Ask Ralph: Advice for Aspiring or Would-Be Journalists

Buena mano!  I am very happy to show you the first e-mail for our “Ask Ralph” section…

Dear Ralph,

I am Nina, 18 years of age, and a 3rd year mass comm student.  I am taking this course because I want to be a reporter or newscaster one day.  My parents support my decision to take mass comm, but they are discouraging me from becoming a reporter and would like me to enter advertising or marketing instead.  They say that being a reporter is a dangerous job, and the pay for reporters is very low.  I also have second thoughts because our professors tell us that it is a difficult job.  Being a reporter is my dream, but I also am worried of what I will enter to after college.

Can I ask for your advice please?  How difficult really is it being a journalist? How can I successfully enter the job?  If you have the time, I would appreciate knowing what to consider for my job.  Thanks. I hope to hear from you.

Very truly yours,


Thank you very much for your e-mail, Nina.  When I was a reporter, the most frequently asked question I  encounter is this: mahirap bang maging reporter (Is it difficult being a reporter)?

Surely, the answer is yes.  And truth be told, your parents have some basis to worry about your desire to become a journalist.  It is good to listen to them point by point, in order for you to come up with an objective decision.  However, at the end of the day, it is you who will make the decision and not them.  You should follow your dreams, especially if deep in your heart, it is your calling.  Just make sure that when you do so, you fully know what you are entering into.

Yes, it is difficult being a reporter, and I believe more difficult to become one.  For starters, there are so many graduates who want to enter the profession.  There are only eight tv stations on free tv, and obviously, the vacancies are not as many as those in call centers.  So if you are serious about becoming a journalist, the best advice I could give is for you to get high grades, and as much broadcast-related work as much as possible.  Take advantage of workshops and internships.  Join the university organ. Build up a portfolio of your work. Take up electives on political science and other social sciences as well so that you develop your knowledge about what is happening to the country and the world.

Ask yourself: am I interested in news and current events?  Take note that being a journalist isn’t just about reading the news.  It is knowing and analyzing the news as well.  If you are, the best practice is to read different newspapers daily, to watch different newscasts, and to listen to news and commentary programs on AM radio regularly.

The question I would like to ask is why you want to be a reporter.  The reason should be clear to everyone who wishes to enter, and one should enter for the right reasons.  A lot of students wish to enter because of the glamor — being seen on tv and being known or famous.   Take note that this is just mere icing on the cake.  Behind each appearance on tv or each story are hours of hard work, stress, sacrifices, a lot of research, and frustrations.  So if one’s reason is just to be on camera, to be a celebrity then one might be in for disappointment in the long run.  And do take note also, that journalists are not celebrities.

What then would be the right reason?  You will need to discern on that and reflect on.  In my case, as I was a reporter for half a decade,  it was a desire to serve the country through information, knowing that the news helps in nation-building.  Also, I found fulfillment in being there as history unfolds, and be there to record it.

Surely, just like any profession, there is a lot of hard work, and a lot of sacrifices are made.  It’s a challenging lifestyle:

  • There are no holidays, because the news operates 24/7.  It is not just normal, but expected for any journalist to report for Christmas, New Year, and even Good Friday.
  • Planning your schedules is difficult, if not impossible.  I say this because a journalist’s schedule is determined not by your own choice, but by the events that happen around you (I have had to cancel many dates and missed out on family events because of breaking news stories, coup attempts, and typhoons).  All of a sudden, you can be sent out of town on assignment, and stay there for weeks.
  • Long working hours are normal.  You finish work late practically everyday because you need to file stories for different newscasts.  When I covered the typhoons in Quezon in 2004, my team and I literally did not sleep for at least 3 days.
  • You will need to work and act fast all the time.  A story could break at anytime, which would require you to write, edit, and report your stories as they happen.  A reporter should be able to think fast and handle stress well.  Otherwise, you end up having a nervous breakdown on national TV, and not give the right info!!!

Your parents are right about the pay.  A lot of viewers find this hard to believe, but if you are a starting reporter, chances are your pay is just barely higher than minimum wage (my dad would joke me before that my starting pay was even lower than the salary of his office messengers).

