Practicing ‘alternative’ journalism
by Kenneth Roland A. Guda
[Published in the August 2008 issue of PJR (Philippine Journalism
Review) Reports of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility]
Writing – as well as editing and taking photographs – for Pinoy Weekly is
often a hectic and exciting, lonely and daunting task. But it is never
After all, we are a small organization. Some of our editors are in the
academe, but most are also writers, photographers, even layout artists. If
in the seven years of the paper’s existence I learned anything from
working for Pinoy Weekly, it is the art of multitasking.
Which, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is, after all,
precisely this kind of training that honed a whole generation of
journalists during martial law – the so-called “mosquito journalists” who
worked under tight budgets, in small groups and with limited circulation.
These journalists produced some of the bravest reporting this country has
seen. They worked outside the ambit of Marcos’ “official media” that toed
the Palace line and kept silent about the repression and violence that the
state inflicted upon the people.
In many aspects, Pinoy Weekly continues that tradition. Though some say
today’s media is freer than that during martial law, social conditions
essentially stayed the same. One difference, though, is that Philippine
media have become more profit-driven. This has led to some dearth in
reporting social issues and perspectives deemed unprofitable or
unfashionable. Pinoy Weekly seeks to subvert that practice. We have
clear-cut advocacies, and service not just the general public but sectors
of society that are maginalized and underreported.
We subscribe to the basic journalistic tenets of fairness and accuracy.
But we are driven by a great desire to influence ordinary people to
participate in social change.
Thrust into unfamiliar territory
As with most of our editorial staff, my single press credential was
writing for a student paper, the Philippine Collegian of the University of
the Philippines (UP) Diliman, before making a leap into this small
journalistic project called Pinoy Weekly. I was a Creative Writing
(Filipino) major in UP, but was not a native Tagalog speaker. I thought of
myself mainly as an English writer.
When a ragtag band of patriotic entrepreneurs formed Pinoy Weekly, they
envisioned a publication catering to sectors of society deemed unlettered.
They were the tabloid-reading crowd, who had no access to investigative
journalism but possess the potential to influence society for the good. It
was 2002, just a year after EDSA Dos. Eugenia “Eggie” Apostol’s Pinoy
Times, which targeted the politicized middle class, had stopped
publishing. The ragtag band thought it was time for a political paper
catering to the working class.
I came in as a reporter. With my background as a features writer in
English, I had difficulty shifting to writing news stories in Filipino.
But the language and the news format was the least of my worries. Beat
coverage was worlds apart from creative writing. For lack of more seasoned
reporters, I was assigned to cover Malacañang – considered by many to be
the important political beat, and an intimidating place for the
It was fine, even thrilling at first, to be close to the seat of power. I
was in the Palace when Oakwood happened. I was there when the US
government declared war on Iraq and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called a press
conference to profess her undying support for that tragic invasion. I
remember being at the Palace when US President George W. Bush visited
It sure had its highs, but generally I was uncomfortable. But this was
partly because of my initial inability to reconcile my progressive
politics with the demands of what was supposedly “mainstream” reporting. I
guess it was not so much timidity as revulsion for everything the
institution stood for.
I later learned to compromise. I found useful something that Norman Mailer
wrote when he covered the 1964 Republican primaries – an awful place and
time to be in if you are a liberal like Mailer: “Unless one knows him
well, or has done a sizable work of preparation, it is next to useless to
interview a politician…Interview ing a candidate is about as intimate as
catching him on television. Therefore it is sometimes easier to pick up
the truth of his campaign by studying the outriggers of his activity.”
Shifting to new approaches
I find nothing wrong with mainstream beat reporting – they provide
invaluable public service. It is just that I did not find myself, and by
extension, the weekly paper, effective by aping reporters from the
dailies, trying to get that elusive scoop of the day. Investigative
journalists point out that the beat system tends to discourage independent
Thankfully, Pinoy Weekly eventually shifted to a feature-based, magazine
format. We shifted our attention to honing our investigative and narrative
reporting skills. We shifted from a traditional beat coverage to a
sectoral coverage. This entailed refocusing our attention from “official”
sources of information, like government agencies, to the members of the
sectors themselves as well as non-state groups representing those sectors.
It is a bottom-to-top approach. It was alternative journalism.
I covered and wrote in-depth stories on women and human rights. It was
2006, when the Subic rape case caught national attention, when
extrajudicial killings of activists intensified, when enforced
disappearances reached alarming levels. Meanwhile, our renewed push for
in-depth reporting compelled me to study photojournalism. I began to write
about and take photographs of the cases and issues that I covered. At the
same time, I was gradually asked to shoulder more editing tasks.
In November 2007, the paper’s editor in chief, Rogelio Ordoñez, resigned.
I was obliged – forced was more like it – to take the helm. As a young
editor with a pool of writers and photographers with an average age of 26,
Pinoy Weekly’s print edition sought to reflect its staff’s youthful energy
and passion. We jazzed up the covers, all the while taking to heart the
Just last June, burdened with financial difficulties (we rarely had
advertisements, which meant we got by through support from readers in the
impoverished sectors), Pinoy Weekly opted to temporarily halt its print
edition. We continue publishing online (http://www.pinoywee kly.org) as we
study better ways of sustaining the print for the long haul.
Yes, I even had to learn some marketing skills. Seven years into this
small project called Pinoy Weekly, I have become a compulsive multi-tasker.
No regrets, though, as I always keep in mind the readers – those
unlettered, tabloid-reading public who have come to appreciate our work
and our passion.
Kenneth Roland Guda is the editor in chief of Pinoy Weekly
http://krguda. wordpress. com
Letter from National Artist
Kababasa ko lang ng artikulo mo. Nakakahanga ang iyong dedikasyon sa
gawain mo para sa Pinoy Weekly. No glory talaga ang pagsusulat para sa
isang munting publikasyon pero tama ka sa pag-uukol mo ng panahon at
talino alang-alang sa target audience na binubuo ng tabloid-reading
public. Sana ang dedikasyon mo ay magsilbing inspirasyon sa iba pang
kabataang journalist na iniluluwal ng mga student organs. Mabuhay ka!