DURING a recent coverage in the United States, an American woman asked Becky Kho and I over lunch what we liked most about our jobs. Becky, the editor in chief of a home magazine, said that she relishes the process of putting a monthly glossy together. As a freer, less office-bound lifestyle journalist, I mentioned the fact that the job offers me a great deal of travel opportunities.
As with all small talk where the conversation was free-flowing, our focus soon shifted to other topics. But in hindsight, I now feel that I should have qualified my answer. Indeed, the journalism profession has its perks, and one of them is traveling. But there’s more to travel than traveling per se.
Even the US Navy lures in new recruits with this classic line: “Join the navy and see the world!” If you’re a young man with dreams of serving your country while globetrotting aboard one of the most advanced aircraft carriers in the world, such an offer is indeed attractive.
Unlucky with PAL
We don’t have to go far. Thousands of young Filipino college graduates knock on the doors of Philippine Airlines (PAL) every year for a chance to fly with “Asia’s first.” I should know because I was one of them–I tried my luck not once, but twice soon after leaving the university decades ago. PAL’s recruiters must have sensed that I had one of the shortest fuses among the pool of aspiring flight attendants, and promptly junked my applications. Grrrr!
I’m willing to bet my Louis Vuitton bags that these kids aren’t drawn to PAL for the chance to pour coffee or tea 35,000 feet above the Pacific. Like the fellow travelers they’re serving, they also look forward to the end of their journeys where untold adventures and shopping as well as business opportunities await them.
If I were to answer that woman again, I’d still say that traveling both within the Philippines and abroad is one of the perks that keeps me inspired and glued to my job. In fact, not a few people I meet think I have “the best job in the world.”
That’s because they see only what goes on outside, including the seemingly glamorous travels that come with the territory. If they only knew how hard it is for a journalist to think of new angles, beat the competition and meet deadlines, they’d come to the conclusion that, indeed, there are no free lunches, as there are no free airline tickets and hotel accommodations in this world.
Means to an end
Like most endeavors, traveling to a journalist is just a means to an end. The main objectives haven’t changed through the decades: develop sources, get as close as possible to these various sources of information, process and make sense of these information and bring them to you, dear readers, in comprehensive but comprehensible chunks of stories called news.
If ever I turn my back on the profession in favor of an unlikely career in NASA or if, God forbid, I suddenly lose my job tomorrow, it won’t be the traveling that I’d miss most. It’s the access.
I’m not referring to the free concert and movie “invites” (could anyone please tell me how the word invitation evolved to become invite?) journalists like me get with routine regularity.
Getting free meals in the best restaurants is also overrated. At the end of the day, no matter how delicious and satisfying it is, a meal is still a meal that’s bound to disintegrate and, ahem, be passed off our bodies during our daily morning rituals.
By access, I’m referring to the priceless and almost unimpeded access we get to interview or feature certain inspiring and influential personalities and their willingness to spend time sharing their innermost thoughts with us.
Time of day
Would these people open their doors, give you the time of day and even allow you to enter their boudoirs, dugouts and smoking rooms if you weren’t a journalist? Even better paid executives with travel privileges from the biggest multinational companies would be hard pressed getting five minutes of these busy and sought-after personalities’ time.
Apart from front-row seats to such events as Bench’s biennial underwear show, for instance, or exclusive invites to this year’s party or wedding of the century, access could also mean getting first dibs at seeing, say, a rare art collection or fashion exhibit. It could also mean spending dinner picking the brains of your favorite actor, director, athlete, or author.
Travel is pricey, but anyone with the means and the motivation to fly abroad and tour the world can do it. In a world that has become more voyeuristic and predatory by the day because of technology and social media, the real privilege and luxury afforded to legitimate journalists is still genuine and exclusive access.