Rappler 10th anniversary

Rappler at 10: An ongoing beta

Marga Deona

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Rappler at 10: An ongoing beta
A decade ago, I was asked if I could beta-test a website called Rappler. I ended up doing more than that.

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

MANILA, Philippines – Sometime in late 2011, I got a message from a good friend from my college days, asking if I could beta-test a website he started working for. 

The website, he said, will be called Rappler, and will be an online-only news and tech platform. I gladly obliged – I loved tinkering with systems, after all. It was the halcyon days of social media, and I had started exploring a career in digital marketing then.

I was very matter-of-fact with the feedback I gave – too much white space, dead links, and… mood meter? “Disgusted is an emotion, isn’t it?” But overall, I found the orange lent a fresh, zesty look – a far cry from the RGBs of leading news outlets.

It was young, it was hip, it was vibrant. Something that would capture the attention of 26-year-old me.

And that’s what I consider my first job with Rappler – its beta-tester.

BETA-TESTER: The author was among the first few to beta-test Rappler before its launch in January 2012
Questions, questions

Rappler launched not long after and became fodder for Twitter conversations – what’s Rappler and who are the people behind it? – after its dogged coverage of the impeachment trial of then-chief justice Renato Corona. 

Another friend, who was at that time a spokesperson for a government agency, casually mentioned in one of our conversations that he was interviewed by someone from Rappler, and that he was impressed with the iPhone-and-tripod setup. With no crew tagging along, the one-person multimedia reporting setup set the stage for a nimble and agile workflow.

I eventually met Maria Ressa at an event. We were following each other on Twitter prior to that, and I remember asking her many questions about her presentation titled “Between Good and Evil.” It led to a long exchange that spilled over into a back and forth via text messaging. Little did Maria know that I engaged her because I was having a moral dilemma myself – without going into details, I was at a point where I wasn’t so sure what was right or wrong, because at that point I was starting to believe that seizing opportunities meant having to compromise, and at times, having to bargain with one’s conscience.

A few months later, Maria asked me if I would be interested in joining her team. I thought, sure, why not.

WIDE-EYED WONDER. The author with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa during a visit to Rappler’s Indonesia bureau in 2015.

Maria and I met over lunch. She spoke with much fervor about how social media could be a force for good, and how her vision for her fledgling startup started from there. She talked about how pivotal social media was in turning the tides in the Arab Spring and told stories of individuals taking collective action for the greater good. 

Here was a 50-year-old woman, speaking with wide-eyed wonder, about how technology will change the world for the better. She’s such a Pollyanna, I thought. How can a veteran journalist be less cynical than I am? How can she choose to see the good in people, despite having seen the worst of humanity in her decades-long career?

“I want you to join Rappler because you are searching for meaning,” she said. I didn’t respond, but more than meaning, I was looking for mentorship. I’ve been marching to the beat of my own drum for about seven years, jumping from one opportunity to another.

I took time to think about Maria’s offer. She said that since Rappler was still so new – amorphous was the exact word she used – there were many ways for me to grow within the organization. 

I accepted her offer two weeks later.

A different lens

From the get-go I knew that I wasn’t joining a conventional news outfit. The way I understood Maria’s vision of Rappler was that of a tech startup building several products, with news as its first – and flagship – product. I still think of Rappler that way, 10 years hence.

Throughout my stay in the organization, I’ve moved across three different departments – from marketing to lifestyle writing to video production – to figure out where I would fit. 

AMONG PEERS. With former desk editor KD Suarez (left) and Acor Arceo, Rappler’s head of copy and editorial standards (right)

There were many times when I would feel out of place among my colleagues who lived and breathed the news. I’ve been with Rappler for almost 10 years, yet I’m still reluctant to call myself a journalist. The political news cycle gives me a headache. (So much more now, quite frankly.) My Twitter contains more K-pop fangirling and photos of my cats rather than the news. My bylines are few and far between. 

But the things I’ve built and am most proud of aren’t written on the site.

My superior Beth Frondoso trusted my vision. Together with our production team, we’ve pivoted the evening newscasts from 20-minute-long shows into compact, consumable 5-minuters. We’ve built and rebuilt systems and workflows, optimizing every step of the way for efficiency and agility. We put our audience first. We kept in mind people who aren’t as news-savvy, but need – and want – to be informed. 

For the first time in my years working, I’ve found purpose in what I do.

Rappler gave me the privilege to embark on an unconventional career path. Rather than specialize in a singular herculean mission, I’ve become versatile, multi-skilled – a Swiss army knife rather than a hammer. I had to figure out my own job description, challenge existing conventions, learn how to do things on my own, but also how to manage a team well. 

SOLO FLIGHT. Covering the Subic leg of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games

The manangs – Maria, Beth, Glenda, and Chay – may not be aware of this, and I don’t say it often, but every day, I thank the universe for letting them take a chance on me. I enjoyed great autonomy while benefiting from their guidance. I was given a seat at the table where my feedback and insights mattered, and I don’t think I would’ve had that privilege elsewhere. 

It’s been 10 years, and in some ways, I’m still doing what I first did for Rappler, which is to treat it like an ongoing beta. After all, a good product requires a constant cycle of building and rebuilding – sometimes requiring one to pause and take a step back, but all in pursuit of progress and, I guess, the greater good. – Rappler.com

Marga leads product management for Rappler multimedia, and works at the intersection of video, technology, and revenue. She is also on a mission to make your timelines a wee bit better. Send her dog and cat videos at marga.deona@rappler.com and tweet her what makes your hearts sing at @margavsmachine

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Marga Deona

Marga leads digital and product management for Rappler’s multimedia expansion. Sometimes, she writes about the intersection of technology, culture, and business, as well as the occasional sports and music features.