Filipino journalists face low pay, violence, restricted info access


JOURNALIST AT WORK. A photo I took while covering the special elections in Lanao del Sur in May 2007. The elections there had to be postponed because of violence.

Low pay, media killings and restrictions to information access are the three most important problems facing journalists in the Philippines, results of a national survey of journalists showed.

A survey of 349 journalists in the Philippines, conducted between May and December last year, found that 38.2% identified low pay and poor working conditions as the most important problem journalists in the Philippines have to endure.

About 21% identified violence against journalists as the most important problem, while 9.5% referred to problems with information access, primarily citing the lack of a freedom of information (FOI) law in the country as well as different forms of government pressure.

The survey is part of the Worlds of Journalism Survey, a global project involving journalism researchers from more than 70 countries.

In the Philippines, journalists were asked to identify what they considered as the most important problem confronting journalists in the country.

The respondents were allowed to write their answers using their own words. The responses were then categorized and analyzed by the researcher.

The respondents also identified the following problems: decreasing media credibility (8.5%), increasing pressure from audiences and new technologies (7.5%), corruption among journalists (6.5%), increasing pressure from owners (5.2%), and sensationalism in reporting (3.6%).

The respondents include journalists from local, regional, and national news organizations.

Some 51% were female and 49% were male. The sample also includes journalists across different positions, from reporters to editors-in-chief.


The author is a journalism researcher and professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His research focuses on the impact of new technologies on journalistic practice. He is also a former journalist from the Philippines. Email him at edson[at]


In defense of today’s newspapers

News about the execution came too late for many newspapers in the Philippines. (Image from The Guardian;  Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

News about the execution came too late for many newspapers in the Philippines. (Image from The Guardian; Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

Filpinos rejoiced after Mary Jane Veloso was spared from execution in Indonesia, and then laughed at national newspapers which got their headlines wrong.

Veloso, sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug smuggling, was scheduled to be executed by firing squad early morning Wednesday.

Indonesia proceeded to execute eight death row prisoners but spared Veloso at the last minute. Veloso maintained she did not know about the heroin found in her suitcase.

Filipinos around the world signed online petitions, joined street protests, and participated in night vigils. They woke up to learn about the positive development as well as to read morning papers with wrong headlines.

Facebook teemed with posts ridiculing newspapers’ frontpages. Inquirer’s banner headline read: “Death came before dawn.” Manila Bulletin had: “No delay in execution.” Abante Tonite said: “Paalam Mary Jane (Goodbye Mary Jane).”

Philippine Star and Manila Bulletin managed to update their headlines in their latest editions.

Many social media users were harsh in their criticisms, describing reporters as stupid or sleeping on their jobs.

Inquirer's statement released via Twitter by @Team_Inquirer

Inquirer’s statement released via Twitter by @Team_Inquirer

This post is not to defend the erroneous newspaper headlines, not even that of the Inquirer, where I worked as reporter for six years (although I know for a fact that the Inquirer reporter assigned to monitor the Department of Foreign Affairs briefing was literally not sleeping—she was doing her job as late as 3am).

But this is a good time, I think, for some reflection on what is happening to journalism. This incident, it seems, is about three issues:

  1. This shows the changing expectations of news consumers. Having been socialized into real-time reporting they find online, news consumers appear to expect the same speed from their newspapers. This is, of course, an unreasonable expectation, given the nature of the newspaper medium.

Newspaper issues have to be ready between 9pm and 10pm to allow sufficient time for printing and delivery, which are not quick processes. Newspapers have to reach newsstands early the following morning, as very few buyers wait for a specific paper: Being late means losing out to competition (of course, the case is different when it comes to the subscription market).

From what I know, updates in the past have been made successfully until about 1am, but only for editions distributed within Metro Manila, where the time between printing and distribution is much shorter. But most readers don’t realize this. They also don’t realize that reporters, whose bylines appear with stories, do not write their own headlines. This is why we need media literacy.

  1. Given the changing expectations of news consumers, newspapers should reassess their roles. The nature of the medium limits its capability when it comes to breaking news. Newspapers cannot, and perhaps should no longer, strive to break news all the time. We have online platforms for that. Freed from this expectation, newspapers can channel their strengths into other forms of journalism, where they can remain strong.
  1. Finally, against this backdrop of changing expectations and changing roles, newspapers should also remain true to the traditional standards that guide journalism, at whatever platform. While it is true that newspapers face time constraints, it does not give them an excuse to predict spot news. It does not free them from reporting events as they are. When something has not happened, and there is no certainty as to what would happen next, that’s what should be in the story. And by story, I also mean the headline.

