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. 

Here’s one fear we don’t have to be afraid of

Spiritual Reading

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. And how much more you are worth than the birds! Can any of you, however much you worry, add a single cubit to your span of life? If a very small thing is beyond your powers, why worry about the rest?” (Luke 12: 22-26)

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Allocutio

I am a very anxious person. I worry a lot. I have many fears. I was assigned to give today’s allocutio. This task made me afraid.

Fear is a survival instinct. For us humans, fear serves as “a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to danger with a fight or flight response.” It is an emotion that prepares us to react.

What are you afraid of? Think back to the last time you felt fear.

Your heart raced faster as it pumped more blood to your muscles to allow you to run faster. Your body increased the flow of hormones to your brain to allow you to focus on the threat you are facing, and store that in your memory.

This cognitive process allows us to remember dangerous situations from the past and be prepared, if needed. For example, a child remembers the day a dog attacked him. He heard the dog bark, he looked back, and saw a dog approaching, its mouth wide open.

But it is also the same cognitive process that triggers fear when the child hears a dog bark, even if it is a different dog this time, or a dog from a movie, or a ring tone, or a friend mimicking his favorite pet.

So while fear is a survival mechanism in the short run, it can be harmful in the long run.

Living in constant fear, studies found, weakens the immune system, decreases fertility, damages internal organs, and can damage certain parts of the brain. It hinders important brain functions, such as regulating emotions and ethical decision-making.

One thing that I do often, which is closely related to fear, is worry. Being the paranoid person that I am, I worry about almost everything. I worry about my safety. I worry about my work. I worry about what other people think of me. Why is my friend not responding on Skype? Why did my colleague sit at the far end of the table, away from me? Why are my superiors calling me for a meeting?

Worrying is very stressful. And just like fear, it has physical manifestations.

I still clearly remember one time I was on a bus, rushing for a press conference I needed to attend as a newspaper reporter, and as I was worrying about missing the event, the stoplight changed into red. The bus screeched into a full stop as pain stretched from my stomach to my throat. As a reporter, who was constantly worried about everything, I had developed an awful case of gastric reflux.

Worrying is “an emotion tied into the ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system,” very much just like fear. But unlike fear, it is “triggered by anticipation of things that may cause emotional or physical stress.”

Fearful of this task to deliver today’s allocutio, I turned to the Bible. What does the Bible say about fear and worrying?

I am a media researcher, and to some extent, what we see in the media contributes to our worries. We see images of war, disasters, accidents, injustice, and corruption.

We fear for our safety, for our lives, for our loved ones. We purchase insurance premiums, sturdy locks and alarm systems, and others even arm themselves.

But this fear, these worries, arises from putting too much faith on people, too much value on things, instead of putting our trust in the Lord.

There is one kind of fear that is quite different, something that is positive, and that is the fear of God.

In an article, Father Raniero Cantalamessa said that fearing God is different from being afraid.

He said: “It is a component of faith: It is born from knowledge of who God is. It is the same sentiment that we feel before some great spectacle of nature. It is feeling small before something that is immense; it is stupor,marvel mixed with admiration.”

It is the absence of this fear, the fear of God, the “beginning of all wisdom,” that allows fears, worries, and anxiety to clog our hearts and preoccupy our minds.

So what did I do to control my fear of my assignment for today?

First, I decided to not waste my energy on worrying, and instead channeled my focus into actually preparing. I read the handbook to understand what the Allocutio is for.

In our spiritual reading, the Lord told his disciples: ‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

My assignment today is not to impress you, not to make sure I don’t stutter or mispronounce words. My assignment is beyond that.

Second, I prepared by trusting the Lord, knowing that my fear of Him is bigger than any fear, or worry, or anxiety. I decided to confront my worries and my fear. I stopped making excuses and embraced this task.

In Philippians 4:6-7, it is said: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, I messaged some friends on Whatsapp, and their kind words helped extinguish my fear. Proverbs 12:25 says: “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”

So, the next time we feel afraid, let’s just read Psalm 34:4. For it says: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.

References

Becker-Schutte, Ann. 2014. Fear vs. worry. Help at the Intersection of Physical & Mental Health, http://www.drannbeckerschutte.com/2014/05/fear-vs-worry/.

Buhr, Kristin, and Michel J. Dugas. 2009. The role of fear of anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty in worry: An experimental manipulation. Behaviour Research and Therapy 47 (3):215-223.

Cantalamessa, Raniero. 2008. Pope’s Preacher: ‘Have Fear But Do Not Be Afraid’. Catholic Online, http://www.catholic.org/news/international/europe/story.php?id=28326.

Towey, Sue. 2013. Impact of Fear and Anxiety. Taking charge of your health and wellbeing, http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/security/facing-fear/impact-fear.

Facebook can lead to depression, but only if it triggers envy

Browsing Facebook has become a daily activity for hundreds of millions of people. Because so many people engage with the website daily, researchers are interested in how emotionally involved Facebook users can be with the social networking site and how regular use can affect their mental health. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri and Nanyang Technological University have found that Facebook use can lead to symptoms of depression if the social networking site triggers feelings of envy among its users.

Led by Edson Tandoc Jr., a former doctoral student at MU and now an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the study surveyed young Facebook users and found that some of those who engage in “surveillance use” of Facebook also experience symptoms of depression while those who use the site simply to stay connected do not suffer negative effects.

Surveillance use of Facebook occurs when users browse the website to see how their friends are doing compared with their own lives. The researchers found that Facebook postings about things such as expensive vacations, new houses or cars, or happy relationships can evoke feelings of envy among surveillance users. They say that these feelings of envy can then lead to Facebook users experiencing symptoms of depression.

