By Ed Lingao
IN ALL OUR lectures, seminars, and talks, we at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) have always placed a premium on numbers: Numbers for data, statistics, charts, documents, percentages, budgets, and all those other numerals that drive most other journalists up the wall. Numeracy, we like to say, may be maddening, but it is essential to the investigative reporter. And, we like to joke, to the somewhat sadistically inclined, it may even be fun.
Today, we introduce you to a new set of old numbers.
Nine and 25.
In 1989, nine veteran Filipino journalists recognized the need to go beyond the day-to-day tabloid reportage that had begun to characterize the post-Marcos media. The press had certainly become free, but it had also succumbed to many of the same, old problems that bedevil the commercial media: the war for ratings, sensationalism, the need to sell headlines, and the pressure to meet daily deadlines. These made it very difficult for Filipino journalists to delve into the causes and broader meanings of the events that pepper the evening news.
And so in 1989, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) was born. These nine journalists established the PCIJ as an independent, nonprofit media agency that specializes in investigative journalism. But more than just churning out investigative reports, the PCIJ aimed to promote investigative journalism across all platforms, regardless of formats and competition. As such, the PCIJ not only produced investigative reports that would go on to win awards here and abroad, it would also help train investigative journalists from other agencies and platforms with a training-sharing-learning model that would be replicated in other countries as well.
This brings us to our second number. Twenty-five.
Depending on your generation, twenty-five can mean many things. To the senior generation of journalists, this may refer to the 25 centavo coins that they used to hoard so they could phone in their stories to the grumps at the news desk because the old public pay phones would not accept any other kind of coins. To others, it would simply mean a quarter of a century, or a silver anniversary. But to the founders of the PCIJ, who had no inkling how far their baby could go, it means two and a half decades of truth-telling, boundary-breaking storytelling that would see a President impeached, a Supreme Court Justice forced to retire, and Cabinet members forced to resign. More than that, it means 25 years of telling stories for and on behalf of the Filipino. In the end, that is what PCIJ really does — telling it like it is, no matter who, and no matter what.
This year, the PCIJ celebrates 25 years of journalism with a series of events that will bring together special friends and colleagues — training and writing fellows from the Philippines and abroad, contacts and sources, some of whom still refuse to be named, and even some subjects of PCIJ exposes, some of whom have since learned that journalism is about telling stories, and not about taking sides. We invite you to take part in these journalism-related activities that we will roll out this year, beginning with a public lecture later this June by PCIJ founding Executive Director Sheila S. Coronel on Investigative Journalism in the digital, social-media age.
We kickstart these activities with some multimedia video “shorts” that we call Sulyap, or a peek into the past. We will also be doing trackbacks to stories from the past, and what impact their telling then has had on our present.