Today’s social media attack on newspapers, I think, is undeserved and uninformed.

But it informs us about how readers’ expectations are changing.

Such information, if used properly, can hopefully also spare newspapers from their projected demise.

Let us not be afraid to dream

Twelve years ago today, I gave this cute speech at my college graduation. Wait. What? Twelve years ago?!! #ThrowbackMonday

With my parents.

There was a cute little boy who, at night before going to bed, would pray to God that when he grows up, perhaps he could become Ultraman Ace, or maybe a member of the Power Rangers, or perhaps God could simply give him some superpowers so he could fly. Often, that little kid would stare at the sun, close his eyes, open them, and would try to catch the patches of colored lights that he would see, because his grandmother told him once that if he could snatch those lights and wrap them in a handkerchief, he would get some superpowers. The lights would give him magic.

Years passed and the kid grew up and the prayer changed a little. The little kid would ask the Lord to make him a brilliant lawyer someday and become the country’s president. Or perhaps God could turn him into a newscaster or an actor, so he could make great films and win some Oscars. And so the kid kept on growing; and the prayer kept on changing. Until finally, the things being asked by the little kid became even bolder, but more realistic. Instead of toys, he would ask the Lord to give him good grades. Instead of praying that Ginebra win the game, the kid started to pray that he win in the essay-writing contest he had joined. Instead of becoming a Power Ranger, he would ask the Lord to help him become a better person. Instead of an Oscar trophy, he would ask for guidance so he could make his family and loved ones a little proud.

Who would have thought that the little kid would grow up to be the College of Mass Communication’s first Summa cum Laude?

Who would have thought that the probinsyano from a small school in the remote town of Tayug, Pangasinan, who entered college as a computer illiterate and felt like a fish out of water to see his blockmates in great clothes, most of whom came from exclusive schools, speaking in English during the first class meetings; that that promdi who submitted his Comm 1 papers typewritten while the rest of his classmates had theirs computer-printed with fancy fonts, would graduate as his college’s valedictorian?

Many people were surprised. In the first place, I don’t have the looks of a supposedly intelligent student. I am seldom serious. I am talkative and noisy. I am a little crazy. I rarely go to the library. In fact, most of my library cards are still unused. I cram a lot and I don’t wear thick eyeglasses.

The great thing is, what mattered was not so much what people thought, but what people did.

So what did I do? I enjoyed every minute of learning. A lot of times it got really hard for me, but now all I can remember is the fulfillment and happiness I got each time I survived. Contrary to what most of you think, library and books were never my best friends. I want to be a journalist, not a human encyclopedia. But I have a dream. I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary dream. And every school work that came my way was never an obstacle, but a step closer.

The great thing in this College, especially in Journalism, is that being intelligent is not measured by the number of words one can memorize per minute. Intelligence meant ingenuity, sensitivity, and determination. In this college, we did not study numbers or atoms. We studied people, our problems, reality, and how to make people see what they refuse to or cannot notice.

We did not just study life; we lived it. We captured reality in our articles and in our videos. And it is through living that we learn—that we become better people. Lives can be saved, changed, and even destroyed by the power of the media. This power is what we sought to understand and acquire.

Now, we have that power to touch the lives of many people. And the training we had in this College has prepared us to use that power with great responsibility. The world is rapidly changing, and it is the media that help people catch up. In this country, journalism, through its various channels—print, online, television, and even text messaging—has guided the decisions of our people by providing them with the things they need to know. Soon, we will be a part of that noble profession.

College life was easy—easy to describe: It was very hard, very difficult, very challenging. This is the University of the Philippines. Getting into UP was never easy. Getting out of it, I mean by finishing one’s course successfully, is even harder. That we are all here today is indeed one reason to celebrate, because we all have survived college life in the country’s best university, even during those uncertain times.

Remember the movies and telenovela episodes we missed because we had to review for an exam? The parties we did not attend because we had to prepare some reports? The thick STS readings? The sleepless nights and our zombie looks because of our theses? The terror teachers? The boring classes? The extremely difficult, mind-boggling, I-wanna-drop-this-course types of exams? The insufficient deadlines? The sums of money we spent to watch the required plays and to photocopy the needed readings that could have provided us with three meals a day instead of one banana cue?

College life was tough. But it was also rewarding. Beating a deadline was a sweet success. Every exam passed was a gold medal. Every nod by our professors, or a simple pat on the back, was a jackpot. Every conversation we had with our friends made us wiser. And we were able to meet a lot of wonderful people, most of whom became our great friends, who taught us, in one way or another, a lot of amazing things that no book can ever teach.

