Asia Undercovered Q&A #6 Portia Ladrido, Philippines

Welcome to our sixth Asia Undercovered Journalist Q&A. This month’s Q&A is with Portia Ladrido, a Manila-based journalist.

She’s the co-founder and editor of The INKLINE, a solutions-focused international media platform that features constructive news and features, and has previously worked for CNN Philippines, where she reported on the impacts of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war on women, along with features on the impacts on farmers due to militarization, the challenges faced by Philippine migrant workers, and LGBTQ rights in Southeast Asia.

Portia shares with us her the potential of solutions reporting, especially in seemingly dire circumstances, and why she thinks its an approach more journalists should take.

Nithin: How and why did you start INKLINE??

Portia: My first job out of college was in a magazine here in the Philippines, and after a few years I left the magazine to study my Master's in Journalism in the United Kingdom. That's where I met Julia, Aisiri, and Nikhil, my co-founders at INKLINE. 

In 2016, at the tail end of our Master's program, we were all just doing internships, but at the same time, there were a lot of shifts in global politics that did and still do affect the world order. In the Philippines, it was when Rodrigo Duterte was elected; in the US, it was also the year Trump won; and in the UK, it was when the country voted to leave the European Union. There was just a lot of doom and gloom narratives in our conversations and in the news that we read and the stories that were being put out. We felt dejected and thought perhaps there should be a publication or a platform that could offer a different kind of storytelling. 

That's how we started INKLINE. We wanted to cover stories that didn't leave readers feeling helpless and depressed because that's what it made us feel. When we were developing it, it was really just more a different take on stories with a more hopeful tone and more actionable steps that viewers can take. But soon later, we learned about solutions journalism and we thought it was a suitable approach for our editorial direction. 

Why did you begin doing solutions journalism?

Portia: When I was with CNN Philippines, when I would cover these humanitarian issues the feeling I had after was really a sort of despair because I felt like I didn't really offer anything to the people that I was interviewing, or to the subjects that I was covering. I remember I watched this documentary called When Elephants Fight. They were covering mining issues in Africa and the human right abuses that came along with it. When they were there, one person shouted, “So you bring your camera here you interview us and then what? What do you do with that story?” That really stuck with me. Every time that I would go to a community and get their stories, I write about them and as much as I do understand that stories, information, and everything else that journalism has to offer gives light to their plight, I just didn’t feel it was enough.

INKLINE had been in touch with Sean Dagan, the editor-in-chief of Positive News UK, as he had been helping us a bit in how best we can set up in the UK. Around that time, he wrote about solutions journalism for The Guardian, and that’s how we got introduced to the approach and the Solutions Journalism Network. 

Do you think taking a solutions journalism approach is important in Asia? Why?

Portia: In the Philippines, there are a lot of political, economic, and social issues that need to be solved, and I simply felt that there was a lack of reporting on solutions. That was the gap, the opportunity, and the new way of storytelling that we wanted to bring into the country. Countries around Asia largely face similar sociopolitical issues and trends, and solutions journalism can be used as a way to share best practices of what can be done to address these issues through critically and objectively looking at solutions.

Around 2017, I got in touch with Samantha McCann, who is now the Chief Operating Officer of the Solutions Journalism Network, and I told her that I wanted to start the conversation of solutions journalism in the Philippines. SJN then invited me to be a Metro Manila hub coordinator. The organization has since transitioned out of the hub coordinator program, and have now focused on fellowships, but I continue to champion solutions journalism in my community here in the Philippines, and SJN continues to support activities I lead. 

If you went into journalism to use it as a tool for public good, solutions journalism is a good way to really see how communities and different kinds of people are coming together to solve their own issues. Often, interview subjects are part of a story as passive case studies, but with solutions journalism, I found that, especially if it’s about a good solution or initiative, community members become active agents, and we are able to show that they have so much more agency than they’re given credit for. 

Can you give me an example of how you did this for a story that, at first glance, might not have an obvious solutions angle?

Portia: An example is the drug war. Wives and orphans of people killed during the drug war are left behind. I just thought of asking,“Is there at least a project, initiative, or a group of people trying to solve this problem or trying to help the women and orphans left behind?” Because the drug war, even if the State denies it, is State-sponsored, so help from the administration is unavailable to these women and children because that would be tantamount to admitting fault. 

I was introduced to this group of people who were collecting funds for a sewing facility for women and orphans left behind by the drug war. When we published that article on CNN, there was so many people who emailed me and commented, and engaged with us journalists and in turn, the community that I was writing about, to donate, and help build more sewing facilities. It was an amazing community effort I felt that really showed how a story can empower the readers as well as the subjects of a story.

Just asking if there are people, there are communities, or there are organizations trying to solve what is seemingly unsolvable in this context gave me hope. It also reinforced the idea that not all hope is gone. It showed me that there are still so many communities who are pushing back against injustices in my country not only by rightfully calling out threats and intimidation but also by doing the groundwork to help people. 

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Asia Undercovered: Weekly round-ups and in-depth analysis of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.