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Rappler’s founders, or the manangs, had a whistle-stop visit to San Francisco last week to receive the Chang-Lin Tien Distinguished Leadership Award from The Asia Foundation. The non-profit organization’s annual leadership awards “honor proven and emerging leaders who demonstrate creativity, courage, and possibility in an increasingly complex world.”
They’re big words that I hope we and Rappler will live by. It’s also a big leap to travel together and leave the newsroom even for just a few days. We are, after all, still living with a shutdown threat following the Securities and Exchange Commission’s reaffirmation of the closure order it issued against us in 2018. While we’ve appealed this in the Court of Appeals, in this world and at this time, there’s no telling what could happen next.
But the short trip was also a chance to reconnect with what remains good about America: the vibrant ideas from young professionals who are shaping the 22nd century; the enlightened self-interest of those who are on top of the totem pole but are finding ways to pay back by supporting democratic frontliners; and the diversity that persists, especially in California, despite the noise and fury of supremacists.
Three takeaways stood out from our dialogues and conversations with various groups in San Francisco:
- That journalism – and journalists – can’t survive this current onslaught without communities that act and technology leaders who are enlightened (or at least strive to be);
- That while an independent newsroom can make for good business (as Rappler has proven), the tech-enabled crisis we’re in cries for citizen and institutional support for journalism;
- That journalism is activism at a time of disinformation and dwindling democratic space, to borrow the words of Rappler co-founder Beth Frondoso during a chat with John S. Knight fellows at Stanford. Doing journalism in our part of the world requires courage and taking risks that can endanger lives and livelihood, she noted.
In Stanford at a closed-door with key people from the academe, platforms, civil society, media, and business, we lamented the reality that out there are “financially motivated actors” thriving from disinformation; that content moderation as we know it does not work – especially given the hard (but apparently little known) reality that content moderators, trained for factory work, lack the skills or context to do their jobs well; and that algorithmic transparency and effective regulation seem far away.
One of the highlights of the visit was the conversations we had with young leaders whom The Asia Foundation is helping train under their Leadership and Exchange Program. They come from democracies under siege – India, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, among others. They’re caught in the complexities of today’s problems but are also poised to lead their communities in navigating them.
The heightened polarization of societies and the siphoning of business from journalism to tech platforms has made the groundwork for democracy – building communities, speaking truth to power – tougher and costly.
So to have organizations and institutions willing to support them is a ray of light in what Maria Ressa describes as our “last two minutes of democracy.” At the awards ceremony in San Francisco on October 19, we were pleased to meet philanthropists, business people, donors, activists, and non-profit groups going out of their way to prolong democracy’s last gasp. May their tribe increase!
For indeed, what would journalism and civic engagement be without funding for the massive work and challenges ahead of them? In our case, what would Rappler be without you, Rappler + members, and our communities who read, watch, help, donate, connect, provide feedback and expertise?
We want to see a future where digital democratic spaces are governed by communities of action and fueled by journalism. A pipe dream? Not when one puts his/her money where his/her mouth is. – Rappler.com