Our batch saw and shaped a lot of important events. We marched from UP to EDSA and ousted a president. We saw terrorism grip the whole world with fear, but we never allowed that fear to consume us, and instead it made us more vigilant. We saw and understood how ugly war is—that we fought and are still fighting for peace.

These events have, in turn, shaped us to become better individuals. We learned how to become more critical and vigilant. We learned to assert our rights and fight for the right of others. We learned to fight for our principles and to stand up for our beliefs. We learned to survive amid a dwindling economy, but at the same time we learned to assert our right for a government working for national interest. We learned not only how to speak, but how to speak for the proper reasons, and be heard. We learned that, as students of the country’s premier university, we have a responsibility to our country and even to ourselves.

Now we see the fruit of those four long years of hard work and sacrifice. But learning is an endless process. Outside the university there awaits another exam in the bigger classroom of society, where the question of passing and failing becomes more important. Outside the university, there awaits a new curriculum where the courses cannot be dropped if they get too hard, nor can be repeated after a grade of 5; where excellence is not determined by medals but by happiness and fulfillment, not only our own, but also those of the people around us.

It is indeed a great responsibility ahead of us. Yet these are uncertain times. Life after college is an ocean full of doubts. Let us not be afraid to dream. And let us not be afraid to achieve them.

One of the greatest things I learned in college is that nobody is a nobody. That I was privileged to deliver this speech does not mean I am in any way better. Academics is just one simple category; and life is complex. Each one of us has his own greatness. Everybody can be a somebody.

My father always teases me that he and Mama are still better than I am because they have a son who is a Summa cum Laude. But I still say I am better, because I have the best parents in the world.

And so the cute little kid would keep on dreaming. Simple dreams, when put together, allow great things to happen. Surely, the little kid never caught any of those patches of light that he saw. But still those lights gave him magic—the power to believe that dreams do come true, because they really do if we make them happen.

Now, all that kid can see are the bright lights beaming from your eyes. The kid won’t snatch them, don’t worry. These lights are your own. And may they bring you magic, because out there a lot of great dreams are waiting to be achieved.

(Graduation Speech, UP College of Mass Communication Commencement Ceremony, April 27, 2003) 

Twelve years later, the little kid’s prayers are still changing, but one thing that has become constant is his prayer for thanksgiving. 

Teens must think about and discuss politics to learn

We presented the results of the study during the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in Chicago in August 2012.

By Nathan Hurst
MU News Bureau

Columbia, Mo. (Sept. 25, 2012) — A strong democracy depends on smart voters who choose their leaders based on their knowledge of important political issues. One of the ways that Americans learn about politics is by following the news. Now, researchers from the Missouri School of Journalism have found that simply following the news is not enough.

A panel survey involving more than 1,200 teenagers from 12 to 17 years of age found that adolescents learn more about politics when they think and talk about what they read or watch on the news. Edson Tandoc, a doctoral student at the School, found that adolescents who spend more time thinking and talking about the news with their peers and relatives tend to know more about political developments in the country.

“This is important because an individual’s political identity begins long before one is eligible to vote,” Tandoc said. “Our political identity is not shaped overnight and so it is important to start molding our future voters while they are still young.”

Tandoc and his adviser, Esther Thorson, a professor and associate dean for graduate studies and research in the Missouri School of Journalism, analyzed two surveys conducted six months apart. The first survey, conducted six months before the 2008 presidential elections, asked teenagers how frequently they followed the news, how much they thought about the news, and how often they discussed political news with their peers and relatives. The second survey conducted right after the elections asked the same teenagers several questions about politics to measure their levels of political knowledge.

What Tandoc found is that news consumption does not directly lead to political knowledge. Instead, news consumption leads to thinking about the news which then leads to engagement in discussions about the news, which finally ends with political learning.

“Engaging teenagers in the political process is vital for the future of democracy,” Tandoc said. “Our study shows that if parents and educators want to increase political knowledge and action among younger generations, it is important to involve them in discussions about what they are reading in the news. Just giving them a story to read is not enough. Teenagers need to be able to think through and talk about political issues in order to retain knowledge about them.”

This is a reprint of the press release published in the Missouri School of Journalism’s website about the research I did with our Graduate Studies Dean Dr. Esther Thorson. You will find the actual post here 

Why freedom of information can make people happy

Dr. Takahashi and I presented a version of this paper at the ICA Conference in Phoenix in May 2012.

