When Karen Davila, Anthony Taberna Go to YouTube, What Happens to the News?

Can journalists act like influencers?
Photo/s: Screengrab: Youtube/Karen Davila, Anthony Taberna

On YouTube, where she has half a million subscribers, veteran broadcast journalist Karen Davila goes viral for sharing the same birthday with singing contest winner Lyca Gairanod, not for picking Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque's brain.

In the platform that is home to thousands of "influencers",  Davila and colleagues like Anthony Taberna and Kara David are blending in with channels of their own, capitalizing on their newsroom skills and clout to follow the audience where they consume content.

"Gone are the days when journalists shun these platforms as fads. Unlike when Facebook and Twitter, and even Snapchat came, journos have since learned the importance of migrating to these platforms simply because you’re gonna be left out if you don’t," Felipe Salvosa II, head of the University of Santo Tomas Journalism program, told reportr.

Davila recently featured a fellow broadcast journalist in a two-part vlog titled, "Kwentong Buhay ni Raffy Tulfo!", giving netizens a glimpse into the life of their "Idol Raffy" (as he is known to his over 20 millions subscribers). 

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Tulfo recently quit his show to run for Senator in 2022, hoping to cross over full-time to public service. He promises to overhaul the justice system as a lawmaker instead of applying "band-aid fixes" as a TV judge and punisher. 

Never have the lives of journalists been this open to the public. If before, bylines and call signs in print and radio were enough to identify who-wrote-what, the digital age, particularly social media, has changed the game not only in terms of how stories are told.

It also changed the playing field for journalists who are both bearers of news and self-presenting humans who, at the end of the day, have personal lives to live in today's attention economy, analysts said. 

Salvosa said these platforms are good in the sense that it "opens possibilities of distributing your stories and tailoring them to fit the platform".

But journalists should tread with caution, he said, warning of the thin line between promoting a story and promoting the storyteller. "Of course there’s this factor of you needing to stay relevant, but you have to maintain responsibility. If you’re doing that to enhance credibility, that’s fine. But if you’re using your clout to build a brand for yourself, perhaps so you could earn money on the side, that could be a problem in terms of managing conflicts of interest."

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Social media's bias to 'personalities'

As with almost everything, journalism changes with respect to technology. If before, journalists could only write using quills, and eventually, pens, the industry shifted when typewriters were invented.

The biggest shift came when the internet arrived. From legacy media, reporters suddenly had to equip themselves with skills in digital news reporting to remain competitive. These include adapting to even the most platform-specific way of delivering news, such as "live-tweet reporting, which one could only do on Twitter, and often, on their public accounts where they also post views and updates that are outside of their work's scope. 

"In general, I think journalists are constantly adjusting to technology. Ang bilis kasi nito mag-evolve. Who would think, diba, na magkakaroon ng Tiktok?," Jeremaiah Opiniano, who also teaches journalism at UST, said. 

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He noted that even before, traditional media adapted in terms of the way they present news, citing satirical radio programs. "Maaliw ka kasi it’s based on news pero may halong humor na may commentary na. Siyempre magtatanong mga purista, 'teka hindi ata ethical?'. Pero sabi naman ng iba, that’s maybe a nice way to present the news. Point is, sila mismo, nag adjust din," he said. 

For Opiniano, money might be a valid incentive in a media landscape known for its low compensation especially among neophytes. 

"Kung kumikita 'tong ordinary influencers na 'to, ganun 'din iisipin ng news outlets and personalities. So what if gawan natin ng paraan to reach audiences while at the same time, leverage that as an income stream? Remember, journalism remains a business," he said.

Currently, Youtube is proving itself a potent platform mostly among video journalists in the West. Paid newsletter platforms like Substack are also taking hold, as journalists attempt to become more independent in both reporting and gaining income.  

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"Pero nagbago man 'yung mode or platform, the questions remain the same: how do we position ourselves in public? If we are journalists, how do we make the audiences distinguish that we are, on one hand, doing journalism, and on the other hand, being just our human selves?," he added. 

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Outdated ethics code?

Journalism is constantly evolving, said both Salvosa and Opiniano. The two believe that with this, principles guiding journalists must adapt, too.

"It doesn’t mean you change the ethical framework. Timeless principles that all journalists are bound to follow should be carried over to the social media era. You just have to adjust to the change in context," Salvosa said, adding that the onus is also with newsroom managers to craft updated policies and enforce them religiously. 

"To redirect Filipino journalists onto these untrodden paths, and, as well, to assist them in navigating the uncharted terrains of the modern media landscape, there is a need to revisit and update the Journalist's Code," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines wrote in their newly published, "Ethical Guide for Filipino Journalists".

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The book is composed of case studies that help journalists navigate reporting on issues that are not entirely new, but have emerged to be more of a concern these days, as dictated by the dominant generation's culture and context, such as reporting on suicide and mental health, LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities, and the pandemic, among others.

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It also discusses fake news, disinformation, troll farming, cyber-libel and red-baiting or red-tagging, which are significant problems that deter journalists from performing their jobs.

"Being personal on social media isn't necessarily a problem, karapatan mo yan. But you just need be careful not to put yourself in a situation where your reporting will be perceived as no longer impartial. Whatever you do, I hope it's to enhance your credibility as a journalist rather than detract from it," said Salvosa. 

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