I have been leading a double life for the past nine years.
I am a Filipino academic — a lecturer, an adjunct professor, a teacher, an ‘ajarn’ teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. I also conduct writing classes at St. Robert’s Global and Transnational Education in Bangkok. As a university lecturer, we are enjoined to publish at least one research paper in a reputable academic journal — preferably, a Scopus-indexed or TCI (Thai Citation Index) journal — and to present a research paper in an international, accredited conference in Thailand or somewhere abroad.
In 2011, I joined the diaspora of around 10 million Filipinos in search of the proverbial ‘greener pasture.’ With two Bachelor’s degrees, a post-graduate degree from a university overseas, a Master’s degree (all of which were unrelated to journalism but required conducting research, writing papers, and preparing reports), and a lot of published material to boot, I became an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Thailand in 2011. OFW is the collective term that is used for Filipino migrant workers.
I also started working as a journalist.
Statement of my problem
My research papers were first written either as features or profile stories. One example is my research paper ‘Tourist to Ajarn: The Filipino Teachers in Thailand’ published by Asian EFL Journal in 2018. It was first published as a collection of experiences of Filipino teachers in Thailand, by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. An online version was made available on Inquirer.net. Later on, I updated it and re-wrote it as an academic article for the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia.
I see things and events with different lenses — I know that my esteemed colleagues who are both writers and academics would agree with this. But of course, there are disadvantages to this, too.
I am sharing this story to explore the intersectionalities of journalism and academe in my life. Does journalistic writing prove advantageous to me as a researcher, or does it muddle my research manuscript by turning it into a journalistic article rather than an academic paper? How do these two intersect in the professional roles I play?
First, let me try to define academic writing, specifically when it is about research that is mainly performed for the benefit of the academic community or a university and which must be first presented at an academic conference and later submitted to a journal for publication.
Both academic research and writing are time consuming. For example, a research project I did, involving the task-based reading comprehension of nursing students at my university, took me two semesters to finish. It included observations, testing materials, trials, and reading of related studies. It took me a while to come up with a 5000-word, 10-page research paper (that consisted of three tables and a lot of computations) that could be considered worthy of being published in an English journal. My paper is still undergoing peer review and I am hoping to publish it in an indexed academic journal.
Journalistic writing is completely different from academic writing – it is largely based on the Associated Press (AP) style and is mainly focused on the inverted pyramid and conciseness. A common output of journalistic writing is an article written for circulation in the mass media and it may include news, profiles, feature stories, or opinion pieces. In my case, I write both for print and online newspapers.
In journalism, the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why, how) and 1 H are important. In the inverted pyramid style, as I explain to my students, information flows from the most important to the least important. In both writings, Danilo Arao, a Filipino Journalism professor at the University of the Philippines, says: “Your article is one big jigsaw puzzle where you put pieces of data and analysis together. The big pieces should be in the middle; and the small pieces, on the side.”
So what is ‘between’ the most and least important bits of information? These are the other important details that make up the story. When profiling someone, I usually spend one week at most. This includes research on the person I am profiling (e.g., the kind of job they have), transcribing the interviews, writing and editing, and finally submission. News outlets have different guidelines for their correspondents and freelancers. I am a correspondent for Inquirer.net, a Philippine-based media outlet. I pitch topics to the editorial team before I write. But often, I already have news articles ready in case the editor approves it. At Asia Focus, which is a supplement of the largest English newspaper in Thailand the Bangkok Post, the editor gives me a topic to write on. As Opinion writer at Asia Times, I can write directly to the platform. I have my own username and password. After submitting my piece, I can monitor the progress of my article - much like tracking a journal submission. The editor sends me feedback in case there are errors or clarifications needed before making it ‘live’.
Analysis and discussions
Research is a vital part of my job. I learned the art of questioning from decades of experience as a journalist. I don’t settle for just a set of questions. My research professor at the University of the Philippines, Dr. Sario del Rosario, often reminded me that a researcher or a journalist can get the most important answers when she stops recording, inhibitions disappear, and the interviewer and the interviewee share a relationship of equality. Of course, I remain faithful to the ethics of research and journalism—my participants are willing and they are fully aware of where the research or the interviews would be used.
In the academe, being a journalist is an advantage. I don’t run out of ideas to write about. In my case, Thai students’ attitudes towards English and the influx of foreign teachers teaching English in Thailand are not only newsworthy but also a well of research topics that may not dry up for the next decade or so.
This intersection of academic and journalistic writing helped me produce accurate and engaging articles. But as always, I cannot separate journalism from the academe. When I tried it, I often ended up disappointed because my participants were reduced to being ‘subjects’ or ‘objects’ of research. Since I mostly do qualitative, descriptive research, I always emphasize the use of the term ‘participants’ instead of ‘subjects’. I also realized over the years that it is important to humanize the ‘percentage’, the ‘mean’ and ‘deviation’ of a study and I guess this makes me different from most academic researchers — I give a voice to a ‘number’. But academic research is not like that. For academics, statistical results are the basis for the recommendation of any study.
When I was at graduate school in 2009, my thesis on organic feminism among Filipino women had little or no existing related or supporting literature. When I approached Dr. Rosario with this problem, he glared at me: “No literature? Write some!” So, I remained a journalist.
Wait! But most of my newspaper articles were cited in dissertations, theses, and books rather than my research papers!
I’d like to conclude this article with Professor Arao’s quote: “Academics can learn something from journalists in communicating thoughts using the simplest and fewest words. Journalists can learn something from academics in researching quotes using the best and quickest methods.”
I feel lucky to have the best of both worlds!