Pacific Media Watch

29 January 2014

GLOBAL: Peace, investigative journalism and a tale of two sisters

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Investigative journalist Sheila Coronel ... now academic dean at Columbia University Graduate Journalism School. Image: UNESCO Portal

Boying Pimentel

OPINION: MANILA ( Media Watch): Peace and journalism were in the spotlight last week with news involving two Filipino women. They’re also sisters.

The first came from New York where veteran journalist Sheila Coronel - well-known in Pacific media circles - was named academic dean of the Columbia Graduate Journalism School, considered the top J-school in the US. 

Then a few days later, it was her sister’s turn.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, known as Iye, is head of the Philippine government panel that has been negotiating a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

It is one of the toughest jobs in government. But last week, Iye’s team helped the country take an important step toward ending the war in the south.

The final set of documents signed by both sides made official the comprehensive peace agreement the government and the MILF have been hammering out for months.

Finally, peace may finally reign in a Muslim Mindanao, a region that many Filipinos have long associated with insurgency and violence.

Of course, the Coronel sisters each face big challenges, perhaps the toughest of their careers.

Let’s start with Sheila, whom I worked with when she was still head of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

Journalism is still reeling from a painful transition in the US that has also forced US J-Schools to seek new directions. The web dramatically changed the US and global media, opening up new ways to tell stories and reach broader audiences.

But it also has disrupted news organisations, particularly newspapers, and the US journalism profession as a whole. The rapid shift of advertising dollars to the online world led to the collapse of a business model that had sustained the mainstream media for decades.

Hundreds of journalists, including many veteran reporters, photojournalists and editors, have lost their jobs - including some friends of mine.

I went to the UC Berkeley J-school in the early 1990s when the path to a journalism career was fairly well-defined. There were also many well-paying jobs, even for beginning reporters and photojournalists.

That’s no longer the case.

The uncertainty is underscored by discussions on my J-School’s online forum on a key question: Is going to J-School worth it these days?

Tough question.

But in some ways picking Sheila Coronel to help lead the Columbia J-School is an inspired choice.

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