first time. See your mistakes as your guide to improve whatever you wanted to do in the first place.  

PRE-PANDEMIC. The author during one recording session for ‘Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories.’

In 2015, multi-awarded journalist and Rappler’s editor at large Marites Vitug started a podcast series, where she interviewed key officials in the campaigns of presidential candidates for the 2016 elections.

I was assigned to help her record the episodes, which often saw me trying to find a quiet spot where we could conduct the interviews. We found ourselves interviewing the biggest names in the campaign in the most random places – in empty classrooms, huge function halls, to even a small hotel room in Makati City – with me holding a recorder that probably cost more than a year of my college tuition. 

Beyond learning how to properly record a podcast, the great thing about being assigned to that particular project was seeing firsthand how Ma’am Marites, a journalist I deeply admire, in her element. You get to see how she formulates her questions and how she deals with difficult interviewees who try to dodge her line of questioning. But, most importantly, she was (and still is) very generous in dealing with young journalists.

In a more traditional setting, there would be a wall between veteran journalists and those starting out. In Rappler, it is so easy to shoot a message to just about anyone and ask for advice, or even help to find sources.

How can you not grow in this kind of environment? 

Rappler never backing down

But perhaps the biggest evidence of how nurturing the Rappler newsroom is can be seen in my human rights reporting under Newsbreak, Rappler’s investigative section. I’ve written about the Davao Death Squad investigations, the drug war killings, the attacks against activists, and the widespread impunity under President Rodrigo Duterte. My friends would often joke that I might as well just call the President a murderer at some point.

There was never a time when I was told to stop pursuing a certain story or angle because it’s not part of the brand, that the risks are high, or we’re afraid of the repercussions. My bosses knew the consequences of the drug war stories I and my colleagues worked on, yet they would embrace our ideas, help us shape our approach, and give us all the support we needed to pursue what we wanted to uncover. 

For example, Newsbreak recently published an investigative series on the latest affidavit of self-confessed Davao Death Squad member Arturo Lascañas. His latest revelations, which he submitted to the International Criminal Court, further backed up the reality of state-sponsored killings under Duterte. (READ: THE LASCAÑAS AFFIVIDAVIT | ‘ I killed for Duterte’)

The stories and videos were products of months-long collaboration among editors and the reporting staff. Every voice in the team mattered. I and my colleagues Pia Ranada, Lian Buan, and Rambo Talabong were given the opportunity to pitch stories based on what we’ve read in the affidavit, while editors fine-tuned our research plans and guided us through the process. 

In the end, we were able to release at least 12 stories on Lascañas’ ICC affidavit, not to mention the videos and Tiktok executions. It was grueling because of the extent of the work we had to do, and traumatic because of the subject matter. But it was an important project, something that needed to be done amid the impunity in the Philippines, and Rappler gave us everything we needed to focus on this.

And the Manangs and editors – especially Rappler CEO Maria Ressa – nurtured this even if, at the end of the day, they will bear the brunt of the government’s backlash against our reporting. I never heard anyone tell us to stop what we’re doing. No pressure from the business side of things, nor from the people whose names are on charge sheets or complaints from the government and its allies. I have not faced a libel case (hopefully never will) nor have been kicked out of agencies or spokespersons’ media group chats, but I remain a pessimist. I even once told a very cheerful Maria, in a packed elevator before the 2019 elections, that I was “enjoying the last days of democracy.” (She answered with a high-pitched “Ay!”)

HOLD THE LINE. Rapplers in a rally for press freedom in 2018. Rappler file photo

I sometimes feel so guilty that Maria with the other founders – executive editor Glenda Gloria, managing editor Chay, multimedia strategy head Beth – and the rest of the editors have to go through the merciless trolling and harassment, on top of dealing with legal cases and the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, while I spend my days figuring out the next story to write, or the best person to talk to for a new investigative series. 

But I realized that this is precisely the environment that they want to have in Rappler. While there’s a “Damocles sword” not just over Rappler’s head but that of the Philippine free press, they strive to give us young journalists the space to grow, to find for ourselves the best ways to contribute to a strong democracy in the country, all while being there to guide us. And at the risk of exposing my bosses’ ages, they know after all what it was once like when democracy was taken away. 

For all the guidance and support, I am grateful. 

Nineteen-year-old Jodesz is grateful for being chosen as a Rappler intern; 20-year-old Jodesz is grateful that a clueless fresh graduate was given a chance to do full-time work and handle one of Rappler’s flagship projects; 23-year-old Jodesz is grateful for the trust and support as we tried to make sense of the first year of the Duterte administration. 

Now, at 28, I remain grateful for being able to grow while in and with Rappler, for finding my purpose, guided by what the newsroom stands for, together with the most fearless and courageous people I know. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.