ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes
'The global Pinoy is a world-class Pinoy'
--Ging Reyes on being an overseas Filipino and coming home to head the country's biggest news and current affairs network
MANILA - ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current affairs head Ging Reyes felt she was being eased into semi-retirement when she was asked to pack her bags and move to San Francisco to build the ABS-CBN North America Bureau in 2002.
Reyes was then in charge of ABS-CBN's flagship newscast TV Patrol and all the other news programs. She says she was surprised when she arrived in her new office in the US, "ang liit ng office, walang gamit, walang tao masyado."
At that time, they had to launch Balitang America with "freelancers and interns."
"It was frightening, you start from scratch. I was out of my comfort zone. I didn't know what to do. I had no real template to follow," said Reyes at the Return and Reintegration Workshop of the recently concluded 2nd Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora.
But Reyes had been in broadcasting long enough -- from being a production assistant to producing The World Tonight and TV Patrol -- to know that it was a challenge she could overcome.
"I had to channel my energies into pioneering this and so I started teaching the camera people and the editors," she said.
As bureau chief, she was not only a manager and producer, but she also had to be the story teller.
"I went out and covered. I wasn't selective. I would cover big political events and showbiz events and community events that may be small stories but it was my way of crafting my story-telling abilities," Reyes said.
Radio DZMM to the rescue
Reyes recalled how she had to practice doing live reports on camera and how DZMM helped her.
"I knew I was a good writer. I knew I was a good producer but I had to learn how to make a live shot, for instance, because I had never done that before. I learned, I practiced, I would call DZMM, I would volunteer to report to DZMM because my colleagues then told me, para mahasa ka, para magkaroon ka ng kumpiyansa, hindi ka mauubusan ng sasabihin."
Before "Balitang America," Filipinos in the U.S. had no source for "local" news. Reyes' efforts eventually bore fruit, and she was recognised as a pioneering Filipino jounalist in the US.
"I was happy mentoring other people, a lot of the correspondents that we have right now didn't have any journalism background at all, but pinag tyagaan ko silang turuan, talagang I mentored them. I made them feel good about their work, I criticized them when needed, I even taught them how to put make up...[North America Bureau correspondents] Len Thornhill, Yong Chavez, I even took them make-up shopping!"
Reyes admitted she was homesick most of the time. She says she cried every night for the first 6 months because she missed her family.
"But instead of sulking, I channeled my energy into work."
Reyes said she mastered the art of versatility -- she did food reviews, showbiz stories, stories on Filipino achievers. Of course, there were the big stories -- the 9/11 anniversary, the US elections, the impact of the war in Iraq, the war veterans issue.
"It really helped me gain perspective as to what I was doing and what the network was doing, and I saw how emotionally connected the Pinoy were to TFC [The Filipino Channel]."
After 8 years as North America News Bureau Chief, Reyes was offered another assignment -- she would again have to pack her bags and leave her comfortable life in the US -- to go back home and lead the country's biggest news and current affairs network.
Reyes admits it took her awhile to accept the offer.
"I really contemplated about it. I would have to uproot myself again. But then I realised that maybe, my mission wasn't over yet, and that setting up the North America News Bureau was just a means towards another end and the beginning of a bigger mission," Reyes said.
And big is probably an understatement when your responsibility spans the News and Current Affairs group for free TV (Channel 2 and Studio 23), cable (ABS-CBN News Channel and DZMM Teleradyo), AM Radio (DZMM 630) and online, www.abs-cbnnews.com.
"I probably would have screwed up had I been assigned to it 10 years earlier or when I was much younger. There's an advantage to having a world view and having been exposed to all sorts of communities and all sorts of people who arm you, give you the strength to face up to whatever challenges as well as opportunities in this position," Reyes said.
Reyes is known for her temper and for being the dragon lady of the newsroom, but she says "at home, I am really a very nice person (laughs). My children were never screamed at, or shouted at. My office persona is vastly different from who I am at home or in private. I was always a down-to-earth person."
Reyes believes ABS-CBN News can be a catalyst for making an entire people think and feel good about themselves, and to be ambitious and make great contributions not just in the country but globally.
"I believe our appeal can go global because I want Filipinos to feel global, think global, tama na yung pagiging masyado nating insular, parochial, defeatist, biktima tayo; hindi, dapat empowered tayo."
She admires Filipino talent and has high regard for OFWs who leave their families for hard-earned money abroad but she also believes there is more to Filipinos.
"Hindi pa natin siguro magawa agad pero ang pangarap ko ay maipakita sa buong mundo na ang Pinoy ay hindi lamang kumakanta, hindi lang sikat na comedian or kilala bilang provider of domestic help, care givers or skilled workers."
Reyes says her vision for the ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs Group may seem lofty, but she believes in the power of the media.
"I would like ABS-CBN News to be instrumental in the empowerment of an entire people. I believe we can be instrumental in making people feel empowered and good. But it won't stop at that. I believe we can also spur them into taking positive action, to improve not just their own lives, but the lives of others."