campus journalism

[New School] My ‘campus’ journalism experience

Jamilah Angco
[New School] My ‘campus’ journalism experience

Illustration by DR Castuciano

'Writing news stories for the university amid a pandemic was both an honor and a challenge'

New School features opinion pieces by young writers, highlighting youth issues and perspectives.

I wish to experience the “campus” in campus journalism before I graduate.

Back in December 2019, before we had heard of COVID-19, my friends encouraged me to join the Varsitarian, the official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, where I was a sophomore. They said covering different events would be fun and exciting. I knew I had what it took to become a news writer, so I made a promise to myself to conquer my demons and apply next publication year.

Then came 2020.

On January 30, 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded the Philippines’ first coronavirus case, and in February, the first coronavirus-related death outside of China was recorded in the country. On March 9, the Manila City government announced that classes in all levels would be suspended from March 10 to 14. Little did I know that March 9 would already be the last time I would step inside my campus.

The first months of lockdown and the online learning set-up were personally hard, especially as a journalism student wherein field experience was vital. As much as I was blessed and thankful to still have a chance to learn amid a global pandemic, I believed that nothing beat hands-on experience, which was something that was robbed from most of us.

In addition to the public health crisis that our country faced, the state of the Philippine press was also in peril, with the shutdown of one of the country’s top media organizations, ABS-CBN. This made me realize that upholding freedom of expression and freedom of the press was not a walk in the park. We learned about the concepts in school, but the reality was far from what the textbooks dictated. As a journalism undergrad, the shutdown wasn’t just about laying off thousands of employees amid a pandemic; it was also a battle between the press and the government. 

These challenges, however, did not threaten my conviction to join the school paper. In fact, it made me realize that I had to join and do whatever I could to uphold the rights of the press.

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Before I knew it, it was already August and I was a junior in college. Application for the university paper also started around the same time, so I tried out, underwent various examinations and interviews, and passed. I can still remember what I was doing when it was announced that I had made the cut: I was exercising when my friend messaged me. My panting was both from exhaustion and excitement. It was a happy day. It was my happy day.  

Writing news stories for the university amid a pandemic was both an honor and a challenge. My limits were being tested every day, and my determination to become a better version of myself got stronger. Given that the current set-up was difficult, our school publication adjusted some rules and regulations for its staffers to adapt and still deliver high-quality stories and content. For example, on-site coverage was no longer allowed to ensure the safety of the writer and source, even if vaccinated. Therefore, all of our coverage had to be done online.  

My first solo article and byline was published in December 2020, weeks after I officially became a news writer. My editor had assigned me to write a story about the university’s stormwater drainage system and attend a Zoom meeting with the project officials. I thought I would be the only news writer present in the meeting to ask questions, but reporters from mainstream media were there as well. I would be lying if I said that I was not nervous when actual journalists entered the meeting, but at the same time, I felt honored to be in the same room as them. It made me realize that this story was not only beneficial to the campus, but would also leave an impact on nearby communities.

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I still stop and think about what my campus journalism experience could have been if the circumstances were different and the world had never suffered the wrath of the contagious virus. I wish to experience covering events in fancy venue halls with my fellow staffers rather than be cooped up at home facing a laptop screen. I wish to experience interviewing the student council members in their office rather than chatting with them on Facebook. I wish to distribute physical copies of the Varsitarian to different colleges rather than sharing soft copies online. I wish to experience the “campus” in campus journalism before it is too late.

Despite the fact that the digital sphere has connected people with one click, it has also disconnected us from the importance of human presence, and journalism is a profession that requires human interaction to capture the essence of a story.

Instead of getting lost in wishful thinking, though, I now try to focus on what to do with the situation at hand. Since joining the Varsitarian, I have written more than 20 articles and counting. I can say that over the past months, my improvement as a writer has been evident, and I owe that to my editor who never fails to support and guide me, and to my fellow news writers from whom I still learn.

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Application for the Varsitarian’s next publication year has begun, and incumbent staffers are encouraged to reapply. At the same time, I am entering my senior year in college soon. The last year of college is crucial because of thesis work, and most people would drop other affiliations that keep them busy, but I am not most people. I will see to it that I can balance being a campus journalist and being a graduating student. I will see to it that I will finish college as a member of the V

I am grateful to be part of the student publication of our university amid the crisis at hand, and I know that the experiences I have gained will contribute to my career. My campus journalism experience may not have been what I hoped for, but I am still deeply humbled by this opportunity. To my future colleagues, let us all see each other in the field very soon when things get better. Until then, “see” you from the comforts of my home. –

Jamilah Angco is an incoming 4th year journalism student from the University of Santo Tomas and a news writer of the Varsitarian, the university’s official student publication. She is a Rappler intern.