OFFLINE: Goodbye CNN Philippines

From Thursday last week to Monday of this week, I and about 400 other people, more or less, were trapped in an emotional roller coaster. We were all working at CNN Philippines, the local franchisee of the respected CNN (short for Cable News Network) based in Atlanta, Georgia.

I joined the company a little less than two years ago. I joined as editorial consultant, working a five-day workweek, eight hours a day (nine including the mandatory one-hour lunch break).

 A friend whom I had previously worked with in the Manila Times and who was active on Facebook told me about the immediate need for a senior editor. She asked me if I was interested. She also told me that her immediate superior was a gent whom I had worked with in BusinessWorld many years ago.

The guy was a pretty good reporter back in the day, so I said why not?

At that time, I was already retired for a few years following a bout with prostate cancer. An operation proved successful, but I still had my diabetes to contend with on a daily basis.

I did have some concerns because it meant getting up, getting dressed, and heading off to an office a few kilometers away. I knew I could do the work, but would I have the energy to face a daily commute in Edsa traffic? It was only around a week or so ago when the Philippines was tagged as having the worst traffic in the world, but back then I already knew it was.

But my partner convinced me to at least give it a try, which I did to no regrets.

I only had to adjust to the needs of a broadcast station rather than a daily broadsheet, but the essence was still the same. We had to tell the people what was happening and why. We had to be as objective as possible, and we had to produce our stories based on what some would consider a killer deadline.

In a post-mortem, one of the large fellow broadcast news stations referred to CNN Ph as a credible news organization. This, we were. I can vouch that we took great pains to always be a credible source of news for our listeners, readers, and viewers.

Good thing we also had some of the best anchors in the business, and a team of senior editors who knew the business like the back of their hand. In a month or two, I got the hang of it.

Aside from our broadcast operations, we also had an online presence. A separate group of mostly young reporters competed with the other broadcast stations as well as broadsheets in reporting all the important happenings of the day as quickly and as accurately as possible.

I have to admit that some of our writers were a source of daily, regular headaches. But that’s only because we set the highest possible standards.

It was a source of some frustration for me, though.

In the broadsheets that I had worked for, whenever I noticed a reporter not being up to par, I could do something about it. I could take them aside and tell them what was wrong with their work.

There was no time for this in CNN. The few instances when I could find the time to correct their mistakes were too few and far between.

I also faced a challenge that I was not sure I was equipped for. All the broadsheets where I worked were in English. I did also serve as Editor-in-Chief of the tabloid Bandera, owned by the Inquirer. But that was done in Taglish, not pure or formal Tagalog.

When I first came in, CNN shows were in English or Tagalog. And somewhere along the way, reporting shifted to more Tagalog shows than English.

But I told myself, hey you’re a pure Batangenyo, a Tagalog-speaking province. We spoke mostly Tagalog at home, with a scattering of English here and there.

On the other hand, my parents sent me to an exclusive school where English was the medium of instruction and Tagalog was just a subject that we had to pass in high school.

So at the back of my head, I looked to the lessons of my past. Faced with a Tagalog script to edit, I would try and recall how my parents would have said it.

I quickly realized one funny thing. The Tagalog we Batangenyos speak is a little bit different from the Tagalog the Bulakenyos speak, or even the Cavitenyos.

In fact, my partner is a Cavitenya, and there are many words she uses that sound Greek to me.

Then it came to me that there are many ways to say the same thing, and all could be grammatically correct.

Other editors wondered how I could edit the scripts so quickly, and I said half in jest that it was a secret I would never divulge. I would but they would have to buy me a cup of coffee. None of that three-in-one sachets BS, which I always found barbaric.

Most editors and even producers at CNN are coffee addicts like myself. It was a big deal for us whenever the company would just announce that brewed coffee was available for everyone on a first come, first served basis.

There was also, one neat thing about working in CNN, at least for those in the afternoon shift. Four or five days a week, top advertiser San Minguel Corp. would send pan de sal, supposedly for the newsroom only. But guys from the other departments who caught wind of the freebie would also help themselves to the daily bread, which would have either butter or very thin slices of cheese inside.

There was an unspoken agreement that each worker could only get two or three pieces, but one overweight fellow editor got more. He sometimes got as many as eight, excusing himself by saying the rest would be his breakfast the next day. Cheap, huh? But he was the only one who abused the small privilege.

The one thing that we had an unlimited supply of was drinking water. There were water dispensers everywhere, with hot and cold always available.

Coming out of retirement, I joined CNN Philippines in June of 2022 with a goal of working there for three years, before going back to retirement. I would have made it too, had it not been for the sudden and unexpected shutting down of the station.

In our last day on Monday this week, our president explained that closing the business would have been done last year. The company never recovered from the COVID pandemic and the slowing down of the economy.

His voice broke at the tail end of his short address to us. No doubt that he did care for the company, as did most everyone who worked there.

I do not consider my time in CNN PH as a waste of time. We were all saddened at the closure, but we all knew that we did our best. We fought the good fight, and left the company with heads held high.