Saturday, September 27, 2008


CEBU Press Freedom Week has become a stepping stone for many students over the years.

For opportunity-strapped schools, the fora, exhibits, movies and other events sponsored by the local media and companies are a boon. This year’s lineup, which culminated yesterday, showed the diversity of opportunities for work in communications: lifestyle (not just hard news) reporting, online journalism, convergence in newsrooms and corporate communications.

These are welcome developments since local schools offering Mass Communications have grown from three to seven. For students who feel trapped between call centers and newsrooms, it is reassuring to know there’s a smorgasbord of employment that will tap their training and compensate them better for their diplomas as graduation often means more family responsibilities.

For the few but determined to work in journalism, Cebu Press Freedom Week allows several glimpses of the rigors and the rewards of covering one’s community. Although journalists’ salaries have fallen behind the leaps of technology and multi-tasking, some students still overcome their undergraduate ambivalence about newsroom careers to take that leap of faith.

In the four Press Freedom events I’ve attended this week, I counterchecked that a significant number of new reporters and correspondents for local newspapers and the TV networks were schooled in local colleges. The newsroom practice of hiring Mass Com graduates promotes professionalism, journalism practiced according to standards and ethics.

Hopefully, the newbies will eventually follow other colleagues that have made time in their tight schedules to lecture to college students about journalism, broadcasting and even Cebuano. As former UP Cebu student leader and now Sun.Star Cebu reporter Jujemay G. Awit commented about former Sun.Star reporter, now lawyer, Rosemarie O. Versoza, who lectures on the law and mass media at UP Cebu and volunteers for the Cebu Media Legal Aid, professionals teaching college undergraduates is a way of “paying forward” to the community.

I’d like to think that the Mass Com graduates who end up in other professions cultivate a lifelong healthy skepticism, which, coupled with their college training, makes them effective as critical news consumers and citizen journalists.

But Cebu Press Freedom Week also reminds me of the others. Since it was launched 14 years ago, the celebration is timed with Sept. 21, the day martial law was imposed in the country, muzzling the freedom of the press and other rights for years.

This year, Cebu Press Freedom Week is made poignant by the death of Rachel Mae Palang, killed last September 18 after the group she was with clashed with army soldiers in the town of Dauin, Negros Oriental.

Initially, there was some confusion when some misheard that the incident involved a UP Cebu student. The rumors were dispelled last Sept. 24, when UP Mass Com senior Rachel Chloe Palang stood up to ask Sun.Star editors during the “Reaching out to Future Journalists” forum how journalists can handle being harassed by sources.

Seeing Chloe made me think of the other Rachel. Then a student, distinguished in her nursing studies and campus press duties, Rachel Mae was a source interviewed by a former student whose angle about press freedom focused on campus journalism.

Reading my student’s drafts, I was drawn to Rachel Mae. Though swamped by the academic demands of her school and course, traditionally one of the most apathetic to student activism, she broke the mold by getting her campus publication to focus on student welfare, such as access to school services.

Many of us, working journalists, trace our start to the campus paper. Long before journalism teachers required publication of article assignments in dailies and newsroom editors opened sections to contributions from campus journalists, the campus paper was the furnace stoking our inchoate passions.

When our pens and keyboards found their groove, we all moved on: worked in newsrooms for our bread and butter or because we believe the truth is out there and it could set us free.

This column is dedicated to all those who believe. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 28, 2008

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