[OPINION] The Aries Rufo Fellowship made me feel like a real journalist

Mari-An C. Santos

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[OPINION]  The Aries Rufo Fellowship made me feel like a real journalist

Photos from Mari-An Santos

It has been a prized opportunity to become a better journalist as the platform allows me to draw attention to important people and issues that otherwise no one would actually know about

Despite what many people think, it’s not easy to write an article at least, not one that will be published by a news outlet and that audiences will actually read from beginning to end.

Every writer has his or her own process. Here’s mine. First, the idea. Sometimes, inspiration will seemingly come from out of thin air; other times, it will come from places I visit or people I meet.

Let’s say I hear of or meet someone exceptional whom I think other people should know about and would be an inspiring story. I make arrangements with the person for an interview. We agree to meet at a common day and time. When the person is located in another country – especially, in another hemisphere (!) it becomes tricky because his or her available time is late night or early morning in the Philippines.

Before the designated time, I research about the interviewee, finding as much information as I can from reputable sources. I formulate my questions based on these. Sometimes, I send interviewees the questions in advance so they can prepare ahead, with the caveat that I may have follow-up questions based on their answers. 

During the interview, I try to create a comfortable environment. I ask for consent to record our conversation. Initially, we chat about the idea behind the article and some news of the day. I try to make the conversation fluid and natural, as if talking to a friend – except there is a voice recorder between us and I take notes.  

After the interview, I may need to research some topics raised during our conversation. 

I transcribe interviews the “old fashioned” way: Playing back the recording and taking notes. Thanks to an excellent typing teacher in high school (Mrs. Ponce), I can type fast enough on my computer keyboard. I enjoy the sound that the keys make as I try to catch the words wafting from my recorder.

I always end up with much more information than will make it to the article, but it gives a good perspective for me to write, with a story outline as my guide in telling an interesting, cohesive story based on facts. 

Then, I write. I rewrite. It takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before I am satisfied with the piece. Then, I send them to my editor to wait for feedback.

So it’s not as easy as someone going online, finding an article that someone else previously researched and wrote about, then adding bits and pieces here and there, before slapping my name on as a byline and publishing it on the internet.

Becoming a journalism fellow

I applied for the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship in 2023 sponsored by Rappler and the Journalism For Nation Building Foundation with some reservations.

I have worked as a writer for all of my professional life. I had written mostly feature articles for newspapers, magazines, and online media. I even worked for a while as an editor for a community newspaper.

But to me, being a journalist was a whole other level and I was not comfortable with claiming that title. I had not yet cut my teeth on the real stuff: interviewing confidential sources to reveal corruption, writing in-depth thought pieces drawing from a myriad of sources, even taking on a big corporation or prominent politicians to make an exposé. I did not think I had yet proven my worth as a journalist.

I submitted my application and hoped that I would be chosen. And I was! I stared at the screen, at the email with the good news. I blinked and reread the email several times before I started telling family and friends.

The fellowship provided so many opportunities to learn: to refresh myself on journalistic principles and practices, to update on technologies that are available to help our investigations, and to hone our journalistic skills. 

After submitting an article, I brace myself for what sometimes feels like a mini thesis defense. It’s a good day when my editor asks me to clarify and edit one point; a very good day when my editor does not have questions, only rearranges paragraphs and adds some details to the article. But I love it most when my editor asks for clarifications that sometimes propel me to find other sources to address them. That’s when I learn the most.

I found the fellowship lives up to the word’s etymology: I found all our interactions – whether as a group with other journalist-fellows or one-on-one during consultations with my editor-minder – a nurturing environment, with all feedback coming from a place seeking to help me improve, and generous with compliments and encouragement.

For me, it has been a prized opportunity to become a better journalist as the platform allows me to draw attention to important people and issues that otherwise no one would actually know about. As editors always ask us: Why should readers care?

Becoming part of Rappler, this village of mentors and colleagues has helped me bring more attention to inspiring people, like Professor Denise Matias and Dina Zulueta, and shine a light on grassroots work of community theater group Teatro Balagtas and environmentalists in the rural areas, among others.

I was also able to write stories to help empower women with information that tackle menopause, fight cybermisogyny, and many mental health issues that people shy away from discussing like reverse culture shock and parenting our ageing parents.

After many hours of learning, consultation, and writing…I now call myself a journalist. Now, to live the responsibility. – Rappler.com

Mari-An C. Santos was an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow in 2023.

The views expressed by the writer are his/her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Rappler.

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