(Behind the Scenes is my attempt to shed light on how journalists — specifically me — research and do leg work for their stories. I hope that through such posts, the public will understand how a news or feature article is conceptualized, framed and packaged. Media literacy and transparency are a must in today’s cyber world of fake news and trolls.)
Earlier this year, I decided to again pursue a master’s degree. It was an eye-opening experience as I (and my eight classmates from all over Asia) attended daily classes and spent sleepless nights working on our papers. MA Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University is more difficult but also more impressive than I expected.
My favorite class is Advanced Reporting, undoubtedly the toughest subject this semester. During one of our sessions, we agreed to pursue children’s issues for our final paper. I chose the topic children with disabilities since I had always wanted to work on an article about persons with disabilities (PWD).
A few years ago, I researched about Filipino Sign Language and sign language insets for news programs. I met a lot of amazing people and learned more about the deaf community. I feel that many of the issues they face do not get enough attention from the media and the public even if there is a lot of terrific material available.
So for my final paper, I decided to write about the challenges that poor families face in sending their deaf children to school.
Revisiting old sources
I chose that topic even if I didn’t know anyone from the public sector that dealt with deaf issues so I ended up starting with institutions I was familiar with. I reintroduced myself to the people at St. Benilde’s School for the Deaf, which was one of the leaders in advocating for Filipino Sign Language. My interview with the dean gave me an idea of what the best practices are in deaf education. It is unbelievable that 98 percent of the school’s population are scholars and that the La Salle brothers spend P1.2 million for each student.
It was in their faculty center that I met Raymond, who is flying to Malaysia next year to study e-learning for deaf students. Raymond, who was born deaf, persevered in public school and received a coveted scholarship from Benilde, later becoming the school’s advocacy coordinator.
I ran out of people to talk to after that and I ended up e-mailing the Department of Education’s media office to set up an interview with a resource person on deaf education. The people at the media office were very accommodating and I ended up conducting a phone interview with Salve Olinares of the Student Inclusion Office (although it took me several days to finally get in touch with her). I made a surprise visit to Ms. Salve’s office the other day and she gave me a list of all public schools offering classes for deaf students, as well as the breakdown of deaf student enrollment this year. She said there are 77 public schools offering classes for the deaf plus 50 more from the private sector.
Facebook search for journalists
She couldn’t refer me to anyone from the local schools specifically so I decided to use my incredible Facebook search skills. I wanted to learn more about the Philippine School for the Deaf so I searched the name on Facebook and started reading posts about it from teachers, parents and students. I think I
stalked messaged almost 10 people before I bagged an interview with a parent of a deaf elementary student.
Arlene, who works in Dubai, was very nice to me. She was kind enough to share with me her family’s story. From there, she gave me the contact details of her friend Rowena.
Through Rowena, I was (finally) able to enter the Philippine School for the Deaf, which has a nice big lawn and a garden where the children play. Hearing them laugh and shriek as they play tag made me realize that deaf children are just like other children. The only difference is that they use a visual language — sign.
I met Arlene’s son Bien and husband Benjie at the school. Both Rowena and Benjie were very candid and sincere in their interviews, recounting the difficulties they face in raising their children.
Rowena also introduced me to the guidance counselor, who in turn brought me to the school’s officer in charge.
During my interview with Ms. Irish and Ms. Cristina Amon, I learned that 22 percent of their students are from Cavite and that each class only has 10 to 15 students. They also told me that the biggest challenge they face is not lack of facilities or teachers but the inability of some parents to devote enough time to guide and communicate with their deaf children.
While browsing on Facebook, I came across a sign language video from a page called “Mata News.” I later met George, its founder, and his sister Kat at a coffee shop in Makati. The concept of Mata News is quite simple — for the deaf to deliver news to their fellow deaf Filipinos.
George, who is deaf because of a genetic disease, said deaf people often do not understand television news reports because of the lack of subtitles and inaccurate sign language interpretation.
I am using my interview with them for a sidebar story.
Now that my first draft is in, I am thinking of ways to make my report more palatable and easy to digest. I will have to break the longer story into shorter pieces. My professor said serializing the report would be a great idea, especially since readers seldom have the attention span and the patience to read through a thousand-word article. A lot of people liked my last story — a 4,000-word article about a gay communist fighter who died two days before the ceasefire — but said it was too long.
I will have to rethink my goal of writing long-form reports and maybe find creative ways to present them to our audience.
For our readers, what else do you want to know about the deaf? For my fellow reporters, do you also use Facebook to find interviewees? How?