By: Rianne C. Tecson

6 women editors manage newsrooms of 5 Cebu dailies, a major news bureau and a nationwide news agency

Nini Cabaero, editor-in-chief, Sun.Star Network Exchange

The media landscape of today is more challenging than ever. And the scenario is made more interesting by the fact that in Cebu newsrooms, women are at the helm of the efforts to deliver the news as it happens and across all platforms.

It isn’t a coincidence that all Cebu dailies—Cebu Daily News (CDN), Sun.Star Cebu, The Freeman (TF), and Cebuano language dailies Banat News and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]—Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) and the Visayas bureau of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) are run by women. All six—CDN’s Eileen Mangubat, Sun.Star’s Isolde Amante, TF and Banat’s Quennie Bronce, Superbalita’s Michelle So, Sunnex’s Nini Cabaero and PDI’s Connie Fernandez—have been in the industry long enough to know the demands of the job and what it takes to stay on top of the game.

No longer a man’s world

Women in newsrooms isn’t a new phenomenon. Over the years, we have seen an increasing number of women working as full-time journalists, be it as reporters or editors. Veteran journalist Juan Mercado says that when he was just starting out as a journalist in the early 1950s, there weren’t as many women in the workplace and if there were any, these didn’t work full-time.

But times have changed, with women journalists working full-time and taking on leadership roles. An article posted on Poynter Institute’s site in August 2013 suggests that even in many college newsrooms, it is the women who hold leadership positions.

While it’s probably only in Cebu where all dailies have women editors-in-chief, Philippine Press Institute executive director Ariel Hans Sebellino says some newsrooms in Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, Manila, Bacolod City and Baguio City are run by women, too.

“Women are (more) meticulous than men. Thus, the same characteristic is evident in news gathering, research and even reportage. Apparently, patience is very much upheld as a journalistic virtue which women intrinsically have,” Sebellino says.

Eileen Mangubat, publisher and acting editor-in-chief, Cebu Daily News

New challenges

Trends that emerged in recent years have drastically changed the way journalism is practiced nowadays. These have opened a different set of challenges and responses, which these editors say have little or nothing to do with gender issues.

For Sun.Star Cebu editor-in-chief Amante, the biggest challenge in the media now is the disruption on all fronts and this applies to everyone, regardless of gender.

“It’s not just the business models of journalism but also the way we practice it, from gathering to telling to disseminating the news. They’re all changing very rapidly. These are not challenges that we were academically trained to face,” she says.

The other editors agree that the need to cope with the demands of and to stay relevant despite the advent of new media are the biggest challenges the industry is facing.

“Inadequacy of skills to match technological and digital trends, the dilution of journalism owing to new media. We are adapting to the times; otherwise, the newspaper will die. I tell the Superbalita editorial team to stay informed and to be ‘in.’ We have a better grasp of what our readers want because of social media,” says So.

Inquirer Visayas bureau chief Fernandez gets more specific, saying it’s a challenge for her team of about 20 correspondents and contributors from across the Visayas to keep up with the pace of writing for online platforms.

“We need to get more details and color to come up with a better-produced story that is different from what has been posted online,” she says.

At CDN, publisher and acting editor-in-chief Mangubat said, the challenge brought about by new media platforms led the paper to create a blog and open social media accounts for breaking stories, photos and videos.

Connie Fernandez,
Visayas bureau chief, Philippine Daily Inquirer

“In the age of social networks and the Internet, information moves with blurring speed. This offers new opportunities for the newspapers to expand their storytelling capacity beyond columns of gray print,” she said in a CJJ7 article on new media.

The Freeman and Banat editor-in-chief Bronce, however, thinks that apart from keeping abreast with the trends, getting people and making them stay in the industry is a concern.

Before, Bronce says, the business process outsourcing industry was the competition. Now, more Mass Communications graduates are also considering careers in corporate communications, and broadcast and online media.

Leadership styles

How do these editors steer their newsrooms to respond to these challenges?

Amante, who’s been Sun.Star editor-in-chief for more than four years now, says it’s important to always stay curious, a trait she learned from one of her mentors, Atty. Pachico A. Seares, Sun.Star Cebu’s founding editor-in-chief and now public and standards editor. She also stresses the importance of being able to delegate well.

