Endings, beginnings

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Monday, September 1, 2014

IT HAS been over a month since I returned to full-time media work after a one-year study leave spent abroad. It’s good to be back.

My academic year at Harvard University as the Sandra Burton–Nieman fellow for 2013 and 2014 was amazing. I felt so privileged during my stay at Harvard; it was insane.

It felt weird at first to be back in school but the exposure and friendships were worth the journey outside of my comfort zone in Cebu.


As it was rare for a community or provincial journalist to reach this university on a fellowship, I felt I had to make the most of it.

It started on orientation day a year ago at the Walter Lippmann House, headquarters of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. When I arrived, I saw people introducing themselves and making beso-beso. I was sweaty and panting from a brisk walk to the venue that took 30 minutes instead of the 15 minutes described by Google maps. I had to excuse myself immediately, rush to the restroom, and fix the way I looked.

When the time came for formal introductions to the other fellows and Nieman staff, I decided I had to say something that would make them remember me out of this group of heavies that included a Pulitzer Prize winner, war correspondents and journalists from giants like the New York Times, Financial Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, National Public Radio, BBC, and Bloomberg.

My turn came. I stood up, announced my name and organization, and said, “I learned something about myself on my way here this morning. I learned I cannot walk as fast as the others. This was why I arrived sweating and out-of-breath. I realized that my short legs are no match to the pace of most pedestrians.”

I went on to describe my proposed area of study and ended by saying I was thankful for this opportunity to spend a year at Harvard and I was hoping this fellowship would give me the power legs to let me reach new heights in journalism.

After that, some of them would ask, “How are your short legs?”

During my Nieman year, I was able to listen to Nobel Prize winners, interact with Pulitzer Prize awardees, and share experiences with fellow newspaper and online news editors from organizations around the world. I got tips from officers and owners of huge companies like Twitter, Reddit, Storyful, ProPublica, NPR, eBay, American Airlines, and many more.

I learned how to play poker during a master class where a Harvard Law School professor stood with a cigar in one hand and a glass of brandy in the other to talk about strategic thinking. In poker, as in journalism, you try to see the situation from the other side, Professor Charles Nesson said.

I worked with scientists and book authors on journalism and writing projects. I built a website start-up with an Israeli journalist and crafted a training program on journalism’s future.

After the fellowship ended, a number of the Nieman fellows did not return to their old jobs or positions. Many went to new, better jobs, while others moved up in their organizations.

I was asked why I decided to return to Cebu, why I did not seek new opportunities with my fresh credentials. I said I wasn’t finished here and there was still work to be done.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 02, 2014.


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