“Chisms” was the concocted name of a bar-café that we, a group of journalists, imagined owning while shooting the breeze many moons ago. We fantasized it would be a watering hole of newshounds, politicians, artists, activists, musicians, other newsmakers, and young, aspiring journos.
I ripped the name from the Filipino word “chismis” or gossip. We thought what great fun it would be to have people from different walks of life just walk in and share the latest stories while they guzzled bottles of beer or sipped cups and cups of coffee after.
Admittedly, journalists and news junkies alike are suckers for secrets and gossip. The hotter and the more current, the better. The more controversial or shocking, even more than better because they make for the best of stories.
After all, it’s stories that build communities and bring people together in piazzas or plazas. We imagined “Chisms” to be our own public square where conversations went beyond gossip.
Journalists are a naturally curious lot. We observe and listen intently to storytellers then ask a litany of questions. The best journalists, they say, are those who know how to listen…and to casually eavesdrop. After all, these methods are among the easiest ways of collecting information even for the toughest of stories.
Among the toughest stories I’ve written about is human trafficking published by what used to be a fortnightly investigative magazine, Newsbreak, which eventually migrated online. From the southern backdoor, I tried to trace the footsteps of young Filipino women in search of a better life in Sabah, and who tragically ended up in pubs and bars not as receptionists or waitresses as promised, but as women for hire.
Sexually abused and deeply in debt, they became virtual slaves, some of them held in the Roma Mera detention center in Sabah. Among those I met was “Marissa” – not her real name.
Later arrested during a raid, she frantically texted me, her last message saying her cell phone would soon be confiscated by the police. I had returned to Manila by that time and my messages to her went unanswered. I tried to communicate with the welfare attaché I had interviewed to tell him about Marissa’s plight and asked him if he could please make sure she would be all right.
He told me it would be difficult to trace where she was taken. And I never heard from her again.
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There are challenging investigations and heart-breaking stories aching to be told. They make me angry, agitated, extremely sad, helpless, or hopeless. Sometimes, however, I turn hopeful especially when I see a story with impact, prompting people to try to bring about change.
These stories are often difficult to write because they require rigor, a discipline of verification, tons of patience, and time. But journalists pursue them in the belief that the public and the community ought to know about them so they can do something.
I want to share with you every Thursday, via The Newsbreak Agenda newsletter, stories that deviate from day-to-day news which you pick up from coffee shops or bars. Let’s create our own virtual and ideal Chisms Café and exchange notes about stories that will build a community of genuine truth-seekers.
And yeah, let’s not do this on Facebook, yes? – Rappler.com
Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.