As early as elementary, I have been introduced to the portal of campus journalism. I started to pose my right hand atop the paper and gracefully write words from the breathings of my heart.
I never thought I would love the feeling of how the tip of my pen kissed the paper and released a pitch-black liquid. From then on, I knew that the pen could pull out a long thread of enormous power through the words coming out from my mind.
Campus journalism in the Philippines is very much alive. Through the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC), every student has an opportunity to become a journalist. But as the competition heats up every year, some are only journalists for the contest. So, the question arises: what does it mean to be a campus journalist?
The Olympics of Philippine Campus Journalism
Empowered by the Campus Journalism Act of 1991, campus journalism has been thriving in the country through NSPC. It convenes the best of the best student writers from all over the country.
As years go by, NSPC spirit skyrockets to being very competitive. Schools spend much resources to produce NSPC-worthy students. The fact that the event views journalism as mere competition, slowly changes the landscape of campus journalism.
I am a product of competitive journalism. I gained a lot of my journalistic experiences and gathered connections from all over the country. However, in the time and age when all hell broke loose, NSPC winning students and publications chose to be silent.
Some of the so-called vanguards of truth and upholders of the Journalist’s Creed decided to take down their pens, put away their microphones, and shut their eyes.
NSPC should be a celebration of truth and press freedom. For six years of competing, it taught me how to empathize with others and showed me the importance of telling stories for the ones who are voiceless.
But this is not a hopeless case. While some are silent, others are fully exercising their power to go beyond medals and certificates.
Collective.Schools convene to battle the top places in press cons. Photo from Franz Eya.
Going beyond medals and certificates
For Earl Joy Lopina, past NSPC winner from Northern Mindanao, campus journalism that goes beyond recognition is hard to achieve if the writer does not understand the true essence of it.
“It takes such dedication to really commit to the craft beyond all the trophies and medals. And you will know that you are no longer doing it just for yourself if after you've failed so much, you still continue to fight for the truth and pursue it,” she expressed.
As a campus journalist for more than eight years, she was once awarded as the NSPC-Most Outstanding Campus Journalist in 2017. The award is the highest distinction given to a journalist who has shown stellar performance in the field.
Despite all the medals she bagged during her stint, EJ (her nickname) believes that a campus journalist should write for a greater purpose.
“For me, when you've finally unlocked a deeper understanding of your role as a campus journalist, you'll discover that you are capable of changing so much in this world, even though little ways,” she passionately added.
EJ has used her experiences from NSPC by contributing articles and by engaging in National Secondary Editors Guild as one of the officers. Fueled by her passion, she has also trained aspiring writers in Cagayan de Oro and has judged a couple of online press conferences.
Given the political climate the country faces, EJ also unites with people online to push for initiatives championing freedom of expression, most especially at the height of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act that dangers journalists.
“I believe that investing in the new generation of campus journalists is necessary in our fight for freedom of expression, leading up to social change.”
Campus Journalism and Social Impact
Journalism is public service. Just like EJ, Kaye Angelie Bacasnot, a second-year Mass Communication student and an active member of an academic organization that strives in campus journalism is living up to these principles.
Kaye is also a product of press conferences. In fact, she started walking in the path of campus journalism when she was still in fifth grade. Her experiences made her believe that in a society that is condescending, a campus journalist is the key to fight oppression.
“When these journalists are on a roll to educate people in misinformation and fake news, these micro efforts will be a great contribution in fighting oppression and creating a more-free society where people put value in upholding the truth,” she said.
The correlation of campus journalism and social impact is evident in her service as she is an officer of the Kapunungan sa mga Mass Communicators in Silliman University. The organization annually holds the traditional Campus Journalism Workshop that gathers participants around the country and tackles topics relevant in the current climate of campus journalism.
“As campus journalists, we should be the first one to uphold justice because we are not just trained to win but to fight oppression in our own way — expressing the truth through writing and reporting,” she added.
Driven. Ang Panitik writers passionately write their stories. Photo from Christian Lachica.
By expressing the truth, some student publications go beyond the school campuses. Panitik, an NSPC winning campus paper from Ozamiz City School of Arts and Trades is one of the examples that reach out to their communities.
Aside from campus news, the publication also writes about concerns in the communities that are not being talked about and no immediate actions being made.
“It is our job to investigate and write to let the people know that it is important to involve ourselves with the issues that concern our community,” Christian Lachica, former Editor-in-Chief of Panitikan expressed.
He further shared that community news unveils problems that are often swept away by the people who are in power.
“What we did is we explore communities and experience it ourselves, then confirming what actions the leaders of the school or the barangay are doing to put an end to certain issues,” he said.
However, writing these stories requires courage. Campus journalists still find it hard to tackle controversial issues because of how the school heads will react. The editorial independence for some secondary schools is not fully implemented as certain topics are restricted.
The courage to try is already worthy to be lauded for. But campus journalists should have the freedom of what or what not to write.
Being a campus journalist should not just be about the recognition. It should be for and to the people. It is a celebration of press freedom where truth is the powerful language and not the other way around where we delude ourselves to the realm of medals and honor.
Campus journalism is selfless. It prioritizes public service, and it is our job to realize the pivotal role it plays not just in NSPC but also in nation-building. The pen can pull out a long thread of enormous power, and as the holders of the pen, we need to do the job right.