Sunday, November 30, 2014

Starting to say Goodbye

 Not because you are saying goodbye doesn’t mean you love what you’re saying goodbye to any less. 

Today is December 1, and in 30 days I may no longer have a job.

To make saying goodbye easier, I will start today: a farewell letter to my life’s greatest love State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. 

To me, the program wasn’t just a job, it was my life, I loved it passionately and unconditionally and this is just to acknowledge that although I’m saying goodbye, State of the Nation was, is and always will be one of the best things to ever happen to me.

To this day I’m still amazed at how blessed I am to have landed this job. I knew nothing about Television, I didn’t know how to write a TV script, let alone shooting, but I knew I wanted to tell stories – more than anything in the world.

For only my second story as a TV producer, my bosses sent me to Baguio to report on SM’s earthballing of 182 trees at their Luneta Hill lot. I spent the weekend talking to artists, activists and environmentalists and listening to Up Dharma Down, who joined the rally by staging a concert under the pine trees up a hill. I went home with that story and another: that Baguio was running out of land, resulting to problems of water supply and forcing the local government to develop the Metro Baguio plan to decongest the city.

I was lucky to have stumbled upon some very good research materials and even luckier to have been teamed up with a very good cameraman for that assignment. Beginner’s luck, I guess, but my next segments weren’t as spot-on. Some lacked research, some lacked good videos and others that just weren’t executed well. But none that made me love storytelling any less.

It just took me into a journey of discovering which kinds of stories I wanted to tell, or which kinds I could tell better.

I found it difficult to shoot news features. Often, there is no natural sequence so we always had to direct what we call in the industry as “stylized scenes.” I also wasn’t good with “happy” stories, the running joke in the Newsroom was that I should never be assigned to write a Christmas story, unless they want to hear the Grinch version.

Together with my researchers over the years, I hunted for policy stories. From school memorandums of banning the use of hijab, local ordinances on community funds for funerals, to Department orders of removing Filipino as a required unit in College. In the process, we found people who were affected by the policies, who, in turn, brought the heart to the story that I couldn’t otherwise write, or shoot.

But my bosses and colleagues know, I have a favorite: Culture and the Arts. I did stories on Museum Tours in Cebu, Filipino Book Stores in Baguio, Poetry Slams, painters who were also construction workers on the side, and just recently, the Art of Angono, Rizal.

Nothing brought me more joy than seeing those stories air on Television, and knowing that at least one person was being affected, or changing her mind because of the story we told.

I owe it to my Executive Producer and Program Manager who trusted me enough to give me that kind of creative liberty. I have aired stories with boring videos, wrong soundbytes, wrong graphics; stories that were 2 minutes too long, even stories that failed to say what it was supposed to say. But they still continued to trust me. The luckiest producers are those who have bosses who believed in the same brand and value of storytelling as they did, those who have bosses who gently remind them of the ratings game but always end the conversation of why the stories matter.

“Find a story that matters and then find a way to sell it,” was their formula for me.

I learned to appreciate that formula better when I started writing News for the daily production. Every day we write about corruption and abuse of power yet watch the Filipino people forget they have been wronged and let the same anomalies happen over and over again.

Everyday we write stories about conflict and human rights violations yet watch the victims be further victimized by the ignorant judgments of those we try so hard to inform and educate.

So it was clear to me the importance of that formula: we have to make them watch the News first before the News can start making some real change, and the only way to do that is to make the stories more appealing.

Everyday is a struggle to work around that formula, I didn’t always succeed but everyday is another day to try.

And there is no better motivation than the fact that we are working for the one and only Jessica Soho.

I learned a lot from Ma’am Jess, sometimes I learned embarrassingly; when she would cross out words in my script because no such Tagalog exists, or when she would ask me basic research questions I didn’t have the answer to. One time she asked me to compute the total pork barrel allocation of the 12 Senators for a certain year – I fumbled over calculator keys on my iPhone and still she finished before me just by calculating mentally. She would re-write my entire script on my notebook in the span of 5 minutes, and when we were pressed for time, she would directly record her voiceover editing my script as she goes.

I had the privilege to have been put under her famous, nerve-wracking “graded recitation.” “What was our GDP in 2012?” she asked me one time when I wrote about the quarterly GDP report in 2013; she asked this during the live broadcast, in between reports when she was off camera, so both her and I didn’t have the luxury of time. I failed that test but learned to always research everything there is to research about a story.

I could go on endlessly about the things she has taught me in Journalism --- how to tell when someone’s lying and playing safe being one my favorites --- but the most important things I learned from her: ethics, humility and kindness.

Working with her has taught me that storytelling goes beyond the story, a good part of the job has to do with treating your subjects and sources with honesty and sincerity and to never, ever forget that being the one who has the microphone and airtime doesn’t put you above the rest.

I was prepared to spend the rest of my life in GMA. I love my job that much that I also risked so much fighting to keep it.

Now that I’m about to lose it, I’m reminded of the reason why I wanted it in the first place – I want to tell stories and as much as I have loved telling them from GMA, a new story has emerged: that the corporation failed in its labor policies, and is refusing to change a system that has been taking employees for granted for a very long time.

More than a hundred of us have stood up to tell this story, and although it hurts to be losing the job we love as a consequence --- this is a story that matters.

One that could hopefully change the media industry for the better, so younger ones who have the same dreams as ours could experience better labor practice.

I knew going into the job that I will never be rich in my line of work, I will never be able to afford a mansion or a flashy car, but it is the right of every employee to have social security.

Saying goodbye will be one the hardest things I will ever have to do, God knows how many times I've went back and forth, but to not tell this story will be a betrayal of the craft that I’ve loved with all my heart.

This letter is dedicated to all my bosses and co-staffers in State of the Nation; to my co-producers who helped me improve my craft, my researchers who are more deserving of credit for the stories we aired, the masterful camera crew who made me look good through their compelling videos --- thank you all for being part of the 4 greatest years of my life.

To my friends in the Newsroom, for being my sanity in such a crazy world, and for the friendship that makes it all worthwhile.

But most of all this letter is dedicated to the hundred us who risk to lose our greatest love, simply because we truly love it.

May ours be a story of justice and change, we have 30 more days to let it be heard, and our entire lifetime to make sure this story is not forgotten.

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