I lead a ‘double life’
Academia’s publish or perish policy has been in effect for years. Many academics have even opted to publish in predatory journals, paying as much as a month’s salary to survive in the academic rat-race. But for someone like me who is leading a “double life” the challenge seems easy. Or so I thought.
With two bachelor’s degrees, a post-graduate degree from a university overseas, a master’s degree (all of which unrelated to journalism but required in conducting research, writing papers, and preparing reports) and a lot of published material to boot, I became an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in 2011.
I am a Filipino academic, an adjunct professor (“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 — 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 once a year.
I was a community journalist in our province in Mindoro. Upon immigration, I began writing stories about migrant Filipinos, uncovering scams and writing opinion pieces. Thus, my other life as a journalist.
Statement of the problem
I see things and events with different lenses; I know my esteemed colleagues who are both writers and academics would agree with this. But of course, there are disadvantages to this, too.
My research papers were first written either as features or profile stories. My research paper Tourist to Ajarn: The Filipino Teachers in Thailand was 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 and re-wrote it as an academic article for the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia.
I am sharing this story to explore the intersectionalities of journalism and academe in my life. Is journalistic writing 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 research writing. It is writing 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.
Academic research-writing is 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 5,000-word, 10-page research paper (consisting of three tables and a lot of computations) that could be considered worthy of being published in an English journal. Academic papers undergo series of peer reviews and revisions. Oftentimes, a researcher would lose interest because of the tedious revisions.
Journalistic writing is completely different; it uses the Associated Press (AP) style and is focused on the inverted pyramid and conciseness. A common output of journalistic writing is an article written for circulation in the mass media. It may include news, profiles, feature stories, or opinion pieces. In my case, I write both for print and online news media.
In journalism, the five W’s and one H (who, what, where, when, why, how) are important. In the inverted pyramid style, 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 other important details that make up the story. When writing a profile story, I usually spend one week at most. This includes interviews and research on the person I am profiling, transcribing the interviews, writing and editing, and finally submission.
News outlets have different guidelines for their correspondents and freelancers. I am a correspondent of Inquirer.net. I pitch topics to the editor before I write. At Asia Focus, 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 on the platform. I have my own username and password. After submitting my piece, I can monitor the progress of my article. 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, reminded me that a researcher can get the most important answers when she stops recording. Inhibitions disappear, and the interviewer and the interviewee share a relationship of equality. It is also quite the same in journalism. 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’ attitude towards English and the influx of foreign teachers teaching English in Thailand are not only newsworthy, but are 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. Humanizing the “percentage,” the “mean” and “deviation” of the study makes me different from most academic researchers. Since I mostly do qualitative, descriptive research, I always emphasize the use of the term “participants” instead of “subjects.” For academics, statistical results are the basis for the recommendation in any study. In journalism, my interviewees could be a basis for change and sources of information or entertainment.
When I was at the University of the Philippines 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, she glared at me: “No literature? Write some!” So, I remained a journalist.
But wait! Most of my newspaper articles, rather than my research papers, have been cited in dissertations, theses, and books!
I’d like to conclude with Professor Arao’s statement: “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.”
Eunice Barbara C. Novio is a Thailand-based freelance journalist. She has been an EFL (English as Foreign Language) lecturer at Vongchavalitkul University in Nakhon Ratchasima since 2014 and an adjunct professor at St. Robert’s Global Education-Philippine Christian University in Pratunam, Bangkok since 2017. She also writes for Inquirer.net. Her articles have appeared on the Asia Focus segment of Bangkok Post, Asia Times, and The Nation. She is a two-time Plaridel Award winner of Philippine American Press Club for feature/profile stories.