Dr. Takahashi and I presented a version of this paper at the ICA Conference in Phoenix in May 2012.

The Philippines takes pride in having a free press, and yet the Freedom House Index (FHI), the most cited index of press freedom, rates the country as only “partly free.” Having a free press is important for democracy to flourish, and this is especially true for young democracies such as the Philippines.

In a study I co-authored with Dr. Bruno Takahashi of Michigan State University, published by the Social Indicators Research journal, we found that press freedom also contributes to increasing life satisfaction among citizens. Using a path analysis model involving data from 161 countries collected by different organizations, we found that countries with press freedom tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction among their citizens. Press freedom also contributes to having healthier environments and better standards of living, which then also contribute to happiness.

So where’s the link to having freedom of information (FOI), something the Philippines still does not have?

Having established that press freedom contributes to happiness, the next step is to understand what conditions are linked to it. Freedom House Index’s ratings look at three broad categories: the legal environment (e.g. laws and regulations that could influence media content), the political environment (e.g. pressure by the government, censorship, and violence against journalists), and the economic environment (e.g. structure of media ownership). FOI, I believe, is an important legal mechanism to ensure a free flow of information that guarantees press freedom.

With my happiness research as the springboard, I embarked on a new project, this time comparing press freedom, corruption ratings and freedom of information laws among 168 countries. In this still unpublished paper, I found that countries which have institutionalized FOI laws for a longer period of time tend to enjoy higher press freedom ratings.

Having an FOI law also leads to lower corruption levels and higher levels of human development. The global trend points to a positive effect of institutionalizing an FOI law on lowering corruption and improving human development.

This empirical evidence from the experiences of countries around the world shows how the Philippines, a country still wiggling out of economic inequality and corruption, can benefit from having its own FOI law.

Of course, enforcement is another matter, but let’s cross the bridge when we get there.

A story about these rants was published today on Inquirer’s frontpage. You will also find the article here:

And here is what our school had posted on its website:

Accepting rejections


Lima, Peru

I have learned to accept rejections.

Two years into my doctoral degree, I have had my share of rejected conference paper submissions. A classmate even asked me once how it felt to have a paper rejected because she had never experienced having one. Ouch. But I have learned to accept rejections. They are part of my academic experience, of my learning process, and sometimes even of my nightmares.

There is always a reason behind every rejection. No, I am not referring to reviews such as questioning a non-generalizable sample in a qualitative study. I am referring to a paper I presented in a conference last year in Peru, a paper that was previously rejected by another conference.

So what’s the reason behind that particular rejection?

1. I believe that rejections—at least for mortals like me who experience them—happen to make scholars persistent. When my paper got rejected, it broke my heart. But after sobbing—and I may not be exaggerating here—I went back to my computer, read my paper again, and reflected on what went wrong. I rewrote some parts. I added more literature. I ran more analyses. I revised the paper. And then revised it again. I rewrote some more sentences, some more paragraphs, and then some more sections, until I believed it has become unworthy of another rejection.

2. I believe that rejections happen to bring about surprises. When I learned about the call for papers from the World Communication Association for the 2011 conference in Peru, I took the chance. I have never joined WCA before. But the prospect of going to Peru was enough motivation. I have never been to Peru before. So I submitted my previously-rejected-now-improved paper and a few weeks later got a pleasant surprise: My paper was accepted.

Pollo a la Brasa

3. I believe that rejections in one’s academic career can eventually bring people to places. In my experience, it literally brought me to Peru. I was destined to try sumptuous dishes such as ceviche (fresh seafood in lime sauce), pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), and even anticucho (grilled beef heart). I was destined to drink chicha (sweet drink made of purple corn) and Inca cola (the most popular soda in Peru). Two necessary conditions allowed me to come to Peru. First, my school, the University of Missouri-Columbia, graciously gave me a travel grant enough to cover my pricey airfare. Second, I got a free place to stay, thanks to the nicest Peruvians I know, Dr. Bruno Takahashi (whom I first met in a conference in Singapore the previous year and who is now an assistant professor at Michigan State University) and his father Luis. 

4. I believe that rejections can build and strengthen friendships. My friends in Mizzou consoled me when my paper was rejected. The same paper brought me to Peru and reunited me with a good friend. I also made new friends from countries I have never been. 