“Once you become a leader, then you learn to be responsible for the whole thing and not just for your own results or outcomes,” she adds.

Amante, who describes her leadership style as evolving, also credits Cabaero for teaching her the importance of listening.

Isolde Amante, editor-in-chief, Sun.Star Cebu

Cabaero, Sunnex editor-in-chief, believes in participative leadership, which is why it is important for her to solicit inputs from everyone in the team, regardless of designation or title or gender, before deciding on a path or direction for the newsroom.

“It is similar to the servant-leader model where the leader is a servant first. I find this style most effective because you would have the involvement of all team members from the start,” she stresses.

In the male-dominated Superbalita newsroom, So says gender is immaterial when dealing with her team.

“It’s a combination of democratic and transactional. I make decisions after I’ve listened to what the Superbalita people have to say on an idea I or anyone of them float. I give each one autonomy to carry out things he or she deems fit for him or her as long as company policies, journalistic tenets and ethics, and deadlines are not compromised. I give rewards based on performance and novelty of ideas,” she explains.

For Mangubat, it’s important for everyone in the team to work together in achieving a common goal.

And that goal is public service and empowering communities, she said during her lecture at the Marshall McLuhan Forum on Responsible Journalism held at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center last December.

Mangubat was the 2013 Marshall McLuhan Fellow of the Canadian Embassy and the first of the six female newsroom heads to lead a Cebu newspaper when in 1998 she became the first editor-in-chief of CDN, affiliate of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Because she puts two papers to bed on a daily basis, Bronce says she tends to be hands-on as a leader because she wants to know what goes on in the different sections of the paper.

“I am strict but reasonable. I treat co-workers equally although I have a soft spot for those who request for time with family, as long as it does not interfere with our responsibilities,” she explains.

Fernandez leads her team the way her mentor, former PDI Visayas now Southern Luzon bureau chief Edralyn Benedicto, did. What she is now, Fernandez says, has a lot to do with how Benedicto taught her.

“Sink or swim—always run after a story, don’t take no for an answer, make sure your story stands and stand by your story. Allow your people to grow and don’t see them as a threat,” she shares.

Different dream

Michelle So, editor-in-chief, Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]

These women are at the top of their game now, but they admit it wasn’t really something they dreamed about or even planned. For most, the position became more like a reward for heeding a “calling.”

Bronce admits, though, that when she started working for the paper as a correspondent, she already dreamed of becoming an editor. When the post was offered to her this year, Bronce says she felt it came too soon. Still, Bronce says, she’s thankful for the opportunity, even if being editor-in-chief of two daily papers keeps her away from her family most of the time.

PDI’s Fernandez says she wanted to become a lawyer. But when she started her internship, she realized she wanted to be a journalist and write a good story.

“For me, this is my calling. And what I like most about this job is that learning never stops. No day is the same because you learn new things every day,” she says.

For Amante, all she wanted to do was something not totally far from being a journalist—live as a novelist—because she just wanted to keep on writing. But as she grew older, she admits there were certain realities that made her decide to push this dream aside.

Quennie Bronce, editor-in-chief, The Freeman and Banat News

“Things just fell into place. Timing actually. Certain people left, and I happened to be available. I always tell myself it’s temporary. It can end anytime. I think it’s a healthy mindset so you don’t get attached to the position. When I became news editor, my dad told me I had a shot at being EIC, but I never took it seriously. There were just far too many people. Instead, I made it my goal to just keep learning, keep getting better and we’ll just figure things out,” she muses.

When they were starting out, So and Cabaero wanted only one thing: to become a journalist, not an editor.

So says she liked to be out on the field more because it was where the fun was. Now that she’s Superbalita editor-in-chief though, So believes being in control has an upside: giving her control to motivate the team and make things happen.

Cabaero, for her part, says her journalism journey has been amazing.

“And the best part is it continues,” she says.

The world finally grew up

• When you helped organize Stet, a group of women journalists in Cebu back in the late eighties and early nineties, you probably didn’t think time would come that women would head seven major local newsrooms.

Well, they do now. The five English and Cebuano-Bisaya dailies, the only online national news exchange based in Cebu and the Visayas bureau of a national broadsheet—they all have women as chief editors.