Margaret Duffy, a professor and chair of strategic communication at the MU School of Journalism, says that how Facebook users use the site makes a difference in how they respond to it.

“Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends and to share interesting and important aspects of their lives,” Duffy said. “However, if Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship—things that cause envy among users—use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.”

“We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression,” Duffy said. “Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect. It is important for Facebook users to be aware of these risks so they can avoid this kind of behavior when using Facebook.”

“Social media literacy is important,” Tandoc said. “Based on our study, as well as on what others have previously found, using Facebook can exert positive effects on well-being. But when it triggers envy among users, that’s a different story. Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation in using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would only post positive things about themselves. This self-awareness, hopefully, can lessen feelings of envy.”

Patrick Ferrucci, a former doctoral student at the MU School of Journalism and currently an assistant professor at Bradley University, also co-authored the study. This study, based on a survey of more than 700 college students, was published in Computers in Human Behavior.

This press release is adapted from the University of Missouri News Bureau. It has since been published in several publications, such as in Huffington Post, HLN TV, and NPR.

Analyzing analytics: Results from a 2012 survey

Slide01

Last year, I worked with Prof. Mike Jenner of the Missouri School of Journalism on a survey of American news editors to understand how they use web analytics in the newsroom.

The following slides are from a presentation I gave at the Journalytics Summit of the Reynolds Journalism Institute on September 26, 2013.

Slide04

We worked with the American Society of News Editors which allowed us to invite its members to participate in the survey.

Slide05

Most newsrooms in the survey monitor web analytics (96.5%) and majority get the data from a third-party vendor, such as Omniture (55%). Others use free online tools such as Google analytics (41.3%).

Slide06

Of the news editors we surveyed, majority claimed to have had informal training on web analytics (51.4%) while some claimed to have self-taught knowledge or no training at all (25%).

Slide07

The most important metrics, in terms of the percentage of respondents who described them as important to extremely important, are number of unique visitors (85%), most read articles (83.6%) and page views (83.2%).

Slide08

News editors agreed that they use web analytics to decide whether or not to assign additional stories or coverage about an issue (73.1%), decide on story placement (72.2%), decide on how to write the headline (62.9%), and design the website (62.1%). Some 21.4% agreed they use metrics to evaluate the performance of employees!

Slide09

Slide10

Early research showed that newsrooms used web metrics to inform story packaging decisions, such as placement of elements in the website. That has changed, with newsrooms now incorporating information from analytics at the earlier stages of gatekeeping, which have editorial implications.

Slide11

A paper that focused on what accounts for these usage patterns was presented at the International Communication Association conference in London in June 2013.

It’s a tie!

This post is not journalism research-related.

But if you look at attending conferences to present research as an essential component of the research process (since scientific research should be public anyway), then learning how to tie a tie is useful–especially for someone like me who rarely uses a tie (and therefore being able to do it in those rare times is always hit-or-miss, most often the latter).

Not anymore.

Thanks to those who uploaded this on Youtube and shared this on Facebook! (I tried it a couple of times. It works!)

Plagiarism pandemic: Is copying contagious?

It is shocking, unthinkable, and embarrassing, that a senator of the Republic of the Philippines will deliver a speech, for everyone to hear, with passages copied from a blog that everyone with an internet connection can access.

High-profile copying, however, is no longer an original act.

In an online world overloaded with information, where cutting-and-pasting has become an easy alternative to originality, copying is becoming contagious.

We are now facing a plagiarism pandemic.

The past month alone:

  • New Yorker magazine staff writer Jonah Lehrer was forced to quit for recycling his columns in different publications (in effect plagiarizing himself), and for fabricating quotes for a book he wrote.
  • CNN TV host Fareed Zakaria, a Harvard Ph.D graduate, apologized for copying a paragraph from the New Yorker for a column he wrote for Time magazine. Both CNN and Time have agreed to reinstate him after finding it was an isolated case.
  • In the Philippines, parts of Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto’s emotional speech against the reproductive health bill were found to have been lifted verbatim from a blog. Some speeches by the bill’s proponent, Sen. Pia Cayetano, may have also been lifted from other sources without attribution, according to local reports.

Two years ago, influential Filipino businessman Manny Pangilinan had to apologize after parts of his commencement address for the Ateneo De Manila University sounded familiar: They were assembled from different speeches delivered by author J.K. Rowling, TV host Oprah Winfrey, and US President Barack Obama, among others.

Though it was their speech writers and research assistants who plagiarized those passages, these personalities are not blameless.

Simply put, plagiarism is passing someone else’s as one’s own work.

When public officials and prominent personalities deliver speeches they did not write—even if it is a widely accepted practice, even if it is from speechwriters whom they pay—it is still a case of dishonesty.

They are invited to give speeches so people can listen not to what others have written, but to what they have to say, their own thoughts in their own words—a peek into the mind and heart of a supposedly great person worthy of that invitation.

In the end, it all boils down to respect.

If we want to encourage more creative and original work, we must respect those who produce original knowledge. A simple attribution will suffice. Give credit where credit is due.

It is also about respecting ourselves. Stealing someone else’s work is a form of self-disrespect. Plagiarism means doubting your own ideas, being embarrassed by your own words and refusing to nurture your own creativity.

Or it just means being lazy.

A simple reminder: What you can find using Google, the remaining one billion Google users can find, too.

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. 

Image

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. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/214121/how-studying-and-cooking-nourish-me

And here is the newspaper layout!


Philippine Daily Inquirer
18 Jun 2012