What Are We to Make of Rappler?

rappler03Rappler is a fast-paced source for online news, commentary and entertainment.

I don’t think it intends to be the kind of entertainment I find there, for I laugh a lot when I ought not. And sometimes the laughter is masking tears of pain. But  sometimes, I think it strives for real entertainment, too.

Let me elaborate.

By way of credentials, my educational background is in Radio and Television Arts at the University of Southern California in the U.S. where I obtained a Master’s degree under the tutelage of a fine Jesuit priest, Father James Brown. I cranked out a 300 page thesis by consulting with viewers as to their appreciation, or lack of same, for the skimpy clothes that singing sensation Cher brought to her weekly variety show. This academic research was done at CBS studios near Farmer’s Market on the west side of Los Angeles. In those days, that was the side of town you could actually breathe in, the rest being consigned to some kind of gritty grey-brown haze called smog. It is a testament to technology’s ability to rescue us from our ourselves that the city is pretty much all breathable these days, although getting from Point A to Point B is a solid river of metal that sometimes melds and welds.

But I digress.

I’ve studied this news and entertainment stuff, and even worked as a disc jockey, specializing in rock and screaming music at 6:00 in the morning, and as a news broadcaster, specializing in “rip and read” reporting, which is a form of newscasting that entails ripping a piece of paper from the Associated Press teletype, quickly marking it up for a personal touch, and reading it live on the air.

Schtick on a stick.

Well, I don’t think they use teletype machines these days, but hey, the point is, I know news from the bottom up. And I’ve done enough “content analyses” of news shows to spot opinion in a news report, and it is THAT gross violation of journalistic ethics that gives me the painful laughs at Rappler.  Rappler treads some amorphous line between news and opinions and the sensationalism of emotions in a kind of concoction I refer to as news stew, quick and dirty style.

rappler02

Most of management is female, as are a lot of the writers. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the publication reflects a kind of emotive, scatter-brained nuance of meaning that we mere men are destined to fail to grasp. News can be the shallowest of shallow, a line or two copied from some French press agency, or an in-depth recitation of every piece of pork ever cast into the frying pan of political favor mongering, or some intellectual piece about “Why women hate their bodies”, with absolutely no juicy pictures for us guys to peruse. How are WE supposed to tell if you have a body we should love or hate if you don’t SHOW it to us!

But I digress, and I fear into very dangerous territory.

For the sake of efficiency and edification, let me offer up this Edgarian enumeration of the features of Rappler as I see them: Rappler is:

