Inquirer editorialist/columnist John Nery, a colleague and good friend from way back, runs Newsstand. It's a must stop for anyone who enjoys well-thought-out, elegantly written socio-political punditry. Inquirer readers must concur with me, because in 2008, four pieces by John landed in the paper's Top 15 most-read op-ed columns online (second only to Conrado de Quiros, who had seven): “Pacman's English”(July 1, 2008), “How NOT to read Lozada's testimony” (February 12, 2008), “Manny Pacquiao's lesson in legitimacy” (March 18, 2008) and “Why Neri refuses to talk” (February 19, 2008).
This is a good time as any to recall how long John and I have been media colleagues--and to thank him for the mentorship. I joined a newspaper for the first time in late 1999 straight from my previous job as an HR manager. I knew I could string together words decently and edit a bad piece into shape, but as to how newspapers were run, I had only the vaguest of ideas. Obviously, my experience running school publications didn't count. I was the youngest editor in a mix of newbies and newsroom veterans, among them John. They had no idea what to do with me, so they first put me in charge of sections thought to be nearer my ken--Youth and IT (I was 29).
My first project for the Youth page was a rip-off of the Inquirer's Youngblood. I wanted to get away from the celebrity-driven youth pages then in vogue (what, until now?) so I invited ordinary young readers to write about the things that defined their world--at that time, that included Starbucks, Dawson's Creek, the endless Erap scandals and a new phenomenon called texting. I had a flood of contributions, many of them surprisingly insightful, well-written. John got what I was trying to do and was very encouraging of my work.
It gives me great pleasure now to realize that some of the bylines that appeared in my section have become published authors, with a Palanca or some such literary award to their name--Norman Wilwayco, Karl De Mesa, Zosimo Quibilan. One is a well-known blogger, Ederic Eder; another a blogger-editor, Karla Maquiling. The most famous, perhaps, is hit author Bob Ong, who was then practicing an early form of blogging with his humor commentary site Bobong Pinoy. I asked him to contribute to the section, he obliged a few times, and we became friends--no small thing for me, because the guy zealously guarded his real identity (Bob Ong's a pseudonym) and was something of a recluse. Even today, when he has become a byword with his blockbuster book series, I've stuck to my promise not to divulge his name to anyone.
John and I and a few other editors would be fired from the paper in about four months' time. Our crime: not being pro-Erap enough. Since the paper, we had ascertained too late, had been bought by a crony of the president, we had to go. Yes, even me, with my innocuous, non-political corner of the paper. The axing happened on Rizal Day, two days before the new millennium. By the New Year I was jobless--the first time I was unemployed in my life, and after I had turned my back on my nine-year career in HR. To put it mildly, it was a nerve-wracking time.
We had an equally short stint in another paper, now defunct, before John joined Summit Publishing, with me in tow, to launch a new magazine called Entrepreneur Philippines--a franchise of a long-running US title. He was editor in chief, I was his managing editor. Among other instructive experiences, it was through the magazine that I learned the incredible stories behind such successful businesses as Penshoppe and Jollibee, the French Baker and Lapid's Chicharon (don't sneeze, it's worth millions). And, before I left the magazine, I had a chance to interview, with the rest of the staff, John Gokongwei himself--a man so strikingly simple in demeanor despite his billions.
John was ahead of me in joining the Inquirer. He became part of the central desk, writing editorials, guiding reporters and improving their copy. It was he who alerted me to a vacancy in the Lifestyle section, and that's how I ended up applying for--and getting--the job. That was more than five years ago. Playing catch-up as usual, I then followed him aboard the next wave: blogging. The old Newsstand was already a well-read site among political observers, regularly referenced by Manolo Quezon and others in the local commentariat, before my own blog saw the light of day.
All this is to say that he has been, by his writing, his way of thinking, his professional example, the best kind of teacher. (His Journalism students in UP should feel so lucky.) Someone whose feedback I value a lot and seek whenever I can, especially when it comes to the merits (or lack thereof) of my output as a writer-blogger. But you don't have to know John Nery personally to appreciate his fine, perspicacious writing. Just go to Newsstand and have your fill.