DWIZ 882’s Karambola: Taking radio journalism one step further

A journalist’s most honored profession is not to express foremost, but to first listen.

So, when I got word that I’m to interview veteran journalists Jojo Robles, Conrad Banal, and Jonathan dela Cruz of DWIZ 882’s Karambola, including its new member, the controversial online blogger RJ Nieto, known in social media circles as Thinking Pinoy (TP), I grabbed the chance outright to the surprise (and possible consternation) of some of my media colleagues.

The little I know of RJ Nieto revolves around his blogs and videos, to say nothing of the criticisms he has received from several detractors on the way he has scoffed at traditional media.

I waded through EDSA traffic not sure about many things. So many questions, so little time. I had once interviewed the Karambola boys years back, but with the new team which included TP, there’s no saying what to expect.

I, for one, would like to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as the cliché goes. Good journalism, for whatever it’s worth, must face even its cruelest detractors if only for the sake of fairness—to be there and reflect, yet not necessarily agree with, the ideas of people who are of particular interest to society.

Let it not be said that at any time I have neglected this part of my job just so I can indulge in my own opinion of who or what they are to me. It’s easier said than done, believe me, but this is what good journalism is all about.

Some in traditional media believe that the profession is facing a quandary: the growth of social media as source of news, analysis, and opinion. The sudden spike in audience numbers among social media players and bloggers is such that some in traditional media consider it a sort of ‘cancerous growth’ which could, in the long haul, put the profession in dire risk of losing its market.

Veteran journalists Robles, dela Cruz and Banal believe otherwise. So does Nieto. To them, social media is but another platform through which traditional media can learn the basics of gathering an audience. And consequently, social media can learn from traditional media, too, on the discipline of good journalism.

There’s no doubt that social media is the wave of the future and what DWIZ’s Karambola is doing is merging both platforms to reach the highest number of people.

While players in both media platforms grab each other’s throats, Karambola breaks the mould through integration: a brave fusion of what both can offer in the service of the Filipino people.

GRAPHIC: Some say there’s a clash between social media and traditional media.

CONRAD BANAL: It’s not happening only here in the Philippines but worldwide. Take for example in Syria, they feel that traditional media had failed them. Traditional media failed to report problems that were faced by their government. This is why social media became the source of news for them, which later led to the much-celebrated Arab Spring. As a result, the Syrian government hired the secret police to catch bloggers from social media. What Karambola is trying to do is merge social media and traditional media in our small way.

RJ NIETO: What traditional media people need to understand is that social media is a very new thing, and it rose because of the shortcomings of traditional media. However, today, the clash between the two is not as fierce as the early years. In the same way that the Fourth Estate clashed with government before, as time went on a dialogue was forged between them. So, instead of traditional media being so… scared of social media… not really scared but paranoid of the rise of social media, I think it’s time we forge a dialogue. I criticize traditional media a lot, but I limit my criticisms to three mainstream media groups: Rappler, Inquirer and ABS-CBN. Others, I just chill, even going out of my way to commend other media groups like GMA7, DWIZ 882, occasionally. No, we have no vendetta against traditional media, if that’s what others are thinking. It’s a waste of time. We can’t fight traditional media head on because it has the machinery. No, we’re under no illusion that social media would replace traditional media. That will not happen. The biggest players in social media recognize that fact.

So, what do you think about social media players joining or trying their hand in traditional media platforms? Like TP in radio broadcast?

JOJO ROBLES: Several years ago, it was a revolutionary idea to have a print journalist, say, Louie Beltran, to work as a radio or television personality. There were setbacks at first, but the convergence of different media platforms was a success. If you think about it, social media to me is just another platform. So what’s the difference between putting Louie Beltran inside the radio booth, who is a print journalist, and getting RJ Nieto as part of the Karambola team? Surely there were setbacks that happened at first, so I’m assuming there will also be setbacks when social media people start getting into traditional media. And Karambola, having been known as a ground-breaking program, we have to continue its ground-breaking tradition. The way we interpret it, it’s high time we embrace social media. But we must know who to include in our team. We must choose well. We got ourselves someone who is intelligent, has something to say, and with a bit of sustainability.

RJ NIETO: I think they picked the wrong person for the job! (Laughs)

JOJO ROBLES: Well, Mocha Uson wasn’t available. (Laughs)

So, Mocha Uson was your first choice then?

