Rappler at 10: a beta in progress

We’re releasing a series of essays from Rappler employees and contributors, old and new, as part of our remembrance of Rappler’s 10th anniversary in January 2022.

MANILA, Philippines – Towards the end of 2011, I received a message from a good friend from my college days, asking if I could beta test a website he had started working for.

The website, he said, will be called Rappler and will be an online-only information and technology platform. I gladly agreed – I liked tinkering with systems, after all. It was the heyday of social media, and by then I had started exploring a career in digital marketing.

I was very neutral with the comments I gave – too much white space, dead links and… a mood indicator? “Disgust is an emotion, isn’t it? But overall, I found the orange to give a fresh and tangy look – away from the RGBs of major news outlets.

It was young, it was hip, it was vibrant. Something that would grab my attention at 26.

And that’s what I consider my first job at Rappler – his beta tester.

Questions, questions

Rappler was launched soon after and has become a medium for conversations on Twitter – what is Rappler and who are the people behind it? – after his relentless coverage of the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Another friend, who at the time was a spokesperson for a government agency, casually mentioned in one of our conversations that he had been interviewed by someone from Rappler and was impressed by iPhone and tripod setup. Without team coaching, setting up one-person multimedia reports set the stage for an agile and agile workflow.

I finally met Maria Ressa at an event. Before that, we followed each other on Twitter and I remember asking him a lot of questions about his presentation titled “Between Good and Evil”. This resulted in a long exchange that spilled over into a back-and-forth via text messaging. Maria didn’t know I hired her because I had a moral dilemma myself – without going into specifics, I was at a point where I wasn’t so sure what was right or wrong, because at that point I was starting to believe that seizing opportunities meant having to compromise, and sometimes, having to negotiate with one’s conscience.

A few months later, Maria asked me if I would be interested in joining her team. I thought, of course, why not.

WIDE WONDER. The author with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa during a visit to Rappler’s Indonesian office in 2015.

Maria and I met over lunch. She spoke very fervently about how social media could be a force for good and how her vision for her young startup started from there. She explained how social media played a crucial role in turning the tide of the Arab Spring and told stories of individuals taking collective action for the greater good.

Here is a 50 year old woman, who spoke with wide eyes about how technology will change the world for the better. She’s such a Pollyanna, I thought. How can a seasoned journalist be less cynical than I am? How can she choose to see the good in people, despite having seen the worst of humanity in her decades of career?

“I want you to join Rappler because you are looking for meaning,” she said. I didn’t respond, but more than just meaning, I was looking for mentorship. I have been walking to the beat of my own drum for about seven years, jumping from occasion to occasion.

For weeks, I thought about Maria’s offer. She said that since Rappler was still so new – amorphous was the exact word she used – there were many ways for me to grow within the organization.

I accepted his offer two weeks later.

A different goal

From the start, I knew that I would not join a conventional press group. The way I understood Maria’s vision on Rappler was that of a tech startup creating multiple products, with news as the first – and flagship – product. I still think of Rappler that way, 10 years from now.

Throughout my time with the organization, I worked in three different departments – from marketing to lifestyle writing to video production – to determine where I would fit.

AMONG PEERS. With former editor-in-chief KD Suarez (left) and Acor Arceo, chief editorial officer and editorial standards officer at Rappler.

There were many times that I felt like I belonged among my colleagues who lived and breathed the news. I’ve been with Rappler for almost 10 years, but I’m still hesitant to call myself a journalist. The cycle of political news gives me a headache. (Much more now, frankly.) My Twitter has more K-pop fangirls and photos of my cats rather than the news. My signatures are rare.

But the things that I have built and are most proud of are not written on the site.

My boss Beth Frondoso trusted my vision. Working with our production team, we’ve transformed evening news broadcasts from 20-minute shows into compact, consumable 5-minute shows. We have built and rebuilt systems and workflows, optimizing every step of the process for efficiency and agility. We put our audience first. We have kept in mind the people who are not as savvy as I am, but who need – and want – to be informed.

For the first time in my years of work, I have found meaning in what I do.

Rappler gave me the privilege of embarking on an unconventional career. Rather than specializing in a singular Herculean mission, I was trained to be versatile, versatile – a Swiss Army Knife rather than a hammer. I had to define my own job description, question existing conventions, learn to do things on my own, but also how to manage a team well.

SOLO FLIGHT. Coverage of the Subic stage of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games

the manangs – Maria, Beth, Glenda and Chay – may not know it, and I don’t say it often, but every day I thank the universe for letting them take a chance. I benefited from a great deal of autonomy while benefiting from their advice. I was given a seat at the table where my comments and ideas were important, and I don’t think I would have had that privilege anywhere else.

It’s been 10 years, and in some ways I’m still doing what I did for Rappler, which is treating my work like a beta in progress. After all, a good product requires a constant cycle of building and rebuilding – sometimes requiring a break and taking a step back, but all in the pursuit of progress and, I guess, the greater good. – Rappler.com

Marga leads product management for Rappler Multimedia and works at the intersection of video, technology, and revenue. It also has for mission to improve your deadlines a little. Send him dog and cat videos to [email protected] and tweet her about what makes your heart sing @margavsmachine

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