Weighing journalism with Amando Doronila

His words still ring clear: ‘Good or bad journalism has nothing to do with its subject’

Amando Doronila
Amando Doronila photographed by Wig Tysmans in 2017 for the Benpres’ 50th anniversary book: ‘Good or bad journalism has nothing to do with its subject’

If you’re among those who measure the professional weight of journalists by the weight of the subjects they tackle, Amando Doronila would have been the first to set you straight.

The issue is triggered by a remark made to me on the occasion of his passing, on July 8, at age 95, in Australia, where he had worked as an exile from Philippine martial-law (1972-1986) and retired in his last years. A particular word describing him in that remark set me off—“heavyweight.”

I knew it wasn’t meant to depreciate other journalists, especially those who don’t work in Doronila’s league, but Doronila himself, sensitive as he was to the issue, would have felt the comparison implicit and false. His words still ring clear: “Good or bad journalism has nothing to do with its subject”—and so does being a good or a bad journalist, if I may add.

Keen to keep equality and harmony in his newspaper in the face of that sort of discrimination, Doronila, as editor, even made a personal effort to appease the disadvantaged by cozying up to them, so that those who had less in stature were given more in assurances. In fact, to his dying day, he kept a closer friendship with them than others.

The discrimination has persisted, all the same, and, so far as I have observed, it has persisted everywhere. Perhaps the most condescending reflection of it is the relegation of the practitioners who do “soft” news, as opposed to “hard,” to the newsroom’s “children’s department”—the phrase referred to sports originally. And, so far as I know, only one from that department has won the Pulitzer, the coveted American prize, for commentary, the category considered the most adult of the newspaper forms.

That was Red Smith, awarded in 1976. To have been able to beat the establishment, he must have been really good—I loved him myself at first sight, and have continued loving him in recollection and rereading.

Amando Doronila

Doronila’s book, a sequel to ‘Afro-Asia in Upheaval: A Memoir of Front-line Reporting’ (2008)—his historical and personal account of contemporary Philippine history, published by The University of the Philippines Press

In fact, probably inspired by him, I did, and now and then still do, some sports writing. I also do work on other supposedly lightweight subjects—arts and culture and what is called “slice of life,” which is just about anything and everything that is, well…light. I remember the lovable slice-of-life writer Gilda Cordero Fernando bristling at a published line by the journalist and novelist Frankie Sionil Jose calling her “a tempest in a teapot.”

Known himself for his work on politics, foreign affairs, and some economics, Amando Doronila tended to be overlooked for his writings on other subjects—subjects thought lighter than became him. His writings on food and wine in particular were admired by connoisseurs as well as specialist writers on the subject. My own wife, a half-connoisseur herself—afflicted with a choosy allergy to ingested alcohol, she’s careful with her wines—loved those writings of his and always asked him for more.

Amando Doronila

In one of the more recent photos when he was still an Inquirer political analyst, Doronila (second from left) holds reunion dinner with his Chronicle staff, from left, clockwise, Thelma Sioson San Juan, Resty Perez, Fort Yerro, Vergel Santos and wife Chit, Margie Logarta.

He liked tennis very much, played it passionately, and was well-read in it. But he understood that writing about it is another matter. Teasing him once, I warned that if he dared try, his printed words would likely be tested for validation against how he actually played the game. He did not play it well at all.

Coming back from Australia, he told me he had had a chance to polish his strokes under some tutorship. He was particularly proud of his “Australian backhand”—whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty on him. He was persuaded to stick with food and wine. I myself avoided the subject, and left him and my wife at it. But me, at tennis, I feel confident, playing or writing.

Thus, we preserved our respective weights as journalists.

Amando Doronila

In 1974, Doronila with his family—wife Lourdes, children Agustine, Maria Lourdes, Andrew

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