JOJO ROBLES: Joke lang ‘yan (Laughs)

RJ NIETO: Since Mocha wasn’t available, they got Mocha’s manicurist instead! (Laughs)

CONRAD BANAL: Karambola is not your average radio program. We want it to have substance. We like to discuss issues that are not ordinary.

JOJO ROBLES: Our competitors, the programs which air on the same time slot, what are they obsessing in? They preoccupy themselves over open manholes, traffic enforcers, “kotong” cops, etc.

They’re “sumbungan ng bayan” radio… Is that what they’re called?

JOJO ROBLES: Not to disparage that line of work, but I think Karambola today was created to discuss other stuff. And if we want to take it one step further, then it’s only natural that we get Thinking Pinoy for the job.

So, I take it that clashes or the “karambola” still happen? You still disagree with each other? That’s what you’re known for, the differences in opinion. There is still this mashing of ideas.

CONRAD BANAL: Definitely! We still fight among ourselves over different issues.

JOJO ROBLES: The fact that our competitors are already attacking us, using their own passive-aggressive way—we’re not being identified outright—that only means one thing: the formula works. Our social media engagement is at a record high. I hope the services of Nielsen and that other group will show the same trend. I think it works.

RJ NIETO: I think what social media wants to do is bring back idealism into traditional media. I think a lot have succumbed to PR stunts and I’m not saying it’s wrong. I hope they don’t do it often. I hope they remember the first day they engaged the newsroom, the issues of the day, their first day at work when they wanted to change the country, not accept… you know. Hopefully.

Do you believe that what you’ve done here, merge social media with traditional media, would enjoy acceptance among social media players and users? Having your videos and audio files uploaded into the internet, joining the ranks of key social media players while being part of traditional media?

CONRAD BANAL: Our videos are streamed live over the internet. Many come back to watch them during their free time.

RJ NIETO: Karambola is one of only two live feeds that are enjoying increasing patronage among social media users. Easily we get 50,000 hits per episode.

CONRAD BANAL: At other times, we breached 100,000 viewing. With special guests, we even hit 200,000 to 300,000.

As for the topics of discussion, how does one go about choosing them?

JOJO ROBLES: Karambola has been around and much of our general topics have not really changed that much. However, the presence of RJ Nieto in the team makes these topics more accessible. There’s a dynamic approach to the whole program. I have always believed that the matters we discuss should be made accessible to as many Filipinos as possible. How do you do that? You do that by bringing in people whom the public listens to. See, one of the problems of traditional media is its elitism. I have struggled and fought against this particular issue for the longest time. Traditional media has lost touch with its readership, viewership, basically, our market. We have to bring that back.

RJ NIETO: A good newspaper must talk to the public. What happens when a certain medium—a newspaper, or radio or television—ends up talking only to the ABC crowd?

JOJO ROBLES: Somehow, we’ve lost our way. It wasn’t long ago when people were involved in public affairs. That’s why we have all these talk shows about politics. Now they’re thinning out. That’s the sad part in all this.

RJ NIETO: I think a lot of journalists right now decry the threats against them. Okay, I’ll give it to them that they feel threatened. It’s more of a complaint, a reklamo, a feeling of frustration. That’s why during the Senate hearing, when I spoke to Risa Hontiveros, when I say something and a lot of people echo what I say, maybe it’s time to stop complaining and start listening. Set the tone or example where traditional media becomes inclusive, the way media speaks to the public.

CONRAD BANAL: You can sense this anger in the public, not only in the Philippines. Perfect example is the winning of Donald Trump as US President. The recent Brexit. In a lot of ways, Duterte winning the elections can be explained through that anger. Now the public has a medium—social media—to ventilate that anger. Media should never dictate what society should do. For one thing, we’re all part of that society. Media should be a reflection of society. Karambola is a reflection of that society, and for that to be more effective, we should get involved in social media. We can’t force the public to believe that we don’t need social media. Social media has been accepted by the public, thus we embrace it.

JOJO ROBLES: We can go circle the wagons, as the saying goes, and consider social media as a threat to our very livelihood and careers. But we chose to go beyond the supposed threats because we believe this is where all of this is going. See, I don’t believe that traditional media will fritter away with the rise of social media. What will remain, after all’s said and done, is a convergence of all media platforms. In the same way radio never killed print, social media will not kill traditional media. This is the core of my belief.

So, to you, there’s no threat at all.

