My late father once said that collisions create something new. That being the case, today I deviate from politics to wander into more personal storytelling.
I’ve been a writer for close to 40 years. Proudly made my bones on ink and paper. Half I’ve devoted to print journalism and book publishing. I’m a journalist whose early exploits had little to do with those of war correspondents. But as a chained-to-the-desk editor, I’ve had my share of covering conflict zones – warring subject-verb, screaming double metaphors, exploding modifiers, lines that read more like the trenches than sentences, to say nothing of sharpshooting “fake” news.
I’m proud of the years I’ve spent as a writer-editor. For me, whose formal education leaves much to be desired, it’s living the dream. It gave me confidence, enough to take things a notch higher when occasion calls for it. When I was invited by Rappler, I easily said, yeah, why not?
Thing is, this unforeseen event arrived while I’m two years shy of being a senior citizen, nursing chronic back pains and what feels like neuropathy, while stuck in a virtual office.
Imagine what it’s like to break a leg with a young and energetic crew of journalists who know their tech and who definitely know their journalism. Imagine this old git – with panic-stricken knees, failing eyesight, and whose idea of hi-tech is losing to Angry Birds – entering the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise as a bumbling space cadet.
Two words: utterly humiliating.
My fiery baptism into 21st-century journalism — boldly going where no greybeard has gone before — began on New Year’s Day. After talks with the venerable manangs, I was hired as senior desk editor of Rappler.
I was proud, no, flattered at the thought that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of applying for the job. Surely, I was caught unawares after receiving through Messenger the question to end all questions: “Joel, are you interested in becoming one of the senior desk editors of Rappler?”
After being retrenched without so much as a ghost of a sigh from a previous employ where I sat for 11 years as editor-in-chief, getting another crack at a day job didn’t seem too reassuring. Not at my age.
Certainly not Rappler. Suffice it that my rather brief encounters with some of them in the past told me I simply will not fit. I’m a traditional newsroom lackey — incorrigible, risqué at times, moody, a bit high-strung. They’re more within the purview of today’s generation, expunged of the little outrages that boomers like me have no power to change even if I tried.
However, I simply can’t refuse the offer. I grabbed it without blinking, realizing little that I was on a collision course with myself.
New Year’s Day arrived. I felt I was on top of the world. I flipped my laptop open and signed in. When I clicked all the applications needed to get into the groove, bang!
I was sucked into a virtual newsroom where, by 11 am, what seemed like a thousand-and-one email threads had already reached close to a hundred messages each. Every entry was emailed from all departments — from the central desk, creatives, reporters, correspondents, photographers, production, regions, social media, tech, sellers of lingerie — you name it.
Then, from out of the godawful blue, chat boxes darted and popped from all corners of my 17-inch laptop screen, each one carrying instructions as to how to deal with the stories. It was like trying to complete a 10,000-piece puzzle while holed up in a beaver bunker, blindfolded, and your head chopped off.
I realized I’d bit off more than I could chew. My image of a 20th-century newsroom didn’t square with the 21st-century newsroom of Rappler. Theirs was an electrifying mix of real-time breaking stories, NASA technology, and Klingon war games – all on steroids. Each day, Rappler fights off DDoS attacks like sci-fi movies.
It was amazing, except that my body was still caught in the ‘70s flower-power time warp, vintage turntables, and Led Zeppelin concerts.
In the next seven days, I made do with what I had – nothing. I went to training but couldn’t make heads or tails of the instructions. In no time, my lungs, heart, blood, and brain pulled to a stop. The following week, my body was already nursing a forest fire, my brain a truckload of dolomite, and my heart what seemed like a Russian airstrike.
I called in sick when, in reality, I felt I had died. I was literally bedbound for seven days. It was my first — and hopefully only — panic attack. Broken, humiliated, and utterly disappointed, I decided to throw in the towel. No use deceiving my ruptured ego any longer than I have to.
I set a meeting with managing editor, Chay Hofileña, and tendered my resignation. I was less than 10 days into the job.
Chay talked me out of it. Her “don’t be too harsh on yourself” echoed what my former editor-in-chief (now Rappler’s head of regions), Inday Espina-Varona, told me a little over a decade ago.
After asking Inday if she was sure about handing over the editor-in-chief post to me, what with some of the massive faux paus I’ve made, Inday said, “Don’t shortchange yourself, Joel.” The rest was an 11-year joyride I would sooner remember than forget.
Joining Rappler is a lesson not only in patience and humility, but foresight. Journalism has transfigured into something new. Something entirely unbelievable. Mesmerizing. Something I’m proud to be part of now and, with any luck, in the next few months and years before I retire. If I retire.
As I write this, I’m a two-month-old baby Rappler doing baby steps. Half-past the second month, I was already processing stories, editing news, writing thought pieces, and working closely with other editors and fellows to cover the 2022 presidential elections.
Still fumbling about like a newbie space cadet, but learning. Thanks to my colleagues at Rappler — many going out of their way to throw me a lifeline each time I fall off the plank — I’m still alive.
Finally, and above all, I am able to work in a newsroom whose prime objective is the good of this country and its people. It’s not every day journalists get to stumble on a goldmine.
I am living proof that collisions create something new. How I wish I had done this sooner. – Rappler.com