Paracas, Peru

5. Finally, I believe that rejections can lead to unforgettable experiences. And I don’t mean the heartbreak that comes with them, or even the laborious work of revising. In my experience, having that paper rejected, and choosing to improve the manuscript rather than wallow in misery, gave me precious memories (and wonderful photos for Facebook). I drove by the Andes Mountains on our way to Huaral and marveled at the sight of reddish peaks that glinted with the sun. I saw penguins and sea lions during our trip to Paracas and took photos of rock formations protruding from the pristine blue sea. Bruno, whose paper won best student paper, had the humor to nominate me for best student presentation. I now have a nice glass trophy to remind me of my visit.

In a system that privileges approval, rejections are always disappointing. But how we respond to them defines our experience.

I have learned to accept rejections. I have learned that there is always room to grow, a chance for improvement, and an opportunity to be better.

There is a reason behind every rejection, especially if you accept it not as an end but as a beginning: There are always new memories to create, more experiences to make, and lots of Facebook photos to take.

For me, there was Peru.

Of studying and cooking

An edited (and much better) version of this rant is on today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

I am posting here my original draft, typos and all. 


Lumpiang Shanghai Edson-style

I love food. It nourishes me. It makes me happy.

So when I got a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US almost two years ago, I checked if Columbia, Missouri had a Filipino restaurant.

It didn’t.

I am not complaining. The Fulbright Scholarship Program made sure I got into the best journalism school in the world (of course I am being totally biased here). The Missouri School of Journalism is not only the oldest in the world; it also has the nicest and smartest people I have ever met.

But I love food. I love Filipino food.

So when I got the scholarship, I practiced cooking my favorite dishes. It meant I had to perfect adobo. I needed to master pinakbet. I had to roll up my sleeves to prepare delicious lumpiang shanghai rolls.

Columbia is a small city of close to 110,000 people. It’s really hot in the summer and then it freezes in the winter. It has a small Filipino store. It also has a few Asian stores where I buy my Filipino soy sauce, vinegar and my lumpia wrappers.

My journey toward my degree is parallel to my culinary adventures. Here are a few examples:

  1. Pork adobo tastes best with some pork fat. But slices sold in stores here don’t have fat. No pork skins, either. Studying here is like pork slices without the fat. My program here is awesome. My professors are very helpful, encouraging and smart. I get to work in some projects with them, learning from them in the process. I also get to teach classes. So yes, I get the meat. But since there is only one mall here (this is a university town) and since I don’t have a car (buses operate once every 40 minutes, never on Sundays or holidays), it is hard for me to move around. I get bored sometimes, but also become more productive. So I don’t get the fat. It’s not as good, but it’s definitely much healthier.
  2. It is difficult to find malunggay leaves here so I put spinach in my tinola. Also in my sandwiches. Sometimes in my sinigang, too. Studying away from my comfort zone is like tinola without malunggay. It is a constant challenge not to miss my family and friends back home. I missed rejoicing with my family when my brother officially became an engineer. I missed several weddings. It’s always tough to find a good time to Skype with my parents and siblings, and with my best friend (there is a 13-hour difference between Missouri and the Philippines; it becomes 14 when daylight saving time ends in November). Of course, I have my spinach here. I made a lot of new friends. They are adorable. They keep me sane and grounded. I write a lot of research papers with them (a cool bonding moment, I must admit). Tinola without green leaves tastes bland. Malunggay leaves, and recently I discovered even spinach, make it much better.
  3. I could not find yema wrappers here. I tried searching, but I could not find one. No one makes yema here, probably. But I do. One time I used it as topping for a rice cake I made. My classmates liked it. Studying here is like being a yema without the colorful plastic wrappers around you. You can be yourself. You have to be yourself. You have to embrace where you come from, because here you are different. Some will always see you as different. That’s fine. I wear my University of the Philippines centennial jacket to school. I wear shirts embroidered with our map, different colors for each day. But some will see beyond the color of your skin and see your passion for what you do. Most people here appreciate hard work. And I appreciate that. It makes me strive to work harder and enjoy what I do.

When I quit my newspaper job, which I really loved, one of my editors teased me that people should stop going to school at some point. That was exactly what I felt when I finished college, not so long ago. I wanted to do the real thing. I have been going to school since I was three. I wanted to practice what I learned.

But now, I realize that school can also be the real thing. It is what you make it. I don’t just go to school. I meet new people. I make new friends. I make lasting friendships that transcend race and distance. I research about journalism, something that I care about, and find ways to improve how we practice it. I learn new things, be it an old theory I have never heard of or hierarchical linear modeling. I get to visit new places. I discover more about myself. And I get to cook and eat the dishes that I love.

I love studying. It nourishes me. It makes me happy.

Here is the link to the improved version over at Inquirer.

And here is the newspaper layout!

Philippine Daily Inquirer
18 Jun 2012