  1. Comprehensive. Rappler has never met a story it couldn’t discover and throw at us. The news roll refreshes 3,498 times a day. Traffic deaths in Mexico and rapes in India and an obsession over tennis matches and how Serena is doing.
  2. Timely. The rest of journalism plods compared to Rappler.  If something happens anywhere in the Philippines, it is on the news roll ten minutes later. I suspect my mother-in-law’s goiter operation will be there as soon as she has it.
    • Well, of course I am a touch cynical here (striving for circulation), but Rappler is my FIRST read in the morning, and I check in about five times a day to stay up on things Filipino. It has become ESSENTIAL reading as a way of scanning what is happening hereabouts.
  3. Feminine. Well, the ever-present red and pastel mood meter tells us that, does it not? We don’t score the stories from 1 to 10 as a guy would do, we check them for emotional heat.
  4. Young. I think much of the staff is largely young people, interns for example, or people without the vodka shooters under their belts like Manuel Buencamino in search of a good story. Not grizzled, for sure. Therefore the reporting sometimes is a tad  . . . ummm . . . skimpy.
  5. Professionally unethical. I don’t mean in a horrid way. It’s just that many of the writers don’t discern the difference between reporting and shading a story with personal interpretation. Reporting is who, what, when, where. Rappler is full of interpretation. A headline will suggest that President Aquino is negligent for not being visible in the storm and the story will report that he is closely monitoring the situation from his office and staying out of the way of the rescue teams.  Drives me nuts, this incessant need to inflame or toss fictional fat into the fires of truth and fact . . .
    • But maybe I’m the guy who is out to lunch, eh? Maybe this is the new journalism, where there is no truth other than how it is defined for us by talking heads and editors with a circulation number to hit. Everything is open to interpretation and we can just forget about reporting only the facts. Maybe Rappler has formally adopted Rupert Murdock style sheet and ethics. Not the Jack Webb ethics, “just the facts, ma’am”.
  6. Free. I’ve not been bombarded by any ads or subscription demands or solicitations. How DO they DO it? Make money, that is?
    • In Rappler’s own words: “Four groups fully own Rappler:  the journalists led by Maria Ressa and Glenda Gloria; digital entrepreneurs led by Manny Ayala and Nix Nolledo; marketing and media sales experts led by Dolphin Fire, a company created by Raymund Miranda and his cousin, Miguel Bitanga; and angel investor Benjie So. . . . Rappler’s shareholders signed an agreement giving full editorial and management control to the journalists, whose collective aim is to create a truly independent news group and crowdsourcing platform free of vested interests.” (From 2013 Board of Directors)
    • Each group appears to hold a share between 15 and 30 percent.
  7. Inconsistent or varied, depending on how you look at your glass. We get a lot of “he said she said” reporting, and a lot of lists, and a lot of copy from the French agency, and every once in a while a very deep and meaningful analysis of this or that from a professional in the business of this or that.
  8. To be honest, I don’t understand the categories into which stories are grouped. We don’t have news, opinion and entertainment. We have:
    • Videos
    • Move-PH
    • Newsbreak
    • Thought Leaders
    • Showbiz
    • Life/Style
    • Live
  9. The categories reflect a modern, online, socially engaged source of news and information. It has left me behind and I find the “mood meter” both interesting and largely irrelevant. I think we should be thinking in terms of information rather than feelings. The challenge is often to DUMP our feelings as non-constructive to the issue at hand.
  10. The mood meter fits with Filipino emotionalism, for all the good and bad that connotes.
  11. Editorially inconsistent. I was floored by a scatological headline the other day.  My literary style, writing for flair, frequently gets me dumped off into moderation because I use words that the screening software doesn’t like, like “screwing around” or “idiotic”. So the software forces commenters into a rather bland, safe style. Still, I concede it is their right to manage the site as they wish.
  12. Overall: Thorough but shallow, deep but occasionally incomprehensible, timely, varied, Filipino and global, erratic and extraordinarily worthwhile.

I’m a fan and wish the owners and editors every success. I do hope they don’t go Fox on us and I hope maybe editors will swap a little breadth of coverage (Mexican auto accidents) for depth of coverage (doing some field work, not just internet searches and phone interviews).. And I wish the journalistic ethics were a little tighter and bound to issue without so much titillating interpretive emotion.

Comments
33 Responses to “What Are We to Make of Rappler?”
  1. andrew lim says:

    Im a fan too, despite all its warts and shortcomings. Yes, there are quality issues from time to time, and you can attribute that to youth and the fast pace of its operation.

    As for pt no 5, which deals with shading reports with personal interpretation, I have no problem with that. I expect more objectivity from the larger news outlets – TV, radio, newspapers, but with social media driven news, agendas are pushed.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, good perspective. And my causes of concern re. No. 5 on the scale of “always, frequently, occasionally, rarely, and never” trend toward rarely from occasionally. But I am hyper-sensitive if I think the shading of interpretation undermines the Philippines. Like painting the President negatively when it is not necessarily so.

      • andrew lim says:

        When they do that, they escape the tag of yellow journalism.

        • Joe America says:

          Ahhh, yes, perhaps so. I hadn’t considered that.

          • ishare79 says:

            I think being a professional journalist, we have to go to the field and report the truth. I don’t consider the journalist who is always sitting in the office and writing the news is a professional one, though, they can make a phone call with their sources to verify the information but that doesn’t mean they have to call all the time.

            Journalist gets a big obligation to seek for the issues that other people don’t really look at in the society. So how can they bring change to their people if they just go around and look at others news agency and follow the same news stories? That’s ridiculous.

            • Joe America says:

              The ethics of journalism. One of the most important values that makes democracy work. Honorable, factual news reporting, good investigative work. The eyes and ears of the people. There are financial pressures on news these days, so staff are being cut, and in the Philippines, I understand ethics get set aside for payments to “report” a certain slant. Dismaying.

  2. edgar lores says:

    1. Rappler is my 5th stop on my daily route around the world. It is my 3rd stop on the Philippine scene. Right now, I go PDI, ABS-CBN then Rappler. I really should drop ABS-CBN as there is no sustenance to be derived from that rag. But force of habit is hard to break.

