The sun took a short hiatus, days before Cebu’s Eileen Mangubat arrived in Vancouver. On the day of the interview, however, the sun was peeking and people had their sunglasses on. It was a good day to be downtown, where we were meeting.
Eileen is the 2013 Marshall McLuhan Fellow – Philippines. The McLuhan Fellowship is the Canadian Embassy’s flagship advocacy program for media in the Philippines. According to Carlo Figueroa of the Embassy of Canada, one of the fellowship’s goals is “to recognize responsible journalism and to advocate responsible journalism.”
This trip—a speaking and lecture tour—was part of Eileen’s prize.
The publisher and acting editor-in-chief of Cebu Daily News, Cebu’s “only independent newspaper” and an affiliate of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Eileen is an advocate of her news organization’s vision: Journalism that builds communities.
The Philippine Canadian Inquirer sat with her for a Q&A about Cebu, Haiyan, the interesting twilight of digital media and her love of writing.
Cebu and Haiyan
Cebu is one of the most developed provinces in the Philippines. It took center stage just last February, when it became the site of the controversial 28th Edsa Revolution anniversary. It was there, according to President Benigno Aquino III, where the “first chapter” in the drama that culminated its final chapter on Edsa unfolded (at least this was the argument for the shift in venue). With this move and pronouncement, however, the role of the church and the other actors were conveniently obliterated, but that’s a story for another time.
Eileen’s Cebu Daily News is proudly Cebu’s watchdog. The CDN team highlights local stories and writes about Cebu’s struggles of urbanization—the development of Metro Cebu and Mega Cebu. “Our water supply is very fragile, the quality of air, quality of life,” she says.
Earlier on, in November, however, this fragility was further challenged because of Haiyan.
“[W]e didn’t expect a bad storm, we didn’t think that the devastation would be that severe. We were very lucky in Metro Cebu because we only had high winds. It’s the Northern part of Cebu that was hit.”
Metro Cebu was spared, yes, but Eileen also quickly realized that they were spared so that they can help.
Cebu became the center of the Haiyan relief operations and the jumping off point for humanitarian missions coming to Eastern Visayas. Every week, Eileen saw a procession of cars—families with children—their vehicles piled high with relief goods to assist in the relief efforts.
“I think that was one of the best stories and we tried to cover as much as we can, give it a different face, narrate the different experiences of people. Some would say don’t mention my name. That was the upside to it.”
Writer and editor; editor and writer
“Writing is very vulnerable. You have no reason to be arrogant about it. The most important quality is clarity. Never mind the style.”
She learned this throughout the years, but first and foremost from the late Louie Beltran, hard hitting journalist and one of her professors at U.P. Diliman. She considers him as one of her greatest influencers.
“He would talk [to us] about what kind of stories can be written. [In] teaching news writing, board work is his signature style. He would say, ‘I want you to do a news feature.’ Then, he would instruct you, ‘To the board, write your lead paragraph.’
“That’s the scariest thing to do, your work is there examined by your peers.
“It would test your confidence, force you to prepare.
“For those who get too scared about it, he would say, ‘Why don’t you just transfer to Communication Research?’
So she wrote and kept at it every day.
“People tell me, ‘It comes so easy for you. You’re born to do this. You have a natural talent. It’s hard to explain to them that the reason I can do it at this speed is because I have been doing it every day. But it’s never easy.
“If I can avoid writing that editorial, I will. But after you have written it and you saw that it says what you want to say, the satisfaction is very high.”
On editing, she says, “The best possible work is the collaboration between the editor and the reporter.
“The hard part is the editor needs to have the humility that her byline will not be there; but that’s when the tightest bonds are formed.
“And now, with a very visual-oriented audience, the best action is the collaboration between the editor, writer, layout artist and the photographer.
“The best work is always a collaboration.”
The onslaught of digital media
The advent of digital media is very serious development, according to Eileen.
“We are in very challenging times. It’s a very interesting stage [for print media]. It’s stressful,” she says.
Everyone—publishers, businessmen, editors—are figuring out the best business model that can produce quality journalism. The internet is giving information for free, but the content leaves much to be desired.
“Thankfully, the decision makers are still patriarchs and believe in the weight of print.”
Eileen says, however, that even with digital media, the rules of old school journalism should still apply: a sense of responsibility and constant verification.
“One of the hardest things to pass down to younger graduates who come on board, who may not have a solid writing-reading background, is you have to reorient them on the value of respecting original writing, and not copying it as their own.
“But the problem is, especially for younger ones, they will lose interest in a while, so they will run to the BPO [Business Process Outsourcing], they go to marketing, where it seems more fun.”
In the end, a writer, a teacher
Upon her return, and as part of her commitment as a McLuhan Fellow, Eileen will deliver lectures in Journalism schools across the Philippines.
Carlo Figueroa interjects, ” We think that the [McLuhan] initiative is an instrument to recognize or at least improve media development in the Philippines. There is a need to improve reporting from the national, community and local journalists there.”
Eileen smiles. “It’s payback time, but I’m still weighing it. Like I said, we’re in the interesting twilight of digital media. [But] I owe it back to my school to teach, to do the masters program.”
We drank our café au lait and stared out the window, enjoying the sunlight that is streaming in. Eileen told me how she looked forward to enjoying Vancouver and its heritage structures, stained glass windows, modern skyline and harbor, to seeing the rest of Canada, meeting and talking to fellow Filipinos along the way.
Eileen Mangubat is the 16th McLuhan Fellow. She toured Ottawa, Halifax and Toronto during her trip. She was also recognized by the US Embassy in Manila with the 2003 Benigno S. Aquino Fellowship Award. Various award-giving bodies including the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Press Institute, the Rotary Club of Manila, the Archdiocese of Cebu, and the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, among others, have recognized her as an alumna, reporter, editor, and news manager.