CONRAD BANAL: There’s a study that social media actually helps the business of traditional media. What they hear from social media, they eventually verify using traditional media. In fact, there’s a Reuters’ study that says young people who are honed in social media account for the biggest increase in subscription of traditional media, namely The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek. This is because of social media. Therefore, my conclusion is this: social media help traditional media.

RJ NIETO: One problem I saw was this: Most reporters, article writers depend on a style guide. If you agree with your editor and follow the style-guide, you’re okay. With social media, its strength is the human aspect. The public should sense a writer’s concern, and traditional media has yet to learn that skill. Most are detached from the CD crowd as opposed to how I say things—sobrang palengkero magsalita. To them, I’m their blogger-next-door. If traditional media shows the public their true concern, then the public will love them back.

JOJO ROBLES: It’s too much to expect that Karambola will be remembered, but you know what? I wish people will remember—I know I will—that we did our part to fix this. This is the future. And I will go back to my premise: if you consider social media as just another platform, it will all make sense to you. It’s another platform, thus why don’t we embrace what is there?

TP, do you agree that a smooth merging would be possible?

RJ NIETO: I started social media with a lot of anger against mainstream media. But when I started guesting here in Karambola, I got my usual ‘spanking’ from boss Jojo. He would tell me that not all traditional media are like that. Eventually, that anger was tempered and I started to become open-minded. So, for those in traditional media who think many of those in social media are nothing but ‘loose canons,’ they should think twice. They can’t antagonize them every day. If that continues, mutually assured destruction will be the result.

CONRAD BANAL: One thing about social media is that it does not suffer from the angle of ‘business,’ unlike traditional media which is considered big business. To go into broadcast you need a lot of money. You also need tons of money to run a daily broadsheet. Immediately, traditional media carries a baggage, which social media doesn’t have.

That’s the reason why some people distrust traditional media because they say oligarchs are the ones running the show. But doesn’t this touchy issue cut across all forms of media, social media players included? Some are even being accused as ‘paid hacks,’ TP included.

CONRAD BANAL: They say some are paid by politicians, which is an accusation that cuts across varying platforms.

RJ NIETO: It’s so easy to hurl an accusation without proof. As I have been saying all along, if I’m paid by a politician, then I wouldn’t be wearing these simple clothes. I should by now have a car and my own driver. I failed to come on time for a Karambola episode because I don’t own a car. Anyone can file a case, the question is if they can wing it.

JOJO ROBLES: This particular issue saddens me. Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the media would hear these accusations. For example, think about what Harry Roque was saying about legitimate media as opposed to illegitimate media. I assume that was what he meant. I have witnessed all these years that what traditional media has been doing, social media is doing, too. Same way, having been for so long part of the traditional media, I know too that accusations being hurled against social media is also being done in traditional media. As for me, all I want to do is preach the gospel of different platform and Karambola is taking the lead.

So, what is good journalism to you?

RJ NIETO: The final arbiter of what good journalism is, including good writing, is the public. You can win 500 awards, if no one reads you, then nothing will matter. The question is not who writes better but who does the public trust more? If social media becomes your competitor, then find ways to win back your audience. There should be a conscious effort from both sides to improve their works.

CONRAD BANAL: The lesson here is this: the mainstream media has been hijacked by interest groups. Now they’re attempting to hijack social media. They say, ‘Let’s recapture the internet.’ Let’s see if they can do that.

JOJO ROBLES: There’s always room for everything: excellence, the market, the audience.

RJ NIETO: Imagine, I have one million followers right now. Because of this, when I say something, it spreads. Natually, my problem is content. I’m having a hard time putting together what I have to say. So I also collaborate with mainstream media, like my teammates in Karambola, for content. I’m concerned about the quality of what I say and write. So, the play goes like this: while the content comes from mainstream media friends, we provide platform and audience for the information. There should be cooperation between the two. Problem is, before any dialogue has been made possible, we were already labelled as a threat. The natural course is that we would be on the defensive. Since those in traditional media are more mature than the younger batch of social media players, it’s only proper that they show us a bit more patience. Youngsters are naturally brazen.

JOJO ROBLES: See that’s what we at Karambola are doing right now. We don’t want to be part of those in traditional media that exclude young social media players simply because they come from a different platform. As TP once said, social media players have learned a lot of lessons from traditional media and these lessons still apply in socmed. There should be a continuation of traditions across different media platforms. This is the future. G



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