We are publishing a series from Rappler employees and contributors, old and new, as part of our commemoration of Rappler’s 10th anniversary in January 2022.
MANILA, Philippines – “Hi, I’m just calling to follow up about my last inquiry…”
It feels like it was only yesterday.
There I was, a wide-eyed kid whose ambitions overwhelmed my limitations.
It was early 2014. I was 21 years old, only a boy, close to exactly a year after graduating college. When I look back at it now as a 29-year-old man who only recently got married to my wonderful wife, I really can’t help but wonder, “How did time go by in a blink of an eye?”
I wasn’t delusional. I knew my writing abilities weren’t top-tier. I did not have the experience many of my peers in the industry possessed on their resumes. Heck, I didn’t even take up journalism as a major in university. Sure, I wrote for The Lasallian, DLSU’s official student publication, but was inactive, spent more time at the bars along Taft rather than the press room, and majored in Psychology.
But to hell with all of that. Why? Because as my future editor Ryan Songalia would eventually tell me: “You can teach talent, but you can’t teach desire.”
I had desire. Plenty of it. The desire to be great. The desire to be known. The desire to reach grander heights.
But most of all, the desire to turn my passion into my every day profession.
Thank God I still have it.
But back to the story:
I found Mr. Songalia’s work email address on his Twitter bio. A tip for recent graduates wanting a specific job: find the exact person – within safe boundaries, of course – who can award it to you. Reach out to them directly. Shoot your damn shot.
Even if you have to shoot multiple times. Mamba Mentality.
I sent Ryan multiple inquiries. I tried to sound formal. I tried to seem smart.
But ultimately, I figured humility would be the best course of action. So, my pitch was simple: Give me an opportunity to show how badly I want this and you will never regret it.
I wanted to be a sportswriter. That’s why I spent the first 10 months of my professional career working with a media company where I was a junior content writer, mostly penning about NBA – my favorite sports league – but also writing press releases.
This job required someone to be on a desk, staring at a computer screen 10 hours a day for most of the year.
I appreciated the experience, but I had goals of being on the field, going to live games at arenas, interviewing athletes, breaking news, and most importantly, writing stories that would matter to someone. The way the stories I grew up reading mattered to me.
I wanted to leave that feeling of, “Wow,” each time after someone read the last word of every article with my byline on it.
Like I said, I had ambitions.
I also noticed where the world was headed. The social media revolution was about to manifest. It seems crazy now given the number of people who create content using their iPhone, but not even a decade ago, the mere thought of using your Apple device to take photos at an official event was scoffed at.
Nowadays, the iPhone takes better photo quality than some DSLRs. Funny how that works, huh?
Rappler, as an organization, was a visionary. It still is.
I did my research, trying to discover more about this new, supposedly groundbreaking platform whose reputation grew by the months.
People had their criticism about it. Some even had jokes.
But while many laughed, I focused on the expressiveness of its writers, most of them young fresh graduates like myself, who had ideas of how the world should be shaped moving forward, and were motivated to voice them out in 21st century fashion.
I watched video reports by reporters using their cellular phones – to both shoot and edit. Imagine that. More than anything, I respected the guts it required to use such a method in crowded places for coverage.
I realized most of the employees were women. Heck, the founding team was comprised of headstrong, inspiring, and courageous women. I was comfortable with that having grown up with three girls at home and felt that women were easier to work with than men. This sentiment remains true to this day.
Ryan, though, wasn’t just another guy. He turned into my big brother. Of course, it wasn’t instantly that way. As he likes to say until this day, “This kid Naveen stalked me until I gave him a job!”
I “LOL” each time I hear and think of that. Because it’s true.
I emailed Ryan at first. When that didn’t work, I tweeted him. I sought his Facebook. Eventually, I called Rappler’s newsroom and requested to speak with him.
I was told he was out on the field, when as it turns out – and he admitted this to me later on – he was actually there, probably wearing a sports coat and sporting a cigar, unsure yet of what to make with this random kid asking for a job. I can’t blame him.
My initial reaction would have also been, “Huh? Who is this guy?”
The funny thing is, I didn’t need the job. Well, you always need a job, of course, but I already had one and after I left, I could have joined my family’s printing business.
Some context here is important: I am a full-blooded Indian who was born and raised in the Philippines. It’s the same case for my parents. We are Sindhis, which is a type of Indian race.
When you grow up a Sindhi in Manila, there are expectations from your family and the Indian community for you to join your family business after graduating from college (typically with a Business degree) to take over the family legacy, yada-yada, that kind of stuff.
I wasn’t oblivious that would also be my ultimate destiny, being the first-born child and only son. Although I figured if that’s what I’m fated for, why not look around first, get some other type of experience, right? Thankfully, my parents – bless their souls – not only encouraged me to do the latter, but actually required it of me (with smiles, of course).
