Students told: Practice journalism now

Rommel Lopez of (left) and Inday Espina-Varona of Rappler.

By Rjay Castor

Two media veterans urged aspiring journalists to invest in their craft by practicing journalism now.

This was the advice of Inday Espina-Varona of Rappler and Rommel Lopez of to around a hundred student-participants of the 30th World Press Freedom Day symposium spearheaded by the Dr. Graciano Lopez Jaena Foundation Inc. on Wednesday at the St. Vincent Seminary auditorium in Jaro, Iloilo City.

Varona emphasized that the best training in journalism is practice, and that budding journalists can begin by contributing to their school or community publications.

“Please don’t wait until you graduate to do your journalism. You have all the tools right now to practice. The best training in journalism is practice. Practice na kayo ngayon,” Varona said.

“Habang estudyante pa lang kayo, practice na. Go out and tell stories of people,” she aded.

Lopez echoed Varona’s advice and emphasized that “journalism is both an art and a craft.”

He encouraged participants to continue writing and to sharpen their skills through consistent practice.

“You cannot sharpen your saw, if you do not use it. If you don’t use the knife to sharpen it wala rin. You have to practice it. You have to keep on writing,” Lopez said.

Anyone can be a journalist

The two experienced media professionals believed that anyone can be a journalist if he or she follows the principles and ethics of journalism.

Lopez said a journalism degree is not a requirement in becoming a journalist.

“You don’t have to be a journalist, you don’t have to finish journalism to actually practice the principles of journalism… You don’t have to really be part of a news organization to tell stories that inspire, to tell the truth. You can do it on your own. Be truth-tellers in your own right. Use social media to spread truth,” he said.

The associate editor also shared that there is something spiritual in the work of journalism, emphasizing that the principles of journalism are innate to humans.

“It is like the parable of a good samaritan. You saw something, you saw an injustice happening right in front of you, bakit hindi ka magsasalita? That is what journalists do — It is innate in us. It is innate on you to take action when something wrong is done. You have to speak up,” he added.

Varona, meanwhile, said the foundation of journalism is reading, and having a specialty outside of journalism can enrich the practice.

“The foundation of journalism is reading. If you don’t read, what are you going to contextualize? Hindi naman pwedeng puro stitch marks. Having the foundation is an advantage,” she said.

Journalism and social media

Varona and Lopez acknowledged the power social media holds and emphasized that journalists should take advantage of it.

Lopez believes that social media is used both to “democratize communication” and to “demonize democracy,” especially when it is used to attack press freedom and freedom of expression.

For Varona, aspiring journalists should utilize social media’s wealth of resources to improve accuracy and vetting skills.

Noting the cases of red-tagging and cyber libel in the country, she added: “Build a network with your audience, treat your audience as partners in fighting for democracy and you can fight together. Mas mafefend-off niyo ang threats,’ she added.

Truth-telling and social media

As the spread of misinformation and disinformation continues to plague the online landscape, Lopez told student journalists to never falter and counter false narratives by engaging in the conversation.

“If nandyan ka sa social media, the only way for you to join the conversation is to communicate. Wag kang mag-withdraw. You join in the communication. Kung mas malakas ang boses ng mga sinungaling, dapat mas malakas ang boses ng mga nagsasabi ng totoo,” he said.

Lopez continued: “We really have to go out there, listen to people, and ask them. There’s no alternative to journalism than really going on the ground.”

Varona, meanwhile, said it is not enough to fact-check since fact-checking often follows when lies have already been propagated. She stressed that truth-telling is a responsibility that lies not only with journalists but with everyone.

“You can fact-check and continue to do it but the basis of truth is for everyone, journalist or not, to be truth-tellers,” she explained.

Marcos Jr. a breather from Duterte’s strongman rule

Varona said the journalism landscape during Duterte’s strongman rule and the Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr.’s administration is totally different.

“The new president is not the rabid, throbbing-in-the-mouth leader that Duterte was. Ngayon medyo alam ni Marcos Jr. ang bagahe niya.” she said.

She furthered that Marcos Jr. is trying to distance himself from the baggage of his late dictator father.

“Medyo may breathing room. The question is ‘what do we do with the breathing room?’ We should take advantage of that while there’s breathing room. So that when crackdown comes sooner or later, matatag tayo ulit. Let’s build now, let’s not wait for the crackdown to happen,” she said.