published 21 Sept 2007, MST
Reynaldo Binuya says dessert, which on that Sunday afternoon is a cup of Oreo McFlurry, is welcome. He has just come from a christening luncheon and only regrets that there are no coffee shops in that part of Kalookan, where he has agreed to meet me for an hour or so of catching up. Fifteen years is a long time.
He and I used to work together for The Gracean Envoy. The Envoy was the publication of Our Lady of Grace Academy, the Religious of the Virgin Mary-run school I attended for 12 of the first 17 years of my life. I met him when, as a high school freshman, I applied as contributor. He was the paper’s adviser and remained so until I became its editor-in-chief by senior year. He was also the favorite English teacher of my batch.
Between then and now, I’ve grown up, the school has changed its name, and Mr. Binuya has transferred to a nearby school, La Consolacion College of Kalookan City.
Recently promoted, Mr. Binuya now heads the English Department of basic education. Adjusting to his new position and workload has caused him to give up The Word, the publication he has been advising for many years prior to his promotion. Sometime ago, he also served as the president of the National Capital Region Secondary School Paper Advisers’ Association.
“So now I only teach English,” he explains. He sounds a little nostalgic.
Having been in his trade for the last 20 years, Mr. Binuya has worked with hundreds of campus journalists.
Dealing with the rawness of these students is much too challenging. He knows he must encourage young writers to realize their potentials without exerting pressure on them or limiting them to a particular field. After all, high school is a time to explore one’s interests and capabilities. Adolescents must figure out the direction they wish to take later. At this stage, they have the luxury of exploring.
Still, Mr. Binuya says he has encountered a few students who, young as they were, knew they were headed for a lifetime of writing. One such student was Clarissa Batino, who spent many years writing for the business page of another broadsheet and now writes for Bloomberg and the International Herald Tribune. Batino served as editor of The Envoy sometime in the late 1980s. Mr. Binuya was then only starting his teaching career, but he quickly noted that Batino was way ahead of her peers. She was intellectually mature, assertive, and had a way with words that showed she was a voracious reader.
Among students who seem to be serious about their craft, Mr. Binuya notes a common trait: idealism. They have a notion of how the world, or at least society, must be. They know the ills that plague it and recognize that through the power of the pen, they just might make the tiniest bit of difference.
Unfortunately, these young people think journalism is a glamorous profession. Professionals are perceived as important members of society. The job is seen as a noble quest for the True and the Good.
In the real world, though, we know this is not true. Journalists who get a little too bold find themselves slapped with libel suits or worse, gunned down. If you write for a living, then chances are you are not too well off; the profession is hardly rewarding, financially.
Tied to this, journalists “going with the flow” to augment their measly paychecks are not uncommon.
So after the high school student ages several more years, Mr. Binuya is sad to note, the idealism may disappear or wither away.
How then does he prepare his wards? The skill-building part is easy, he says. One can always leaf through the pages of existing papers or browse through the Net to get examples from international publications. He accompanies his students to press conferences and encourages them to always be aware of developments in the country and in the world.
It is the values part that is tricky. The most he—or anyone, for that matter—can do is constantly remind his students of the main responsibilities of journalists: To inform people of the truth, and to shape public opinion, based of course on the correct facts and premises. He reminds them that journalists call attention to issues, not to themselves.
As we know too well, the choice remains with the individual. Whether or not they will succumb to temptation—of corruption, arrogance, self-aggrandizement, laziness, mediocrity, or a combination of any of these—will be up to them.
On the surface, it appears that technological developments have made life easier for today’ writers. It is much easier to be published nowadays and make one’s thoughts public. One only has to set up a blog. Information and research also comes easy. There is hardly any need to go to libraries or run after sources for face-to-face interviews.
With these basics easily taken care of, young writers are expected to work harder on their craft. Sift through voluminous information and pick out the pertinent ones. Ensure fair and balanced reporting. At the very least, present ideas in a clear and coherent manner. Only through these can one cope with competition that has become much more intense. Mr. Binuya says the challenge lies here.
This year, he is not teaching journalism or advising his newspaper. But he’s co-authoring a journalism textbook (nearly done, he beams) that high school and even college students would feel comfortable to use. He also gives lectures on editorial writing, news writing or feature writing every once in a while. Campus journalism is in his blood. He lives it. Anyone who works with him would say his commitment is contagious.
Mr. Binuya insists I call him by his first name, but out of force of habit, a “sir” is the best I can offer. He knows, of course, that it is just nomenclature. I count myself among the hundreds he has inspired.