By AA PATAWARAN
When I was invited by San Miguel Corporation to take part in its Ed Talks program, I thought how timely, especially as the latest edition was to be held in Iloilo City, so far my favorite province in the Philippines that doesn’t need a beach or cold weather to suit my purpose. I was to give a talk about lifestyle journalism to a roomful of journalists from the Western Visayas region, meaning Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Roxas City, all the way to Aklan.
Mine was only one aspect of journalism. To cover the rest, there were other journalists, such as DWIZ anchor and former Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal correspondent Stanley Cris F. Larano, Philippine Daily Inquirer sports editor Francis T. Ochoa, and former editor of FHM, now AOMnl editor at Viva Allan Hernandez, who shared with the audience his dramatic transition from print to digital-only.
I started my talk trying to draw parallelisms between my place in journalism and Iloilo. I started with “You and I, we’re in the same boat. We’re not in the center of attention.” I was talking about how, over the years and to this day, the lifestyle section in any newspaper has been described by industry players and even the lifestyle journalists themselves as the “soft” side of the news, soft being lighter, less serious, maybe trivial, maybe less important, and—as it would be seen in a roomful of hardcore, cigarette-smoking, black coffee-drinking, foul-mouthed diaristas—even “fluffy.”
It’s true all over the world, although at some point, in print and now in digital, publications focused on every lifestyle, from the sporting life to travel, from high society to fashion to even the art of collecting buttons were a big business. It’s so true that there are serious studies being conducted right now to measure the value with which lifestyle journalists regard their profession.
In the first place, there is no journalism school in the world that teaches Lifestyle Journalism. If at all, you get three units of feature writing and maybe a few more units of elective courses that, if I were you, I would seize as an opportunity to take up philosophy or art history or maybe culinary art or design, anything to add a rich layer to your knowledge pool because, if one has to be a lifestyle journalist, one to has to know so much more than the five Ws (What, Who, When, Where, Why) and one H (How).
In truth, as I shared with over 50 participants at half a ballroom at the Grand Xing Hotel in Iloilo City, lifestyle journalism is more than journalism. It’s a hybrid between reporting and creative writing. In some cases, it is a form of art, depending on who does it and how it is done, say, Nick Joaquin’s “The House on Zapote Road,” his account of a horrific and bizarre crime that made the Manila Chronicle frontpage in 1961, out of which the cult classic Kisapmata, a Mike de Leon film starring Vic Silayan, Hilda Koronel, Jay Ilagan, and Charito Solis, was drawn. Take also, for example, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” only the best celebrity profile of all time, which he wrote for Esquire in 1966 as a result of his epic failure to snag an interview with superstar Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles. And then, there’s “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, which pioneered creative nonfiction as a literary genre.
Media industries have taken on roles that had previously been filled by other social institutions like the family, education systems, and religion. —Folker Hanusch
But how does Iloilo share my plight? I explained that just like lifestyle journalism in the general structure of a newspaper, Iloilo has not exactly been top of mind, just as no other place outside of Manila has been top of mind in a system that is, by its very nature, capital-centric. Not only has the capital, “the Imperial Manila,” enjoyed the lion’s share of attention, it has also monopolized resources and has positioned itself as the center of it all, the starting point of all progress, from which everything is to radiate to the outlying areas. If only on account of geography, capital first and Iloilo is about 500 kilometers away by air.
But this is not a case of misery loves company because things have changed and made possible, for instance, the democratization of ideas and opinion. In the 2017 paper “Journalistic Roles and Everyday Life” by Folker Hanusch, it is said that “societal shifts toward individualization, de-traditionalization, and value change particularly in prosperous economies have resulted in many people increasingly relying on the media to provide guidance and advice on how to live their lives.” It is from this paper that I learned, though I have been practicing it for over 25 years, that a lifestyle journalist can approach his professional tasks in one or more of these established four roles—as a service provider, as a life coach, as a community advocate, and/or as an inspiring entertainer.
While brainstorming with my bosses in 2017, I shared with them the four questions I would ask of myself when evaluating the worthiness of a story (whether to pursue it or to include it in my lineup) as an editor.
Does it inform?
Does it entertain?
Does it inspire?
Does it empower?
For a story to make it to my page, I have made it a personal policy to demand of each story an affirmative answer to at least two of these four questions, otherwise I reject or scrap or ask that it be rewritten.
As Hanusch’s paper puts it, maybe thanks to the opening up of communication channels, “recent years have seen renewed interest in journalism’s role in everyday life, in addition to the traditional focus on journalism’s relationship with politics.”
Just as more and more of lifestyle journalism’s cultural impact is being recognized, more and more of the needs and dreams of places outside of the capital is being given the attention they deserve. To Iloilo alone, I’ve traveled maybe up to 10 times in the last three years for various reasons, say, the Dinagyang Festival, a Cecile Licad piano recital at Nelly’s Garden and the Molo Church, a Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the Iloilo Convention Center, a food festival or two or three, the launch of the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts, the opening of the Festive Mall at the Megaworld Business Park, and more. Of course, there was also the recent round of Ed Talks organized by San Miguel Corporation that, as I told the audience during my talk, tongue in cheek, was a ripple in the great wave of changes across the world that have disrupted the way things work now, that have put “local” in the spotlight, that have made the individual rise.
I mean now, it doesn’t matter how far removed you are from the center of things. You can be at the very edge of the world and you can be heard, as long as you have something different or new or compelling to say.
And that was why we were in Iloilo.
And that is why San Miguel Corporation, headed by its media relations manager Jayson Brizuela and Ed Talks project leader Nate Barretto, is taking Ed Talks to the fringes, as far away from Manila as possible, where some voices, loud enough (now that the world is more likely to listen), can be made even louder.