But there was something else.
If I could just work on my own, make my own living, that would mean something, right?
To whom, you might ask?
Well, to me.
“Hi, I’m just calling to follow up about my last inquiry…
… I reached out to Ryan in case there’s an opening in the sports department.”
Finally, Mr. Songalia gave in. He emailed me back, asking me to pitch a story.
My first ever story for Rappler was about NCAA March Madness. That’s college basketball in the United States. I watched the games, but never followed it religiously. Still, it was the next major American sporting event to take place in March 2014, and I wanted a chance to prove myself. So, I pitched it to Ryan, who’s Filipino-American, and grew up in New York City.
“Okay,” he said.
I researched for days. It took me a whole week to write the article. I found most of the information I needed from online sources. The total word-count surpassed 4,000 words, teasing a challenge I would have to overcome in the years to follow. Eventually, it was published.
I remember feeling fulfilled, staring at the computer screen, in shock my name was noted as the author. Later on, Maria Ressa would tweet a link to the article. At that point, I have to be honest, I wasn’t well-aware of who she was, outside of being the company’s CEO. Nor did I have a clue of what kind of impact she would eventually make in the world.
Looking back at it now, wow, I guess I’m finally having that delayed “OMG” feeling.
Ryan was impressed and let me pitch a second piece. “Okay,” I thought, “I’m beginning to get my mojo.”
I decided to do a profile on graduating La Salle volleyball legend Aby Maraño. I was a fan of Lee Jenkins’ player profiles on Sports Illustrated, so I figured, why not do something similar? Not long after, I was on the phone with every contact I made from my college days at La Salle, finding a way to secure an interview with the UAAP superstar.
I’ll never forget it. I was at the airport, waiting for my flight to Thailand. It was Holy Week ’14, and our family was gearing up for an adventure. I received a message from Ryan about the Maraño piece I submitted: “This is the best thing I’ve read since I’ve arrived here. Good work.”
Every time I see Aby, I thank her until this day for granting me that interview.
Because at that moment, I knew I had a new home.
Over the next few years, I would enter the interesting world of Philippine media.
I got to attend press conferences both in the country and out, interview the world’s larger-than-life sports athletes, be part of the most historic sporting events this country has ever seen, and, to sum it all up, earn the experience of multiple lifetimes.
At Rappler, I’ve always felt like my creativity was given a platform to flourish. I owe that mostly to having open-minded editors, but also because of the news publication’s large-scale view of what freedom of the press was supposed to be about. My thoughts were valued. A ceiling was never established on my capabilities. I was encouraged to push past boundaries.
Be unique. Stand out. Put your personality into it.
No, you are never too young to write opinion features about what matters most in your heart.
Go out of your comfort zone.
These are thoughts I value until this very day.
When Ryan once told me, “You’re writing scared, write with some balls!” it was exactly what I needed to hear for two reasons:
First, it was the type of lingo I preferred in order to veer away from complacency; and second, to always be fearless in explaining what I truly felt was right in my gut, while maintaining a respectable measure of objectivity.
That’s the thing with Rappler. No, it is not a biased organization. It just doesn’t shy away from leaning towards what feels like the right thing, which sometimes, isn’t what’s most popular.
Ultimately, I feel that’s what journalism is.
Even after departing Rappler as a full-time reporter, I have stayed as a contributor. I was fortunate to eventually have a new sports editor in Jasmine Payo. When she took over, she made it clear that her young batch of writers and contributors had the liberty to pitch out-of-the-box ideas. Rarely does she tinker with our pieces, but always guides the team.
When I started at Rappler I figured I’d only be a writer. We’re now in 2022 and in addition to different type of writing mediums published, I’ve also recorded podcasts, web shows, sit-down interviews, vlogs, and varying types of media. In 2015, I went to Los Angeles to interview the late, great Kobe Bryant in his final NBA season. In 2019, my first book, Nowhere to Go But UP: How a Basketball Team Inspired a Nation, was published.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think those were realistic goals for me to reach, until I found an environment where talents were honed to its fullest.
Moreover, I’ve contributed to other sections such as Lifestyle, Entertainment, and Technology, where editor Gelo Gonzales has been grateful enough to let me establish a presence in the video game media industry.
That feeling of seeing your work published after working tirelessly on it? It’s priceless.
Someone telling you that your work made an impact in their lives? Even better.
At this point, I believe I’ve been part of Rappler’s sports team the longest, both as a reporter and contributor. It’s been almost eight years.
Growing up means coming to better terms with the fact that our time on this planet is truly limited.
Every second counts.
But for Rappler and the legacy it is building?
That will be immortal. – Rappler.com
Naveen Ganglani is a published writer, podcast host, and Crypto (NFT) investor. He joined Rappler in 2014 and remains one of its contributors. You can reach him via email (email@example.com), Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.