Care and feeding of migration journalism, a decade hence

(First of two parts)

—Adopted from an essay written by Pulitzer Prize winner and juror Jacqui Banaszynski


IN a serene compound a decade ago, a writing plot was conceived. That humid January afternoon inside a Jesuit-run university, three men dipped into their warm coffee cups to hatch their hot idea.

The idea was received warmly, and other veteran and young journalists, some nonprofit advocates, and German, Dutch and Filipino donors joined in the fray. The piloting of that idea called “migration journalism,” then loosely called by one of the brains behind the idea, has now become staple fare into Filipino journalism.

The migration journalism idea of the Overseas Filipino Workers Journalism Consortium —yes, that “backyard news service” that’s less institutionalized and underfunded than other nonprofit and commercial news media groups— is now a decade old.

The Consortium was formed in a developing country where overseas mobility has cared for, and fed, a middle-income economy and her local communities, economic sectors, and families. This social phenomenon called overseas migration has become the Philippines’s brand in the globalized world.

And this ten-year-old global nonprofit media service has, in its volunteering best —and with all the limited financial resources it has— fed Philippine news media outfits and overseas Filipinos hooked electronically with stories that try to show Filipino journalists can probably write better. That outcome was the conspiracy hatched ten years ago against Philippine journalism, to quote a Consortium pioneer.

It hasn’t been easy, though, to care and feed migration journalism.

The volunteer reporters and editors of the OFW Journalism Consortium operate in an environment in which journalism in the Philippines remains young in history and, many times, market driven in approach. A Filipino reader can easily see the difference between a Filipino’s news or feature story with counterpart stories from journalists in developed countries.

Given our exposure to the conduct of Filipino-style journalism, offering stories that are packaged differently has been the constant struggle of the Consortium’s volunteers. Stories compiled as newspackets (the Consortium’s primary news product) are hard to come by, for editorial and non-editorial reasons. Volunteerism even constrains, or has constrained, the care and feeding of this nonprofit news media service’s operations.

Can’t overseas Filipinos, those moneyed individuals exposed to cosmopolitan living, help finance the editorial operations of the Consortium? Nicely-edited stories are the soft sell to them, especially since these stories are offered for free since the beginning. We probably have ourselves to blame: spoiling audiences with free lunch all the time.

What about the companies that have raked a lot of money from the “Pinoy abroad” phenomenon? Editorial independence, amid the showcase of fairness and balance plus writing wit, ain’t a worthy business proposition to them.

(To be continued)