Telum Talks To… Jessica Fenol-Barrios, Business Editor, ABS-CBN News Online
Different beats have different challenges, what opportunities excite you in covering business news?
What excites me the most is learning about the work ethics of business leaders, CEOs, and other top officials. It is interesting how diverse their techniques are in running the business. Sometimes, you get candid answers that you will not expect from the Sy's, Uy's or Tan's of the Philippines. It is fun and I treat it as a learning experience, every time.
I've learned that top leaders are very instinctive in choosing their team members. The business beat gives me the opportunity to learn how they troubleshoot problems not only in business but in life as well. I love hearing stories of how they built their empires.
How has your day-to-day changed between pre-pandemic and pandemic?
The changes were drastic. First, we were confined in our homes with very limited mobility. Journalists are naturally inquisitive and, I believe, we tend to move a lot to gather facts and build a comprehensive story. Due to the pandemic, we were forced to limit our sources to online and other messaging tools such as Zoom, mobile phones and emails. The silver lining is that while face-to-face interactions were reduced, we were able to maximise and realise the reach of digital communication tools.
Adjusting to the new normal was difficult at first. I no longer have to commute to work every morning. However, working from home has its own disadvantages. There are so many distractions. There's the bed, then there's the kitchen, then there's my pet and so on.
It takes discipline and determination to establish a habit and a new routine for a productive work from home set up. What I did was I identified a working space near the window and as far away as possible from my bed. I conditioned my mind that when I'm seated at my home office then it's time to work.
What is your most memorable feature story?
I worked on some very interesting stories but one memorable feature I made was about social media or Facebook moderators. It was inspired by a documentary called The Cleaners which revealed that many global firms hire Filipinos to filter banned contents on social media.
Moderators spend their shifts watching anything illegal posted online including pornography, terrorism, child abuse, and so on, and remove them from the platform. They said they are doing me a favour by not telling me what's hidden in the dark web. I did not press further.
What bothered me the most was how they were struggling to balance being a productive worker and taking care of their mental health. Imagine consuming very uncomfortable content 24/7. Hearing their experiences was difficult and painful, but they're willing to do the job not just because of the money but since it's a decent job that does good for humanity. Imagine if there were no moderators who filter these kinds of content thoroughly? Robots or automation are not enough, I guess, thus the need for human intervention.
I have so much respect for moderators since they are putting their mental health at risk to do this job. I just hope all of them receive ample psychological help and other precautionary measures from their companies. One of them told me that they have that as a company benefit, which I think is good.
What would your advice be for someone who wants to find fulfilment in journalism?
My biggest advice is to identify your goals in life. Who do you want to become? What do you want to achieve? Success is subjective. Never compare your accomplishments with others since you have a different set of goals. This will help you become successful whether you choose to pursue journalism or any other career.
If you could interview anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
On top of my mind, I'd like to interview Elon Musk. He has one brilliant, albeit weird, mind that produces outcomes! He runs Tesla, SpaceX, an AI company, a solar company, The Boring Company and many others. I've read that he divides his time strategically to attend all his business ventures, while also dating and being a dad. How did he do it? What does it take to become successful?
I also want to interview powerful women such as Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama and Amal Clooney.