Surely, not collusion or conspiracy. Fault in the stars? Or just a heck of a coincidence happening in all the local big newsrooms?

The world finally grew up and realized what it had been missing. The papers are on catch-up mode.

• Would it be sexist (on women’s part) to say that women make better editors than men?

Women have always been better at details, and good at multi-tasking as well.

• Take out the gender factor. Having a vast wealth of experience in both media and academe and managerial skills (which a newsroom leader must have), tell us the attributes and qualities of a successful editor, man or woman.

LELANI ECHAVES-PARADES. Opinion columnist, SunStar Cebu

Big-picture orientation, attention to details, patience, determination, resourcefulness, knowledge of the industry, competence and killer instinct.

• But then some people, media consumers mostly, say that success in leading a media outfit requires more than knowledge of the craft. What else, other than grasp of basics in journalism and publishing, would help?

Soft skills for managing people whose daily tasks spell s-t-r-e-s-s.

• How about knowledge of the intricacies in moving up the corporate ladder? Must that have anything to do with more women reaching the top faster than men?

Yes, plus ability to translate her intuition.

• Community journalism may be said to have grown faster and developed more substantially in Cebu than in any other area in the country. Having watched media developments up close, give us your insight on that.

Cebu remains the center of trade and commerce, attracting cultural diversity. The reading public is more discerning and choosy, stimulating media outfits to be better each day. Even if a media outfit is on the right track, it will still be run over if it just sits there.

• What would you wish to see more in the local media landscape?

Better and more profound analysis of national and international news. Why should Manila papers, CNN and BBC corner the market?

[Interview by PACHICO A. SEARES]

(Beyond print, Paredes’ media career has involved anchoring the news for radio Y101 and People’s Television 11.  She also produced and hosted Cebu City’s first television public affairs program, “On the Spot,” which ran for four years.)

Gender is irrelevant

• Did you foresee this: Cebu’s five English dailies, two Cebuano-Bisaya tabloids, the Visayas bureau of a national broadsheet and the sole national exchange in the country run by women?

No. I grew up in an era when the newspapers were run by people like Pachico A. Seares, Jose Lorgarta, Soban Singh and Pedro Calomarde. I took it for granted that it (male dominance) would stay that way.

• Is it heaven-ordained, a convergence of women talents, or just coincidence?

All of the above: the presence and availability of competent and talented women at the exact moment when there was a need for competent and talented people. Gender is, to borrow the language of an unimaginative lawyer, immaterial, irrelevant and impertinent. The human anatomy of males and females is the same, save for the reproductive organs and there is no relationship whatsoever between making babies and running a paper.

• Do you see more women who’re talented, aggressive and savvy in working up the ladder in news organizations?

Yes. It is a matter of demographics. There are more women than men. Consequently, there are more women enrolled in mass communications and journalism courses than men. The female invasion is on in media as it is in other fields of human endeavor.

FRANK MALILONG JR. Host of opinion talk show “Frankahay Ta” on dyCM (1152 khz AM), opinion columnist of SunStar Cebu

• Skills and values of journalists depend a lot on the kind of leader in the newsroom. What kind of leadership must top editors—man, woman or transgender—provide?

Integrity is a given. People have skills because he/she has to deal with a particular group of professionals who have a reputation of inflated egos. Passion for the profession, the kind that makes him/her regard his role as journalist as an apostolacy.

• What can a chief editor do more than run a tight ship (to meet deadlines) and keep out bad grammar and syntax, erroneous information, and unlawful and gross material?

Mentoring. Hiring is a function of the human relations department. Growing them (the reporters and other members of the organization) up, which includes assuring that they continue to imbibe the ethos of the profession and of the news organization, is the editor’s responsibility.

• Mark Twain thanked God He didn’t make him an editor. God hardly meddles in appointments of editors, but would you have wanted to be a chief editor, with or without seeking divine help?

Gracious, no. And I would not recommend the job to anyone. I worked as acting weekend editor of The Freeman when Jerry Tundag joined the PR department of San Miguel Corp. and still vividly remember the state of constant constipation I was in while waiting for the reporters to turn in their stories.

[Interview by PACHICO A. SEARES]

(CJJ9 was published in hardcopy in September 2014.)

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