The choices before you

Cheche Lazaro
Hold on to your passion...Let us not lose sight of the fact that new media is only a tool. It is not an end.

Cheche Lazaro

This was the commencement address of Rappler editor-at-large Cheche Lazaro during the Ateneo de Naga University’s  graduation ceremonies on March 24

It is more than a pleasure to be with you here today. It is a distinct honor that I never imagined would ever come to pass. The letter of Fr Jun Viray (Ateneo de Naga president) came as a complete surprise.

You bestow on me this afternoon, an honor that is reserved for those who have achieved more than what is expected. I firmly believe that what I have done in life as a media practitioner is that I did what I enjoyed the most. 

Usually, you don’t deserve an honoris causa for doing what is fun! Besides, I thought a Ph.D to be beyond reach. My mother, sister and brother are titled PhD’s and I always felt left out of the count. But today gives me bragging rights and I thank you for the distinct honor.  

I did what I believed in, what I was passionate about, and perhaps, what others would have considered foolish because I was like that stubborn little train in the children’s book The Little Train That Could who kept telling himself, “I think I can” when the going got rough.

Like Kermit my favorite frog says, “it’s not always easy being green.” Neither is it easy to be passionate, to remain steadfast and unswayed by the crowd all the time.

But to digress a bit, allow me to share with you a few stories about the quarter century career path I chose. We started our independent company at the end of martial law, when investigative reporting was not popular nor looked upon with favor.

Quite understandably, this genre of programs was not in the agenda of stations because there had been a 20 year history of media censorship and control. There were many stories about abuse, corruption, moral decay, and fundamental change that had happened in those 20 years that needed to be told.

We had difficulties getting airtime. We were called ” boring, not yet quite our time, unmarketable, and not the most pleasant kind of show to view.” By the looks of it, we were not meant to last very long.  

Amidst all the “big trains” of the major stations rushing around us, we chugged along. We set up our first office in our house. My 8-year-old son’s bedroom became our editing room.

In one honest-to-goodness conversation with my husband, I asked him if we could afford to pull our savings together for this ” dream” and he did. We bought our first set of equipment, we had a hard-working team of 4, did our story on the Marcos gold, spending days and longer nights at Intramuros going underground, in search of our story — without knowing for sure if we were ever going to see it air on TV.

That uncertainty went on for months until we covered the Doña Paz tragedy close to Christmas in 1987 when over 4,000 people died at sea. It was a time when the news covered stories from the point of view of what happened.  

We wanted to tell the story about how and why things happen.

Looking back, we were dogged in our determination and realized that passion propels. It can be done.

That small team of 4 people continue to forge ahead today. Maria Ressa went on to be CNN correspondent of the region and has now started a new media company called Rappler. Luchi Cruz-Valdes heads News and Public Affairs of TV-5, and Angie Cruz is now with the TV news service Reuters in Europe.

But forging ahead coupled with the unwavering, uncompromising and steadfast support of my secret weapon—my husband of 43 years, provided the anchor upon which I leaned on from day one, and throughout the 25 years we ourselves never imagined we were going to be on the air. 

So far, by our count, The Probe Team has been the longest running investigative newsmagazine on record on Philippine TV.


I recently bought a game board called “Life.” As I was putting it together and reading the game rules, I thought about your graduation day from College and the relevance of a board game to you as graduates of the Ateneo de Naga University.

What is the connection between a deck of cards, plastic car tokens, the roll of the dice and you? Can your life—marked by this day when it opens up to a bright future equate to a game?

I would like to take the time to draw your attention to the word, “choices.” At every point in our life, we are given the chance to make a choice. But not everyone is given a choice. 

In fact, it is reserved for the few blessed with an education. And those blessed with a good education have better choices. Every choice we make in turn, is determined by events, experiences, value systems and traditions that have shaped who we are up to this point.

In the game board of Life, players are given options, choices to make at every stop that the roll of the dice gives each player. Each player has a car as his token and moves along the path of life as he is asked to make choices. Every choice has a consequence.

In fact, one of the options after elementary and high school is to go on to College or take on a job that pays you well. When you make the choice to go to school, you incur debts — much the same way your parents saved, borrowed and invested in your Ateneo education.

Once you finish school, there are debts to pay and you start afresh in a new chapter in your young lives.

Graduation marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. It gives us the opportunity to take stock of how far we have traveled in life. We can go back and review what we learned from the course we chose, identify what opportunities we missed out on, and be happy about the confidence you now have to move forward. It is a crossroad.

In the real game of life, and you are now faced with yet another set of choices to make. What job to take. A job with the highest pay offer, or a job you want regardless of pay. 

The ideal of course is to take on a job you want and get paid for it. Like they say, if you enjoy what you are doing, you will never have to work a day in your life.

But just as it is in real life, there are trade-offs in everything we do. Chances are, the job you enjoy will not pay very much. The job that pays you the highest, will only be good for its pay.

Every step of the game offers a challenge and it is up to us to respond to that challenge. It gets more complicated. The more the choices, the greater the need to be sure about what we believe in, to be passionate about those beliefs and to hold fast to those beliefs.

Social media

In a very short span of recent history, media has changed so dramatically from where we were just a few years ago that if you were sleeping all this time, you would not recognize what has happened in the meantime.

More than ever before, today’s media is about choices. And the smorgasbord is full!

It comes by a new name — social media — considered by those who study it as the biggest shift since the industrial revolution.

Is it a fad as some say it is?

For us who were raised in traditional media — or sometimes called old media now — it is a challenge to reinvent ourselves, to adopt, to transform. We are told that we are now moving from the age of authority to the age of authenticity.

What does the new media picture look like?

