Journalist of the month: Jake Soriano

by Ana Batista
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalist of the Month

Each month, IJNet features an international journalist who exemplifies the profession and has used the site to further his or her career. If you would like to be featured, email a short bio and a paragraph about how you have used IJNet here.

Jake Soriano grew up in the southern Philippines, where ongoing conflicts often went under-reported and over-simplified by the media. Struck by this gap, Soriano left home at 16 to move to the capital city of Manila and study journalism.

He began his career covering technology stories, but his real interest was in politics and development. As a freelancer, Soriano published stories in the Global Post, researched for a BBC documentary on migrant Filipino rights and published an article with the Thomson Reuters Foundation for reporting trafficking — the result of a fellowship he discovered on IJNet.

In 2014, Soriano landed a position with VERA Files, a nonprofit, independent media organization in the Philippines. The organization is dedicated to shedding light on underreported issues like human trafficking, disability rights and conflict reporting. During the Philippines’ 2016 election, VERA Files launched a fact-checking project to hold public officials accountable. Soriano has been actively involved in the project, writing and editing the reports.

We spoke to Soriano about his work, challenges he’s encountered and advice he has for young journalists.

IJNet: Why do you like being a journalist? What motivates you?

Soriano: I’ve always done in-depth reporting, and part of the motivation is to hold policymakers and government officials accountable. Especially in the Philippines, where we have problems related to government and policy making. To report things that are under-reported and to hold government officials accountable is necessary for the country.

How has IJNet helped to advance your career?

In 2012, I responded to an IJNet post calling for submissions to the Developing Asia Journalism Awards by the Asian Development Bank Institute. I submitted a feature story and was picked one of the finalists; I got to travel to Tokyo and the parts of Japan affected by the great tsunami and earthquake the year prior.

In 2014, responding to another IJNet post, I applied to and was granted a fellowship by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to attend a course on reporting human trafficking and modern slavery in London; the course was extremely helpful as I had then been covering human trafficking. In London, I met previous IJNet Journalists of the Month Christy Ejiogu and Shaun Swingler, who I still get to chat with now and then on our WhatsApp group.

IJNet is also my go-to source for webinars, such as one on disability and journalism in 2015, which proved useful for a book I was co-writing then on disability reporting in the Philippines, and its companion web video package.

What advice do you have for new and young journalists?

Never be afraid to make mistakes, because that’s how journalists learn. And never be afraid of editing and working with your editors. I certainly learned a lot from working with veteran journalists in Vera Files. That really helped me a lot. I would think that’s good advice for any young journalist, to learn from mentors and editors and always look for the facts. Always be critical.

What has been the most challenging story to cover as a journalist? How did you overcome the challenges, and what were the results?

It's so hard to pick one story. In terms of the length of time it took me to finish, I'd say the investigative report I did on a massive corruption scam in the Philippines involving billions of "pork barrel" funds funnelled through several bogus nonprofit organizations. Research for the report took several months to complete. In terms of field work difficulties, probably my report on the problems faced by anti-trafficking advocates in the Philippines-Malaysia border especially after massive rescue operations.

How did I overcome the challenges? By working with excellent editors who provided invaluable feedback especially when I was getting lost in details. And by learning not to fear revisions. Stories that are complex, but not complicated, are I believe almost always a product of a good collaboration between a reporter and their editor.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Image courtesy of Jake Soriano.