    2. Within Rappler, I tend to quickly scan the headline and the news items and tend to spend more time on the three major sections: Thought Leaders, Move.PH Top Picks and Newsbreak. Lately, I have developed the habit of having my daily dose of laughter by viewing #Pugadbaboy. I even participate in choosing the best punch line.

    2.1. I have never visited Showbiz, Sports and Life/Style.

    3. By turns, I find the three major sections informative, analytical, bold and edgy. And, at times, boring. Naturally, Rappler reflects the two major preoccupations of Filipinos: politics and sex. On alternate days, it’s sex and politics.

    4. I like it that Rappler has turned out some new writers and serves as a training ground for budding journalists and essayists. I also like that it has pursued coverage of certain issues with bulldog tenacity: the assessment of the RH Law in the Supreme Court and the Napoles pork barrel scam to mention a couple. I also like the memorable interviews conducted by Maria, the ones on PNoy and Ayala in particular. I used to follow the sex talks by the good Doctora Margarita but alas, of late, my libido has waned. Could it be the hot oatmeal or the cold apple juice I have for breakfast?

    4.1. I hate it that the screen opens on Newsbreak instead of the Home page.

    5. Overall, I find the medium innovative and avant-garde in its use of technology.

    • Joe America says:

      ahahahahaha, many good lines in this one, my favorite being “as there is no sustenance to be derived from that rag . . .” I wish you had done this review, but I have an idea. You can do one on the Inquirer, or, if that is a little much, the editorial cast of characters at the Inquirer.

      I think it is actually “sex and politics and tennis”, though . . . 🙂

  3. andrew lim says:

    Edgar,

    If you find ABS CBN a sustenance challenged rag, then you will find Manila Bulletin to be calorie free, salt free, sugar free, fat free, nutrient free, gluten free, and whatever-free. It is the most soul-less paper out there. At least ABS CBN is sometimes sweet or salty.

    Oh if you want bitterness and sourness, go to Manila Standard. ha ha ha ha

    • edgar lores says:

      Andrew,

      Ages ago, when I was country boy in my shorts and burned by the sun, the Manila Times and the Manila Chronicle were the premium newspapers. I have a faint recall that the Bulletin gained prominence after the Times and Chronicle lost their luster and before PDI became No 1. I will take your word that the Bulletin is insipid and colorless and avoid it like the Daily Tribune which may be insipid but colorful – if you can call two shades of gray colorful.

      Manila Standard I use to inspect during the Corona trial but I absolutely cannot stand the “standard” of the columnists. If it were possible – and it is – they are worst than PDI’s Tiglao and Doronila. The abyss is bottomless.

  4. andrew lim says:

    Off topic, Joe. On finding Napoles.

    Can the US lend technical assistance in finding Napoles? I figure if they do, she will be found sooner. Local agencies are underfunded, undermanned. Specifically, I am referring to electronic intercepts, (cellphone,landline, internet), financial surveillance (credit card/fund movements), Most likely they are always using cash these days, but that will run out. Most likely they are using safe houses, but they cannot stay long.

    I figure just the announcement that FBI and Interpol will get involved will spook them into surrendering.

    How about penetrating their staff- for sure they have personnel left behind, and they can be turned.

    I figure the Napoleses will not hide in forests or mountains as they are creatures of comfort.

    If already abroad, they will just try to hide or blend in countries that wont have an extradition treaty. But with Filipinos everywhere, that will be hard 🙂

    Want to turn that into a piece?

    • Joe America says:

      It is a fascinating case, for sure, but I think would require too much speculation for my tastes. She probably has the resources to escape and, like that Snowden guy, can probably get set up to live a fat and contented life in Uruguay or some place divine. I don’t know about international policing and whether or not the Philippines has the ability to appeal to INTERPOL for assistance. I wish Justice had about a thousand agents to put on the case, to nail every henchman or woman who helped her hide. I’m inclined to believe the worst about the woman and hope she is called to account, on this earth.

  5. manuel buencamino says:

    Disconnect between headlines and the body of the story is a chronic systemic disease in media because there are reporters and there are headline writers.

    Move PH is a category I do not get. I would collapse it with Thought Leaders. Then again maybe Move PH is their advocacy site while Thought Leader is their op-ed page. But you find op-eds in Move PH also

    Newsbreak I guess is there because the site was Newsbreak before it became Rappler. But it can just fall into the Nation category.

    Maybe some of their categories are there because of their ownership set-up.

