April 16, 2010
Reporting from the heart
Karen Davila, broadcast journalist
Broadcast journalist Karen Davila sits still on the edge of her bed as the makeup artist gently flicks her eye lids with a mascara. With hair curlers still attached to her head, she calls out to this writer, who had just arrived in her condominium in Quezon City before noon, and tells her to make herself feel at home, and that she'll be able to join her in the living room for the interview and the photo shoot in a few minutes.
The living room was small, as in any condo living space, but it takes in enough light that brightens up the entire room, which happens to filled with off white-colored furnishings. There were few accent pieces that stood out, such as two red stools designed by renowned Cebu-based designer Kenneth Cobonpue. But if there's one thing that can easily grab a guest's attention, it is a large white bookshelf on one corner of the room, that displays hundreds of books Davila had collected over the years. There's the stack of biographiesthat of Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama, just to name a fewand an assortment of history books, architecture magazines, and inspirational- and self-help books lining the shelves. From the way the tomes were randomly arrangedsome were even piled up on top of the other booksone can tell that she uses most of them quite often. A few of these even had her handwriting on the side of the pages.
I like writing notes on the pages. And I'm one of those who read multiple books at the same time, she said, as she entered the living room, all made up and smiling to greet this writer.
I'm also the kind of person whom you can tell the frame of mind from the book she's reading. I'm reading Joel Osteen series [right now], which means I'm really taking time to focus on my spiritual life, changing my mindset, improving the Karen for the start of the new year, she said as she eased into a sofa chair.
At 39, Davila said she continues to feed her curiosity through constant reading. That and relentlessly pursuing investigative stories as a broadcast journalist for 15 years. She has received international recognition for her documentaries in The Correspondents, a weekly investigative news program shown in ABS-CBN Channel 2. She also delivers the evening news as the co-anchor of the network's prime time newscast, TV Patrol World, together with Julius Babao and Ted Failon. She also hosts a radio show every afternoon at DZMM, and just recently, she became the host of the new morning news show Headstart on the cable channel ANC.
I have always known that I belonged to TV. The moment I got on air and they told me that I was good, I knew this was my beat. It doesn't mean I'm the best in this craft, but I'm my personal best, she shared.
Davila started out as a TV reporter in the investigative news program Brigada 7 in another television network, GMA-7. She did this for seven yearsdoing the research, interviews, scriptwriting, and reporting of her own stories. She was what others might describe as typical hard hitting young journalist: always hungry for exclusive stories and never stops until the story is finished.
Her efforts didn't go unnoticed: in the late 90s, she received international awards for her exposés that range from the investigating the dangers of compressor diving (which won Best Medical Report at the CNN World Report Awards) to an environmental documentary on a mine spill in Marinduque (shortlisted as a finalist in the CNN World Report's Best Environmental Report).
She then moved to ABS-CBN to become one of the co-anchors of TV Patrol World. She was just starting a family back then, with her husband DJ Sta. Ana. A year later, she had her first born, David, who is now eight years old. Still, she said that didn't stop her from doing what did bestproducing documentaries. She joined The Correspondents as one of the journalists that produced and hosted documentaries for the show every week.
I think motherhood changed me in a way that I became more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding. But if you're really a broadcast journalist at heart, then it's just natural that you like to do stories that would affect the lives of the people who watch you.
I think motherhood changed me in a way that I became more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding. But if you're really a broadcast journalist at heart, then it's just natural that you like to do stories that would affect the lives of the people who watch you. My fulfillment as a journalist is not as much as the [significance of the] person I'm interviewing. Like I've interviewed Hilary Clinton, I thought it was interesting, but it wasn't something that changed my life or anybody else's life, she explained.
Maria Ressa, who was the former CNN Jakarta bureau chief and now sits as the head of ABS-CBN's news and public affairs, was once quoted saying that what makes Davila stand out among other broadcast journalists is the innocence of her work, which gives her the ability to give everyoneregardless of who they area fair hearing.
Much of this innocence are evident in her choice of stories. If there's one thing the documentaries Davila produced have in common, it is that all these involved children. One of her first documentaries for The Correspondents was about biliary atresia, a rare life-threatening liver disease that afflict newborn babies.
This is one of my first advocacy documentaries, Davila recalled as she pored over news clippings that documented cases of the disease. I discovered in 2003 that there were babies dying because their liver had biliary atresia. They can only survive through a liver transplant, which was not available here. And here in the Philippines, we had many of these cases. But for a patient to survive, we'd have to send him to Taiwan. We had one case then, and what happened was we helped him raise funds. This is the baby that we were able to save (showing a picture of a healthy six year old boy). He lived and he's in school now, she said.
In 2005, Davila also did a documentary that exposed the horrid conditions of children in city jails. The documentary, titled Batang Preso, was said to have helped fast-track the signing of a law, R.A. 9433 or the Juvenile Justice Law, that protects minors from going to prison. It also won the UNICEF Child Rights Award in the same year.
Karen Davila and youngest son, Lucas
This all the more motivated Davila to continue to pursuing stories that were close to her heart. Two years later, she was once again recognized for doing a story on rugby boys, also known as palobo boys. She chronicled the day in the life of street children addicted to the adhesive liquid, rugby, which is a toxic inhalant. Part of the documentary was to subject the children to MRI scans, and it was revealed that the children were already suffering from permanent brain damage just by inhaling the toxic substance. Palobo Boys the documentary won the Silver World Medal in New York TV Film Festivals in 2007.
I think I'm a frustrated teacher. I want to be recognized for something that will make people more informed. Sometimes I get emotional, but most of the time I get angry when not a lot of people are aware of issues like these. That's why being a broadcast journalist, I believe, is a calling. You have to have the passion to learn and to tell people what you've learned. You shouldn't be in it for the money, she said.
BEING A HUMANITARIAN
While journalists are trained to maintain an objective viewpoint, Davila is one of the very few broadcast journalists who can practice advocacy journalism without having to compromise their ethical standards.
Her body of work already shows how much she cares about issues concerning the youth. But besides that, she is also an ambassador for Haribon Foundation, actively hosting and producing a documentaries on saving the rain forests.
She is also the Philippine goodwill ambassador of World Vision, an international non-government organization that encourages its patrons to finance the education of children in public schools. By donating just Php600 a month, a sponsor can already support a student's school supplies, uniforms, health care and food. On her own, Davila is sponsoring 10 child scholars. They are now enrolled in elementary public schools, giving them a shot for a promising future.
Last year, Davila was chosen as one of the recipients of the 2008 Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) for Broadcasting. Throughout the 50-year history of TOYM, only seven broadcasters, including Davila, have so far been recognized for their outstanding contribution in the field of broadcast journalism.
The reason journalists 'enjoy' awards is because it validates the fact that the body of work that they have is substantial, that what they're doing is purposeful. But I think I'd be fulfilled even if I weren't a journalist, as long as I'm doing something that helps young children. I believe my calling is to teach, to write, to be an inspiration, to clarify, to be there as a guide, to be there as a voice. It's not easy. I get tired, I get sick. But I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else, she said.