The line between journalism and advocacy

Voltaire Tupaz
Until now, I strongly feel that taking a middle ground is siding with the stronger force. So when social justice is at stake, my tendency is to run to the defense of the oppressed. It's like choosing between black and white; there is no in-between.

STORYTELLING WITH A CAUSE. Rapplers huddle together days before Move.PH's "Social Media for Social Change" Chat Series in Bicol on July 6.

MANILA, Philippines — I lacked the skills of a journalist when I joined Move.PH. 

When I interviewed Manny Pacquiao during last year’s State of the Nation Address, one of my first assignments, I mistook the Flip camcorder for an audio recorder. I got some soundbites and a lot of video footage of the Pacman’s shoes. 

Move.PH — then a social media space where veteran journalists, digital natives and other experts engaged netizens to start creating ripples of change through storytelling — has evolved into the citizen journalism arm of Rappler.

We are now using a new set of gadgets to gather and report stories. But I am still familiarizing myself with these tools, like downloading apps to my iPhone, our main reportorial weapon. Holding placards and distributing policy briefs as an activist before seemed a lot easier.

In the words of my former colleagues in the NGO world, I am a “techno-peasant.” But no offense meant to the peasants. After all, this new arena of struggle I have embraced, seeks to harness the potential of social media to spark conversations that challenge power, and to tell stories that convey the feelings and aspirations of people, particularly those who clamor for change.

Should I be objective?

The more difficult part of practicing journalism was not enhancing my capacity to tell stories, but keeping my proclivity to revolt in check. 

I am calm but far from being objective or neutral. I don’t believe in neutrality.

Everyone grows up to imbibe a particular value system — evil or good, just or unjust, shallow or deep, and everything else in between. Humanity does not freeze when one starts writing stories. It is enhanced or destroyed by the storyteller. 

My politicization and education taught me to make a stand on social issues. Until now, I strongly feel that taking a middle ground is siding with the stronger force. So when social justice is at stake, my tendency is to run to the defense of the oppressed. It’s like choosing between black and white; there is no in-between.

I have issues with power. I never had a boss. As activists, we did not call our executive directors and secretary generals bosses. It is considered feudal to call them one. We despised vestiges of feudalism. 

I feel lucky women lead and dominate our newsroom. I think that is one reason why mentoring at Rappler is nurturing. They feed us when we are hungry, shelter us when we are homeless, and drive us home in the wee hours of the morning. They even take us to movies, or to the beach when we are heartbroken.

The women in the team are also cameramen. 

But what is most encouraging is that we are given the latitude of freedom and the depth of training we need to tell stories. We are held accountable from lapses in grammar to lapses in judgment. 

In the newsroom, lines are drawn. We follow the rules not only because they are imposed but more importantly because it is an extension of our youthful idealism and an expression of a shared value system built on a tradition of credibility.

MULTIMEDIA JOURNALISTS. Rappler reporters are writers, editors and cameramen.

Can I be an advocate?

On one hand, working at Rappler was an opportunity to work with some of the most trusted veteran journalists in town. On the other hand, it was alienating. When the social news network was starting, I was one of the few in the team who was neither a Kapamilya nor a Kapuso. But eventually, it felt like home.

As a development worker, I have learned to value and respect the integral role of journalists in nation-building. They do not only amplify slogans and policy recommendations. They are expected to fairly and truthfully dissect them and influence decision-making. 

Transitioning to the path of journalism that Rappler is building was not difficult because of the hearts and minds approach it employed in storytelling. I could identify with it because it is akin to the task of advocates to capture the plight and sentiments, the perspectives and hopes of the people they serve.

We connect with netizens as we engage them on the ground with the view of telling stories that ignite meaningful dialogues and inspire proactive responses. In that sense, journalists do not only chronicle change but also help create it.

How do I promote change?

It is a new learning experience for me to directly work with professional journalists, and it is happening at a time when everyone can gather, analyze and report news via various social networking platforms. 

The digital age is ushering in a contemporary brand of journalism — more collaborative and more participative. Storytelling is becoming a convergence point of journalists and citizens as both increasingly use viral tools of communication. 

The social media sphere can be overwhelming and chaotic though. It spreads information and inspiration as fast as it does deception and indifference. Using it responsibly and meaningfully is a challenge to all of its users. 

Initiating offline and online conversations that encourage, nurture, and move communities to act is one way to set the tone of social media discussions — of what trends, what is retweeted and what is posted across networking sites. 

CONVERSATION AND ACTION. The Move.PH team discusses with student journalists about "The Cordillera Challenge: Building Forests," a biking adventure with a cause which Rappler covered in May 2012..

In September 2011, Move.PH began a conversation in Baguio City dubbed “Social Media for Social Change,” which took off from an environmental cause that sought to protect a river and a forest. 

It evolved into a chat series, moving on to Davao City in November 2011 to tackle disaster reduction and management. Back in Manila in January 2012, we gathered young people to discuss the power of social media to create social impact. We hope to move Bicol come July 6 as the region deals with a worrisome energy problem. 

In the long run, Move.PH will roll out an online platform that empowers various communities, groups, and individuals to articulate their issues and form their recommendations, enhancing their efficacy to influence policy-making and pursue social transformation. 

I enter our newsroom, step out to cover stories or log in to our online platforms and I feel the urgency and importance of effecting social change. It doesn’t feel like work. It is the continuation of my advocacy and conviction. – Rappler.com

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