    But their sports, business, and showbiz pages are not very strong. World is not strong either because it looks like just another news aggregator site. It would be better, more informative, to me if they did op-ed pieces on world affairs.

    But Rappler is a daily read for me. Several times a day in fact

  6. The Mouse says:

    Rappler tend to be good in commentaries. However, the can be horrible in news as in PH media, fact confirmation seem to be absent among “news reporters” Maybe, they should shift to being a commentary site?

  7. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    There is nothing new in Philippine journalism scene. Same ‘o, same ‘o. I Googled PDAF scandal. The journalists are covering senators and congressmen wanting pork barrel abolished and jouranlists are conveniently forgetting something …… covering who’s who in PDAF will they ever see a day in court.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, follow-through will be interesting. President Aquino says the guilty will be dealt with, but the major cases now with the Justice Department are taking FOREVER to resolve. I’d suggest the President use some of his own pork to hire more investigators and prosecuting attorneys. And if you could get easy access to inside information by “turning” Janet Napoles into a State’s witness, would you do so?

      • manuel buencamino says:

        Of course Napoles would be the ideal state witness. When you think about it, she was only a conduit. Like she could have done what she did without the active participation of Congress

        • Joe America says:

          Senator Santiago disagrees, because of a legalistic argument that says, among other things, if you can prove guilt without the State witness, you don’t need the State witness. And Senator Cayetano reacted with horror to the idea that Napolese would receive any concessions. I’ve not made up my mind on it.

  8. essie says:

    Re: Point 5 – In some instances, yes, Rappler seems very unethical. For instance, I have found some headlines regarding Sec De Lima to be rather sexist. Maybe since the news comes at such a quick pace, the editors cannot do a good review? Rappler has so much potential, but it comes off as half-baked at times.

  9. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    Confusing Rappler news website along with less stellar Philippine media news website are recommending to do away with Pork Fat Barrel to avoid scandal.
    1stly, They are saying that Filipinos jsut cannot be trusted;
    2ndly, since Filipinos cannot be trusted with money just do away the source of evil
    3rdly, since Filipinos beyond incarceration ….
    4thly, after Renato Corona was gone they still cannot figure out how to prosecute the evils of scandals
    5thly, after Ate Glo’s demonization, Filipino still steals

    SO, THE CURE IS, KEEP AWAY FILIPINOS FROM PORK. Abolish it !!! WoW!!!!

    It is like saying if you can’t beat ’em abolish ’em

  10. Hey Joe. I was sick last week, so I didn’t see this, but I thought to say this was a rather in-depth appraisal. I can’t really speak for Rappler in this case, though I may forward this to my editors as a point of fair commentary. 🙂

    That said, I’d like to chime in a bit on the fan-favorite number 5 of your write-up. While I can’t speak for each person here, I do read nearly every story that goes on the site, and from my readings, it seems that Rappler fits a certain style of individual.

    There are leanings towards promoting social good by providing information, and then following up with new reports as time allows. The way headlines are made are there to grab attention to bring people to the story. The general news reportage is such that, due to our small team, I’m guessing we try to get as much of everything as we can, and we sometimes fail to give more depth in the short-term, opting to provide context in a longer-term period after additional research has been dug up.

    Now, part of this also creates a certain expectation to lean a certain way, and that’s also a bit of a mental driver, I suppose (I’m technologically inclined to want network neturality, and if people agree, that can sometimes color how a report shows up or reads like at times).

    Anyway, I can’t really say much more at present. I do see your point, but I have to admit that, due to my circumstances as a tech writer living in the Philippines, being able to delve deeply into world tech topics is tough as heck.

    I do hope you are well, and look forward to reading more in the future. 🙂 Cheers!
    -Victor B.

    • Joe America says:

      Victor, good of you to stop by to give an inside perspective on Rappler. I very much appreciate the background on it. I like the aim of social good, and appreciate the value of a good grabbing headline or photo (hahahahaha, NEVER do that sort of thing myself haha). For a small team, Rappler does a big job, and as I concluded on my article, it is my first and last read of the day. Regards to you and your colleagues, who seem receptive to my traipsing through the articles and offering comments, both pro and con, smart and . . . well, not so smart. Keep up the good work. Joe.

  11. Chris says:

    Rappler is a horribly unethical paper that thrives on sensationalism and weasel words. It is a glorified tabloid with an agenda, like Fox News, and like all tabloids it always picks the stories which bait people, regardless of its ethics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s