How social media has changed our lives as journalists
Nineteen years ago, a few months after I faxed my application to be a student correspondent for this paper, my first assignment arrived in the mail. Yes, just like an acceptance letter from Hogwarts. The only thing missing was Hagrid barreling through our door.
The assignment? A survey about virginity. Perfect, I thought, I’m an expert on the subject. I was 17 years old.
Since then, I have spent thousands and thousands of hours of my life on the lifestyle beat, chronicling what I like to call “the fun stuff”—food, fashion, beauty, art, culture, travel, fitness and more.
A lot has changed in the almost two decades I’ve been in the industry.
In the early days, a lot of press releases came through fax, and invitations to events landed in our little pigeonholes. When I started getting invites via text message, I remember feeling surprised by the impropriety of it. “How fresh,” I thought, tut-tutting, like I had been momentarily possessed by the spirit of Emily Post.
These days, text invites are common. I even get them through Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp and direct messages on Twitter and Instagram. I’m now immune to shock. People have access to you in so many different ways that there’s no longer such a thing as office hours. I have messages coming at me from all directions at all hours of the day, even in the middle of the night.
Back then, if readers wanted to give us feedback, they had to work a little harder. They had to write letters, seal them in envelopes and mail them. Or they had to find our e-mail address so they could reach out to us. And they did, for all kinds of reasons, good and bad.
I remember a lady who got so mad at me for writing about a spa’s chocolate scrub treatment. “Ang daming nagugutom sa mundo,” she wrote, her words dripping with vitriol, “Tapos ikaw pinapahid mo lang ang chocolate sa katawan mo.”
Several years ago, I wrote a piece, “The Next Person Who Asks Me When I’m Getting Married Will Get Punched In The Face,” which elicited a lot of response from readers. The web version of the story was flooded with comments, including many mean ones, that friends actually called me to warn me against reading them. I appreciated their concern but the truth is, when your work involves you laying yourself bare to be judged by everyone who reads you, you develop thick skin.
These days, they can just tap-tap-tap away on their phones to let us know what they think.
It cannot be denied—the internet and social media have changed our world. Has it made life easier or harder? I’ve been asked many times. My answer: both. Easier because it’s connected everyone. Potential interview subjects are just an e-mail or a Facebook message away. Research is a breeze with the entire world at your fingertips—the challenge is figuring out which sources are reliable or aren’t, an especially tricky thing now in the age of fake news.
But life has become harder, too. Thanks to social media, everyone has a voice, everyone has a platform now. You’re no longer just competing with other newspapers and magazines, you are competing with everyone and their mother. And yes, that includes bloggers.
Blogging isn’t new. I started blogging around 2000, 2001. But back then, blogs were more like online diaries where we were spilling out our guts, not the curated, glossy online publications they have become.
Around a decade ago, I remember telling some PR people at a meeting, “Hey, do you know that in Singapore, they’ve started inviting bloggers to events?”
Deluge of bloggers
Soon, the Philippines followed suit, and the deluge of bloggers at media events came as a shock to many journalists. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had the lifestyle bloggers vs traditional media conversation with all kinds of people—fellow journalists, bloggers, PR people, even friends who aren’t part of the industry.
Maybe I’m a pacifist or maybe I’m just tired of the pointless debate, but I’d like to think we can all coexist happily.
Last year, while covering an event in Singapore, I realized that I was the lone journalist in a sea of YouTubers and digital influencers.
“Do you vlog too?” one of them asked me. “No, I’m from a newspaper. Print, you know. Old school,” I said, feeling like a dinosaur. And this dinosaur doesn’t want to go extinct, so she’s embracing the change. Or at least she tries.
In 2007, I sat captivated as Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco. I remember panicking. “Shit, what do I do first? Should I take notes? Take pictures? Shoot videos?” I had no idea life would get even more complicated later on.
Once upon a time, to be a lifestyle journalist, all you needed were two hands. You showed up with your tape recorder, notebook and pen and you were set. These days, you need to be an octopus—an octopus with a social media following.
Should you interview? Take notes? Take pictures? Take videos? Live tweet? Do Facebook Live? Post on Instagram? Post Instagram Stories? Break the story? Write it for the website? Write it for print? Yes. Yes to all.
The time we kept everything on the down low until the story came out in print seems so long ago. Waiting is a luxury we can no longer afford and speed has become the name of the game.
Once upon a time, to call our work done, all we needed to do was meet our deadlines. But writing the story is no longer enough in this multimedia world. These days, we actually need to think about hits, likes, shares, retweets.
The internet has changed the way our readers consume news. And so even if it still stings, we have slowly accepted the possibility that a listicle you spent maybe 30 minutes on is very likely to get way more hits than a story you slaved over for weeks. Because it has happened. And it will continue to happen.
So much has changed but a lot has also stayed the same. Our readers will always be our top priority. They are whom we serve. A good story will always be a good story. Your nose for news cannot be replaced by technology.
I still continue to spend more time preparing for my interviews and my coverage than worrying about what I’ll wear to events. The deadlines are eternally endless. They will always be.
Power in words
The passion for what we do, the fuel by which we run, is still absolutely necessary. And there continues to be so much power in words.
A couple of months ago, I received a message on Facebook. “Hello Pam, I don’t know if you still remember me. You wrote an article about me and my jewelry last 2003 and I just want you to know that it changed my life forever. I am in LA right now about to have my very first fashion week show (in my entire life) in a few hours but I just want to take a moment and thank you…”
And then a few weeks later, I ran into Arnold, the cotton candy vendor I wrote about three years ago—it was a story that landed on the front page of the Inquirer. He was at the Happy Skin X Sanrio event, making his amazing cotton candy animals for guests. I said hello and he said, thanking me for the nth time, “Salamat talaga, ma’am. Kung hindi niyo ’ko sinulat, wala ako dito ngayon.”
Our exhausting juggling act continues, our race to embrace change keeps on. Because how can you stop when the stories you tell have the potential to change lives?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.