Just the other day, I was sitting in a subway in Singapore and in came a young girl, hair all dyed blond. She walked in — earplugs in place, her MP3 connected to her iPhone hanging by her neck, and furiously texting with both fingers, unmindful of the moving train, and then walking right out the subway car 3 stops later without looking up a single second to see where she was.

I thought to myself, is she the “new” media archetype? Wired and connected? Or trivialized and shut out?

Consider the world you are in:

  • 50% of the world’s population is under 30 years old
  • 96% of generation “Y” (those born in the ‘80’s) have joined some network
  • Social media has overtaken pornography as the no. 1 activity on the web
  • Facebook (FB) tops Google for weekly traffic in the US
  • Facebook added over 20 milion users in less than a year
  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world, behind China and India.
  • There are 60 million status updates on Facebook everyday.

We no longer search for news, it finds us. We no longer search for products and services, they will find us through social media.

  • One out of 8 couples who married in the US met via social media.
  • It takes years to reach 50 million users, but social media has done it in less time than traditional media has been able to reach.
    • Radio-takes 38 years/ TV-13 years/Internet-4/ Ipod-3 years
    • Twitter has 85 million users
    • Ashton Kucher and Britney Spears have more followers than Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway and Panama have citizens
  • Wikipedia has 2.8b pages of info on average. If there is an error, the crowd will correct it.

The mantra is, “publish now, and correct later.”

The way we communicate has changed the way we perceive events and has given us a direct voice in participating in those events.

As you sit there wondering what I am talking about, you can like, tweet a pic, blog, friend or unfriend anyone at will, comment, mount an information campaign, start your own webpage, sell products, inform your 20,000 followers about the food you ate today, find a long-lost HS classmate on FB, upload and instantaneously share it with the rest of the world — numberless, faceless millions — all “potential” friends.

Crowd sourcing is a new “buzzword.” It means making a lot of people take a small action — something they cannot achieve on their own but together produce a ripple effect, often resulting in waves — maybe even causing a tsunami.

There are examples from recent experiences in the use of social media.

President Obama of the US acknowledges that he won the US presidential elections largely from his use of social media with people using it to make small contributions to his campaign. Many international events specially in heavily media-controlled countries, were impacted by social media as the alternative channel of getting the news out quickly and unfiltered but not without risk.

When the Iranian government closed down all their TV cameras, the revolution there was started via Twitter. Like us in 1986, it was people power that went around by word of mouth, today just 26 years later, by world of mouth on digital steroids!

What does this mean?

New media has taken the discipline of professional journalism and combined it with the speed and emotion of bloggers. What was difficult to access before is now easily available. 

The “old” tools we used, teletype, heavy cameras, bulky tape recorders — are now reduced to palm-sized, telephone cameras whose video images can be instantly uploaded on the net in real time, for the audiences you want to reach.

The traditional gatekeepers have lost their function. We don’t have editors checking facts, double-checking the correct spelling of a name or a place. We publish now and correct later.

Instant gratification is the name of the game. We live in a NOW generation where information must be instant or be lost. Bloggers are faster than news that has to be distilled through filters and editors. 

We don’t go to the news, the news “comes” to us. With over 300M bloggers worldwide, 34% of who post opinions about products and brands, word of mouth has become “world of mouth.”

New media has also opened up limitless possibilities for the entrepreneur in you. Owning your dream store is now your e-palengke right in the privacy of your home with the possibility of expanding it into a mega- store by sourcing your goods at your fingertips that travel the world.

They call it the phenomenon of the “long tail” where there is no longer pressure to have high sales per square foot of store space because you sell to the Internet and you do not have to have physical inventory at the point of sales.

Studies show that 78% of consumers trust peer recommendation as opposed to only 14% who trust ads. We build on information by gathering what is called the “wisdom of the crowds.”

Despite the wisdom of the crowds however, not all are fully participative. It is estimated that at least 80% of social media are bystanders.

But the explosion of access, the number of unlimited choices has a cost. Fr Adolfo Nicolas, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus last year expressed the fear that what is happening is the “globalization of superficiality.” And, as others have articulated, the “loss or privacy.”

In Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs Study,” he identified the greatest need of man after survival and security, as the need to feel accepted. In many quarters, myself included, there is thought about losing your privacy, losing depth and trivializing everything by chronicling on Twitter or Facebook, your every whim, thought, observation, real or imagined and opening up your every move to anyone who has access to your account.

At the same time, the need for “Acceptance” is a strong motivating factor that propels us to behave in certain ways to achieve acceptance. It is at this fork in our game of life, when we are faced with the “choices” we have to make.

Acceptance for what reason and at what cost? Does it come close to who we are, our passions and our beliefs?

As we look back at this chapter in our life and look ahead to the gates just opening before us, a few reminders about our stake in this game of life.

More than any other time in your life, you have choices before you. The media milieu you now live in has never been as wide open nor given us all an opportunity to make a difference.

Seize that opportunity to make a difference. Make your choice in favor of the less fortunate, the ones with less choices in life. The ones you see on your way in and out of this University on a daily basis.

Hold on to your passion. Hold fast to the principles you believe in. Let us not lose sight of the fact that new media is only a tool. It is not an end. 

Don’t be impressed by the new toy. It is still you who determines what is right. It is you who determines the rules of the game.

Use it for good. Go beyond your own self-interests and expand your horizons to live your Jesuit education. Be a man for others. And if I may make an unabashed plug — put your good fortune to use for the benefit of the Filipino. For this country.

If there is a single lesson that my own life has taught me, it is pride in being Filipino. I have had occasion to see it proven time and again, that while there is much to improve there is also so much more to be proud of.

To all of you, congratulations.

May the winds be always at your back and may your choices be always as clear as your consciences! –

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