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What campus journalists can do to strengthen their role as community watchdogs

How can campus journalists strengthen their role as community watchdogs? 

At a time when disinformation is rampant on social media platforms, several journalists suggested ways for campus publications to harness their role as truth-tellers during the last day of the Caloocan Young Leaders Initiative's (CYLI) online seminar-workshop on Saturday, March 27.

While campus publications often report stories on campus issues, resource persons at the Kalookan Para sa Kampus Midya" seminar-workshop showed student journalists how they can become megaphones of their respective communities as well.

Collaborate with other campus publications

One way to do this is to work with other campus journalists in the community. Washington Post Manila reporter Regine Cabato highlighted the importance of collaboration among student publications and communities in uniting against attacks on the press – through stories or even joint statements. 

Cabato cited as an example the joint editorial of 5 different campus publications in Metro Manila – Facets, Hi-Lites, University of Santo Tomas Senior High School La Stampa, The Animo, and The Magnificat – to support Rappler CEO Maria Ressa after she was arrested over cyber libel in 2019. She said the collaboration amplified the message.

“It was nice for high school students to reach out to each other…. Joint statements like this always come up with a stronger and more unified stand,” Cabato said.

Be resourceful

Cabato also encouraged student journalists to continue publishing stories that are critical and also accessible to the people.

When limited by their resources or threatened by the school administration or the government, Cabato encouraged student journalists to find more covert ways to write stories that matter. 

Taking off from what campus journalists did during the years before Martial Law, Cabato narrated how her campus publication in Ateneo de Manila University issued a literary folio in the late 1960s that was made up of different pamphlets and sheets of paper placed inside an empty box of Tide detergent.

“I think we can go back to the times like this if we were looking for inspiration on how to make our publications more relevant and more quick-footed to our current context as well,” she said.

Debunk disinformation, be critical

Cabato also underscored that in the post-truth era, campus journalists must always remember that fairness in reporting is not equal to neutrality.

She said campus journalists must avoid neutrality when it means amplifying misleading statements of officials.

Cabato stressed the need to always put context if pronouncements from officials or other groups don’t reflect the real situation on the ground or don’t provide factual information. She said this is necessary to avoid giving wrong information to the community and adding to the confusion.

“We live in a kind of disinformation state online where sometimes certain sides of the story are just lying outright and can be disproved by just a Google search,” Cabato said.

Philstar.com editor Matikas Santos emphasized the importance of verification to combat the continuous spread of misinformation and disinformation online.

“We want to make sure that you ask yourself: 'Would we trust this source of information? Is it 100% true?'” Santos said.

He added that students must also be self-aware. This includes knowing your personal biases to ensure there is no prejudice in the story. Santos pointed out that students must first ensure they get the whole story first before they report on an incident they've spotted online.

By being critical content producers and consumers, campus journalists are spared from becoming peddlers of misinformation and disinformation online.

Since social media platforms are continuously evolving, Rappler Executive Editor Glenda Gloria said the continuous evolution of social media platforms can pose a challenge for campus journalists to be good storytellers. (READ: How to become an effective digital storyteller)

She added that campus journalists should be curious storytellers. They must remember that storytellers should write stories that matter to people instead of focussing on issues that only a few people care about.

“You need to accept that and understand because that impacts the story judgment that you will make as a storyteller. It impacts the kind of stories that come out of your news feed, and therefore shapes the kind of opinion that you have,” Gloria said.

Engage communties

With the rampant disinformation happening online, Santos urged campus journalists to engage with real people instead of online trolls as this may only amplify the latter's misleading arguments. He said that engaging with real individuals who may be misinformed or confused may eventually lead to people losing trust in trolls and believing in the facts presented to them.

“The best thing to do is to engage with the people who became the victim of troll accounts and enlighten them to see what is the bigger picture of the issue,” Santos said.

Cabato also urged campus journalists to engage with their communities and be open to criticism. “I think it’s very important to have a kind of feedback system to make sure that your content in your publication remains relevant to its readers and your direct audience," she said.

The webinar concluded the two-day online discussion organized by CYLI, through its Media and Information Literacy Division and in partnership with MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm. Over 200 students, campus journalists, and young professionals from Caloocan City and other parts of the country participated in the two-day online event.

The online discussions aim to provide participants with the knowledge and essential skills to navigate the new digital information ecosystem. – Rappler.com

Jezreel Ines is a Rappler intern. He is a 3rd year journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.