When is it your story?

Rupert Ambil

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When is it your story?
MovePH, as Rappler's civic engagement arm, embraces people who have stories to tell, and helps them with their advocacies

I never considered myself a journalist. Some of my colleagues call me one, but the majority of people I work with know me as an operations specialist. I strategize and plan support for journalists. I find ways to make sure their stories are told. 

I started my career in news and information in one of the biggest TV networks in the country. I’ve worked under several renowned journalists and news managers. I learned news operations and journalism through a rigorous routine of time-specified output for news programs. 

I never planned to be part of this industry, but I love what I do and I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a difference and make an impact on people through the stories that we produce. The job provided the opportunity to talk to people about their issues and advocacies, to comfort mothers and fathers searching for their children in a pile of decomposing bodies, to witness a soldier’s courage as he maneuvers through a barrage of bullets to rescue civilians, to see persons with disabilities overcome disadvantages to help their communities, to meet heroes, and give them a platform to tell their stories.

After a few years in TV, I was presented an opportunity to join Rappler, an online news organization. It was a totally different platform for news delivery. I joined them because I believe in the potential of the Internet and social media to connect people and amplify advocacies. This is what MovePH, the civic engagement arm of Rappler, does. We help citizen journalists tell their stories. We provide a platform for them so they can reach a wider audience. We highlight the role of the contributor, and his or her story.

A recent incident with VERA Files and journalist Lala Ordenes led me to write this piece. I don’t write very often, but I feel it is necessary to set the record straight. Ordenes published a blog criticizing both my message in an internal communication to their organization, and the contributor who is the subject of this misunderstanding. 

I want to clearly state that what I wrote was private and intended only for the recipients of the email. I did not consent to its publication.

It took a number of days to get to the bottom of the issue. In the end, Rappler took down the story by persons with disability (PWD) advocate JP Maunes, and apologized to VERA Files publicly, as well as in a letter sent to the news organization.

It is unfortunate that private correspondence between senior editors found its way to Ordenes’ public blog. It is a breach of privacy and a blatant display of bad faith – especially since she was well aware that senior editors on both sides were already in discussions in an effort to settle the issue.

Ordenes, who had been JP’s editor, focused on an email I sent to JP that I sent as part of the correspondence between editors. Below is the letter in full. In bold is the section that Ordenes found so ridiculous. I’m providing the explanation for the message.

Dear JP,

Magandang araw!

I would like to personally congratulate you for all of your efforts in raising public awareness about the challenges which the PWD community faces in our society. Let me assure you that the MOVE community is here for people like yourself who have the courage to speak up and dream of change. We are here to AMPLIFY that message, your story, so that we may inspire others to act and spread social good.

If other platforms or news organizations would like to pick up your story, please feel free to share it with them. We would be honored to know that we have reached one concerned citizen if not, a multitude of people. That in itself is a victory for your advocacy.

On our end, for your peace of mind, let me guarantee you, as the executive director of MOVE.PH that you are not liable for any wrongdoing. 

We find strength in your kindness and the courage that comes with it.

Mabuhay ka, at maraming salamat!


Rupert Ambil II

JP, an advocate of PWD issues, submitted to MovePH a story about deaf athletes. We did not solicit his story. I sent the above message to him and VERA Files after the dispute, because he requested that we resolve this misunderstanding with the other news organization.

I believe, and still believe, that he did not comprehend the intricacies of content publication and exclusivity agreements between news organizations. It’s different for everyone, although some basics are the same. We treated his case as part of MovePH’s advocacy work. He did not ask us for a professional fee. He wanted us to publish his story. 

For my part, I would like to emphasize to Ordenes that we published JP’s story in good faith. I sent my email with knowledge that was available to us at that time, and sent that same email only to specific people. We apologized because new information came to light – including the fact that JP was compensated and his work considered by VERA Files as exclusive.

VERA Files says that JP’s submission is their story because he was paid for his contribution. We respect their stand. 

When contributors like JP approach MovePH, and request that we use their stories, we check the facts of their content, edit and publish – often without the promise of a professional fee. We do not demand exclusivity. The only thing MovePH commits to is to broadcast the stories and to use all of our resources to reach a broader audience via social media.

To us, JP’s contribution remains his story, we just helped him amplify it. We’ve published several contributions of netizens that were later picked up by other news platforms. We encourage this. The profiles and contact details of the contributors are in the stories we publish so that interested parties can communicate directly. This is part of the empowerment we strive to offer netizens.

Rappler as a news organization adheres to the standards of journalism. MovePH, as its civic engagement arm, embraces people who have stories to tell, and will help them with their advocacies. 

As head of MovePH, I support citizen journalists. We’re here to listen to the crowd and help them tell their stories. – Rappler.com

Rupert Ambil II is the former Head of Field Operations of the ABS-CBN News Division and is one of the founders of #Project110813, a group that helps young students affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan. He now serves as Executive Director of Rappler’s MovePH. He can be reached via @rupert_ambil.

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