Saturday, March 6, 2021

‘Independence: An Endangered Species’

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The title of this essay once graced the maiden issue of the Philippines Graphic. It was our June 18, 1990 issue, nearly twenty years after the magazine closed shop due to the widespread campaign against the press during Marcos’ martial law.

Under its new owner Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua and its editor-in-chief, National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, the magazine took the reins of press work and was relaunched June 12, 1990, Independence Day, setting itself out once more as the country’s guardian of the national memory.

For the last 28 years (91 years as a publication title) under the Aliw Media Group, our efforts to publish a news and literary magazine each week have been an uphill climb. In fact, it’s a running claim in the Graphic newsroom that every piece, every brave excursion into the world of Philippine politics has been a miracle, no different perhaps from turning water into wine.

Under a motley crew of experienced editors, writers, correspondents, and artists, including our advertising and sales team, we place on the newsstands what we proudly consider as the best that journalism can offer: breaking stories and analysis pieces from some of the most brilliant thinkers and artists ever to grace the pages of any local publication. It’s not a boast, just a matter of fact.

Likewise, each issue is a matter of pride—that cannot be denied. We give our utmost efforts with each issue, each written piece, each trek into dangerous territory. And for what it’s worth, we even go beyond the call of duty in times when resources are low and revenue hard to come by.

At the onset of the internet revolution, it took us some time to set up our own website. But as soon as we did, there was no stopping us. From an exclusive print publication, the Graphic broke the barriers of geography and time, with our pieces reaching as far away as the United States and Europe, the whole of Asia, even the farthest nooks of the nation’s provinces.

With each writing of reportage and analysis, we make doubly sure that our editorial independence remains intact. Journalism is not a job for the faint of heart, neither should it be used as a stepping stone for bigger dreams. Journalism, in and by itself, is a dream worth pursuing, huge enough to give other professions a run for their money.

As any journalist worth his salt knows, however, the profession does not come without its inherent dangers.

From Cory Aquino’s coup-riddled administration to Rodrigo Duterte’s bloodstained streets, the Philippines Graphic wrote each story with nary the shadow of bias or prejudice to tarnish the profession’s reputation.

Notwithstanding opinions to the contrary, we have kept to the “dreaded” long form (in the age of Twitter, it is well-nigh considered heinous, even brutal, to express one’s self over two sentences), and a narrative tradition which, not only drumrolls the need for New Journalism, but also accuracy, brevity, and context. To us, these old-school rules cannot be compromised under any circumstance.

Of the numerous quirks our newsroom has, not agreeing with each other on vital issues is perhaps the most revitalizing. I will hazard to say that some of the proudest moments I’ve had in this profession were spent not in the hours-long interviews with powerful people or being in the thick of a war zone or Category 5 super typhoon, but in discourse, at once loud and fiery, with my editors.

I’ve always been of the opinion that good journalism ought to be the intelligent kind, one that has the facility and competence to sort out the knots and make sense of the same. Because in the end, this is where it’s at—the mind. The soil where knowledge and convictions grow.

I can’t say it enough: without a publication that can unfasten the knots and untangle the complex controversies of our day, freedom can only stand as its less than desirable self.

It’s not as easy as it seems. Working with a skeleton crew of 10 staff members—four editors, two artists, a senior editorial assistant, and three advertising executives—does have its downside.

Like any other publication, we could’ve done more, reached more people with a full staff. To have our own photographer and in-house reporters and writers, three at the very least, a fact-checker and research editor, and two proofreaders, is a dream worth having.

With each week, editors double as writers, reporters, proofreaders, photographers, layout artists, fact-checkers, and research personnel—even events consultants—with nary the grumble you’d hear from other offices. We’ve grown accustomed to working lean and mean, even honed our skills to better serve our readership.

I remain proud of the anthology of stories we publish notwithstanding our circumstances. In fact, when a BBC crew once visited our newsroom, they were stunned at how so modest a team of journalists can come up with such a harvest of stories.

I guess, in the end, having a modest crew for close to three decades helped us in honing our abilities, so much so that I cannot imagine us having more.

Thus, our run to the magazine’s centennial would evermore be a greater challenge. The controversies that strike us as significant to the growth of the country are turning more convoluted by the hour. Further study is important, to say nothing to the ever-growing need for further research. If we must win the battle for hearts and minds, then we must first win it in our hearts and minds. There’s no point in going to the field of war with a mind set on defeat.

Freedom may be an endangered species, but nevermore is our sense of its life challenged than it is today. To understand freedom’s significance to the individual is to understand its value to the collective. The more freedom is defied, the more it should rise to the occasion.

The Graphic’s covenant: to always be in the thick of the discourse, as accurately and as intelligently as we could make it, without fear. G

 

 

 

 

 

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