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Looking Back

Memories of early days in journalism

Early in the week friends sent messages inquiring about the sale of the Prieto-held shares of the Inquirer to Ramon Ang. I was just as surprised as everyone else and wasn’t around when Marixi Prieto broke the news last Monday at an Inquirer town hall meeting. Many of my friends wax nostalgic over how the Inquirer has been part of their daily lives since the tailend of the Marcos period and a succession of presidents: Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, Rodrigo Duterte. These people, like me, are of a certain age and can afford to be nostalgic but a younger set, my students, don’t read the print edition of the Inquirer but read it online. Some don’t even get past the headlines that get shared on Facebook or Twitter. Theirs is a different generation that takes to news differently.

I don’t know what lies in store for the Inquirer or for me under a new owner, but while waiting to get to the bridge I will cross I couldn’t help looking back to see how the world has changed since I first started writing for the Sunday magazine of the Philippines Daily Express in 1985. I started writing in the twilight of the Marcos years, where my historical pieces were considered “safe” and not monitored by the censors. I shared office space with Ricky Lo and our magazine almost always had a pretty woman on the cover so the type of history I have since developed into a brand was meant to engage, entertain and inform. If I had taken a different path I would have written for academic journals where, as my thesis supervisor always told me, there was no need for interesting writing because there were
only three readers: the editor and the two referees who were paid to read.

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While writing for an “establishment” paper that paid the rent I also wrote for the “alternative” press that was contemptuously described by some in the administration as the “mosquito press.” So my articles appeared, under a handful of different names, in Veritas, Mr & Ms, and the short-lived Businessday weekend supplement. Aside from history, I wrote profiles and even tried my hand at an advice column, and was a frustrated astrologer who got found out because the editor checked her forecast for the week and was horrified to be told that “on Wednesday you will choke on a chicken sandwich.”

My first regular column appeared in the Lifestyle and Entertainment section of the Daily Globe, and Letty Magsanoc who had been reading me advised me to speak with the editors and move me to the Op-Ed page to join the likes of Renato Constantino and Dodong Nemenzo. I told Letty I was happy in the Lifestyle section that could accommodate photos with my text and received a lecture on the importance of history. Her punchline: “How do you expect to be taken seriously when your essay appears beside a photo of Dolphy in drag?” So I moved to the Op-Ed pages of the Globe and later moved to the Inquirer where I have been since 1990.

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My favorite nephew who reads on his cell phone and writes on a laptop might not know what a typewriter is until he actually tries one out. His elder sister, I remember, once asked us what a vinyl record was and being shown one in its original cardboard jacket, her eyes lit up with recognition. “Oh,” she exclaimed “it’s like a laser disc!” I guess my nephews and nieces think we lived in prehistoric times, and I wonder how much more distant they will feel when they listen to their grandfather, now 92 years old, explain how they could buy many things for a fraction of one centavo when a ten-peso coin won’t even buy them a can of soda. At the Globe newsroom I saw the division of generations, half of the space occupied by the veterans typing away on noisy typewriters and the young ones working almost noiselessly on computers where the only noise they made was printing out copy on dot-matrix printers.
While people my age are saying goodbye to the end of an era at the Inquirer, I’d like to think it’s not the end of the world for us at the Inquirer. All things come to an end of sorts and with each end comes a new beginning, so what lies in store for us at the Inquirer under a new owner remains to be seen. We will all cross the bridge when we get there.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, INQUIRER, Journalism, Looking Back, Prieto, Ramon Ang
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