You will need to consider this very carefully, especially if you are supporting your family, or trying to save up for the future.  Financial security does come eventually — but  only after many years (at least ten), and only if you have established credibility with the viewers.  Many reporters and other employees have also complained about not having security of tenure.  Many people in broadcast news — and not just reporters — only get regularized after being in the industry for years.  I know of an industry cameraman who was only regularized after ten years.  This means that you would only be considered a “talent”, and would not be able to claim employer-employee relations.  The network will also not shoulder your SSS, Pag-Ibig, and Philhealth.  You will need to take care of these yourself.

For talents, there is no overtime or holiday pay and no vacation, sick, or maternity leaves.

Remember too that being known by everyone does not necessarily pay the bills.

Also, and I will be brutally frank with you, expect to work with difficult people because you will be in a fast-paced environment — both on field, and in the office.  Let’s just say that what you see on tv is not always what you get.  There are many good people on television, and some of them have become my good friends.  But frankly speaking, given the network war, and even the competitions and stress within news organizations, the working atmosphere is not exactly a walk in the park.  As we say in Filipino, kailangan matibay rin ang sikmura mo.  One cannot be onion-skinned.

Yes, journalism is a dangerous job, and we have seen this lately with the coverage in Mindanao.  However, you will be all right, as long as you practice safety on field.  And take note, no story is worth a journalist’s life.  And I am glad that our news organizations instill this priniciple to their people.  Still, this barely helps reduce the stress and anxiety of families and relatives of journalists, who are sent to conflict zones and calamities.

If you are ready for all these, and are driven by a pure desire to serve, then by all means, live your dreams and pursue this noble profession!  Truly, it is not mere PR when networks promote their talents as heroes who serve the country.

Consider your long term goals and plans, and the kind of life you want for yourself and your family.  Consider your priorities, and what brings you fulfillment and happiness.  And also leave space for your dreams and priorities to evolve.  I say this because one may be called to be an active tv journalist only for a few years, like in my case and other former colleagues.

So if you are also interested in marketing or advertising as well, also take advantage of opportunities to perfect your crafts in relation to these fields.  Don’t limit your co-curricular and extra-curricular training to journalism.  Remember that you can also serve the country well in other professions, especially if they are done well, and with passion and love for country.  And don’t hesitate to think of how you will be able to support yourself or your family.

Lastly, it is said that a person who chooses a job he loves will never have to work a day in his life.  True.

But I say: A person who chooses a job he loves and is called to, and is paid for it well to support himself and his family will never have to work a day in his life.  And more importantly, he lives his purpose.



Thank you very much for the letters, and I look forward to receiving more letters.  Click here if you wish to ask me about your problems and concerns.  I’m inviting former colleagues to make comments on this post as well, to contribute their perspectives and insights.

6 Replies to “Ask Ralph: Advice for Aspiring or Would-Be Journalists”

  1. I love your advice, Ralph! Very level-headed. It’s not the usual “follow your dreams” shiz you get from Hollywood films. You painted a very realistic picture of what it means to be a reporter. Many of the points you raised are very true. Even me, a reporter for a monthly magazine which people think of merely as a gossip rag, had to deal with stress, working really long hours (I once had to work from 10AM to 8 AM), low pay and difficult people (just last Friday, our art director snapped at me). People think it’s all fun and dandy but it really isn’t. Mala Devil Wears Prada buhay ko!
    My advice for Nina is this: after graduation, try to be a reporter for a few months. If you think you’ll survive and you see it as a lifetime career, congratulations. But if it doesn’t work out, well, at least you tried. At least, you will never spend your life asking the “what ifs.”

  2. galing ralph! 🙂 very realistic nga 🙂 they think it’s an exciting job, well it is. but there are lows aside from highs. 🙂 i suggest to Nina na she must have the passion to survive and she should not go for the salary or the fame, diba. hehehe 😉

  3. I agree with every advice you gave Nina here, Ralph. I also agree with Rachel na she must try being a reporter and see if it works out for her, or if that’s what she really wants to do in life. =)

    My advice for Nina- Never let the people around you tell you what you can or cannot do. Measure your own strengths and weaknesses. Always compete with yourself, push yourself to the limit. Being a Journalist is a really noble job, you have to get into it for the right reasons like Ralph said. And you must stay on the job for all the right reasons as well. =) Good luck!

  4. “…you would only be considered a “talent”, and would not be able to claim employer-employee relations. The network will also not shoulder your SSS, Pag-Ibig, and Philhealth. You will need to take care of these yourself.”

    wow ralph. didnt know you write really honest and nuanced advice. what have you been up to aside from this blog? kumusta na?

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