“You have to be relentless in pursuing the truth.”
The air in the room shifted at the sound of those words, delivered with the gravitas expected of esteemed broadcast journalist Jessica Soho.
A true storyteller, Soho commanded the room full of student journalists—who were hanging on to every word—with nothing more than her presence and her wit. The trophies lining the table behind her told a story of a decades-spanning career that has evolved with the times to remain as relevant and engaging as ever. However, those accolades, as plentiful as they are, don’t tell the full story of her tenacity and passion in delivering narratives that enrich, stimulate, and inform.
The air settled. The room itself held its breath, and Soho shared her story.
For the newsroom we cover
Soho laughingly recounted a memory from her undergraduate years, “Nag-enroll [din] ako sa printing. Printing kasi is relevant sa journalism. I remember distinctly the final project was to design your own business card, tapos linagay ko: Jessica Soho, War Correspondent.”
(I remember distinctly the final project was to design your own business card, so I put Jessica Soho, War Correspondent.)
While Soho’s present role revolves more around being a “talent [as a] host [and] anchor,” recognized for her name and face as a personality figure, a significant part of her career in Philippine media has been rooted in her competence as head of the newsroom.
Recalling the heavy weight on her shoulders while managing the newsroom, Soho described the position as one “so consuming [that one stops] having a life”. The challenges and duties extended beyond selecting and producing content, as she was also “responsible for about a thousand people operationally,” from news personnel to engineers and technicians.
Soho further disclosed that she was always anxious about the possibility of her coverage team meeting an untoward incident, given that the nature of their job might have them chasing stories to Mt. Everest or covering Yolanda-stricken Tacloban. “You’re not only talking about lives—you’re also responsible for their families—’yung career nila, kung ano yung direksyon ng mga buhay nila. Ang hirap dalhin noon,” she expressed. “It is a job that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
(You’re also responsible for their careers and the direction their lives will take. The responsibility was difficult to carry.)
Her ability to work well under pressure and juggle difficult demands was one of the skills she developed in the newsroom. This and the adaptability she showcases in her approach to her own programs, like Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho (KMJS), empower her to continue being the iconic and adept media practitioner she is today.
Never a dinosaur
Being adaptable has proven vital in an age where social media has encroached on and revised—even erased—the long-held templates anchored to traditional mass media’s protocols for content production and information delivery.
“The way we gather and assess news has changed through the years,” Soho emphasized. “Content will always be content, and the values that were handed down to us…Importante pa rin ‘yun syempre. [But] as we speak, the rules are being rewritten.”
(Of course, those values still remain important.)
Recognizing that social media has changed how news is disseminated, with its extensive reach and accessibility enabling users to source their news from these platforms, Soho cautioned to “take [the information presented] with a grain of salt” and that “it matters where you get your news.” She reminded that it is necessary to validate whether the information encountered is factual and accurate.
Still, social media has its advantages, as she acknowledged the “instant feedback” mechanism it offered and applauded her KMJS team for maintaining and improving her show’s online presence. Soho elaborated that understanding audience demographics and finding ways to connect with her viewers are critical to staying relevant and generating engagement amid a plethora of sources simultaneously competing for the audience’s attention.
She discussed how she asks younger colleagues for input, especially for topics concerning the newer generations, “The millenials are watching, so I try to be ‘lit’. Pero ‘di ko siya ma-claim kasi ‘di na ako maka-relate…magagaling kasi ‘yung staff eh—kaya na nila ‘yun.” Soho recounted when she learned of the popular dance phenomenon Budots only because she was covering President Rodrigo Duterte, “Nakita niya [ang] mga bata tapos pinatugtog namin [ang Budots] tapos sumayaw rin siya.”
(I cannot claim those anymore because I can no longer relate to them. The staff are talented and are more than capable of handling these stories. When he saw the children, my team played the song for Budots, and he danced with them.)
On the other hand, when the topic is within her realm of expertise and experience—for instance, stories concerning government and politics—Soho revealed that she then steps in and takes on a more active role in developing the story.
In the push and pull manifesting between traditional and modern forms of media, Soho emerges as someone who knows how to strike a balance between the two and appeal to diverse audiences spanning several generations and sociocultural backgrounds.
“Ayaw ko maging dinosaur.”
(I don’t want to be a dinosaur.)
The nows and whys
Media has evolved through the years and so has Soho. No longer is she the fresh graduate who was uncertain during her first coverage—now she speaks with confidence forged from years on the field.
Soho’s career didn’t begin with her traveling to war-torn areas in pursuit of the truth, nor did it begin with her in front of the camera. Her story began with a train: “My first story was the LRT (Light Rail Transit). Kung gaano katanda na ang LRT 1, ganoon na ako katagal sa trabaho na ito.” Since then, the range of topics that she has reported on has been as varied as the places she has visited in her career. Like trains speeding along a track, her career and influence have progressed onward, too.
(I have worked in this field for as long as the LRT 1 existed.)
From tackling political and social issues, to helping family members find their missing loved ones, and even featuring the Kpop scene and Budots—what has remained constant and true throughout all of these changes is that she has relentlessly pursued the truth and she will stand by it, not for her own sake, but because it is what the story and the audience deserve. The story and society deserve the truth—and nothing short of it.
“Hindi kasi kami dapat ang istorya; ang storya ‘yung istorya pa rin,” shared Soho on what it means to be a journalist. “Being more discerning…moving this country forward—we’re relying on the generations now. Hindi namin nabago ‘yung mga bagay-bagay…pero kayo, kayo magmamana ng lahat na ito, so dapat ngayon palang pagbutihan n’yo na, alamin n’yo na paano ba maitutuwid yung mga mali. Dapat tama.”
(We journalists are not the story; the story is the story. Our generation was unable to change things, but your generation will inherit these concerns. So as early as now, you should do your best to figure out how to right these wrongs. The wrongs must be made right.)