On the third leg of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)’s online caravan series “Investigative Journalism in the Era of Disinformation” on September 16, Friday, investigative journalists stressed the value of empathy and understanding when reporting.

“You want stories that will be viewed. You want stories that readers and viewers can connect and relate to,” former PCIJ staff reporter, and News5 broadcast journalist Ed Lingao told student journalists. 

Pulitzer-winning journalist Manny Mogato also told student journalists to “exercise empathy” when following the paper trail. In his talk, he shared the various techniques he had learned when developing an investigative story. He said documents and observations alone are not enough to paint a story; reporter must learn to ask and analyze. 

“Following a paper trail is the process of (1) identifying the documents you need to build a hypothesis, (2) developing a strategy to access them, (3) using one document to lead to another document,” he said. “Then put yourself in your subject’s shoes. Ask yourself: What might he have he done then? Why might have he done that?” 

The online caravan on Friday featured the investigative report of PCIJ fellow Aileen Macalintal on the predatory practices of online lending applications and the hundreds of victims that have fallen prey to their services. 

Macalintal, a professor at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños shared the challenges she faced in crafting the story, especially in looking for victims who were willing to open up about their traumatic experiences. 

“I joined a lot of private and public Facebook groups to find them. And from the 12 people I tried to contact, only three replied. This was challenging because you’re a stranger… asking them to share [details] tungkol sa utang nila (about their debts),” Macalintal said.

"'Yung isa nagtanong pa: ‘Pag nagkwento po ako, ano pong mangyayari?’  And I think that’s a question that a lot of journalists still ask [themselves].” 

The caravan aims to shed light on the investigative reports developed by PCIJ fellows who were chosen from the 2021 Second National Conference on Investigative Journalism. PCIJ chose four fellows out of 80 conference participants who proposed to write about environmental concerns, human rights issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2022 national elections.

After the publication of their reports, they are presented to various schools in different parts of the country. On Friday, students from the University of Santo Tomas, Miriam College and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines joined PCIJ’s online caravan. 

“PCIJ aims to train young journalists [in developing] data-driven and in-depth reports. Doing this caravan is a way to achieve this goal,” PCIJ Training Director Rowena Paraan said in her opening remarks. 

Pare-pareho tayong natututo sa mga paguusap na ganito, pare-pareho tayong nagkakaroon ng bagong ideas… dahil ito ang kailangan nating gawin sa panahon ngayon: magtanong, magmuni-muni at maghanap ng katototohan (We all learn from forums like this. We all get new ideas. And this is what we need to do these days: ask questions, reflect on the challenges we face, and search for the truth)."

"This is what PCIJ s about: searching for truth,” she said. 


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