Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Joegar, Tata Ric and the INsider

My blog is beginning to look like a registry of dead journos.

But somebody has to break the sad news.

Wuz playing around with Facebook when I got alerted by Dana Batnag’s status feed that she’s “sad that another writer is dead”.

Before getting her reply when I asked her who was it this time, I found a feed from that it was my former boss and colleague Joegar’s turn to kick the bucket.

Joegar or Jose Garcia was one of my editors at the defunct Manila Chronicle.

He was the chief sub in charge of putting the front page to bed. If I’m not mistaken, he succeeded the late Mike Rocha in manning the slot.

Joegar was a no-frills guy who just does his stuff without much fanfare. He just does his job at the Desk unlike some power-tripping cretins who derive pleasure in bullying reporters, announce to the whole wide world what he found on a poor cub’s copy or show everyone that he’s the fair-haired boy of whoever was the ruling demigod at the newsroom.

The Manila Chronicle was a highly-charged newsroom. According to Raul Rodrigo’s book – The Power and the Glory – it was where the best and the brightest of Philippine journalism can be found.

Joegar was among the handful who survived the Chronicle's transition from the Lopezes to the Cojuangcos to the Coyiutos. He was loyal to the paper till the very end.

The always smiling Joegar is no blabbermouth, but he'll turn into one whenever his favourite sport – tennis – is on the table. And unfortunately, he apparently died while enjoying the game.

I can just imagine Boss Vergel Santos and Sir Fort Yerro missing their old match partner.

After the Chronicle’s unceremonious demise in January 1998, Joegar and I would again work together at the Journal Group when we joined the Joe Burgos takeover team seven months later.

Sir Fort, one of the original brains behind People’s Journal, Tata Cris Martinez, Butch Hilario and my friend Porky were the other ex-Chroniclers on that team.

Years later, he resurfaced as head of the Senate media office. It was at the halls of the Senate where I last saw him alive and well.

Joegar is the third ex-Chronicle to join the Great Newsroom this year – after Bert Castro and Tita Giron.


A day before the news of Joegar’s exit was announced, I was surprised to learn about the passing of another former colleague, Ric dela Cruz.

Tata Ric was our sportswriter at Taliba. He was the half-brother of our former boss, Arturo “Uncle Bob” dela Cruz, who was the last government-appointed chairman of the Journal Group.

Tata Ric is best remembered in the Journal not for his flair in sportswriting, but for his uncanny presence in the newsroom.

He was a “favourite” of our executive editor, Senyor Zip Roxas. Sir Zip once told me how Tata Ric would make heads turn as he drives around town in a vintage car that have seen better days.
Tata Ric – I was told – was an original Press Club “rabble rouser” during the NPC’s heydays.

A grinning and "aromatic" Tata Ric would always make it a point to make “pa-pogi” at Taliba’s angels – Anne Tiangco, Jet Antolin and most especially to his statuesque editor – Anna Federigan.

Paired with TJ Jurado, Taliba sports was “special”.

Tata Ric will be sorely missed at Taliba. And I’m pretty sure, he’ll continue to make his presence felt before Anne, Jet and Ana.

On a serious note, the hard-to-impress Sir Zip once said that Tata Ric is probably the only sportswriter then around who knows baseball by heart.

Tata Ric was posthumously honoured by the NCAA and UAAP Press Corps at the 2008 College Basketball Awards.

Completing my “death comes in threes” entry is the final roll out of the Journal Group’s INsider magazine.

Without fear of getting contradicted, I dare say that the INsider was my baby.

Now that INsider is history, the real inside story on how the trailblazing magazine was born has to be told.

People’s Journal INsider or simply INsider (note the capitalized letters) was born in August 1999, supplanting the Journal (originally, the Times Journal) – the erstwhile flagship newspaper of the Journal Group.

The Journal management deemed it right to just shut the broadsheet down as it was draining the revenues generated by its sister papers – People’s Journal and People’s Tonight.

The late world press freedom hero, Joe Burgos – who was publisher, president and EIC of the PJI for just over two months – had lofty dreams for the Journal.

He wanted to put the fire back into the paper. Tito Boy assembled a powerhouse cast to inject life into the broadsheet. He conscripted the likes of Bing Torres -- one of the Journal’s original editor – out of retirement to join Fort Yerro, Butch Hilario, Bobby Tuazon, Sonny Fernandez (now news producer at ABS-CBN), Gerry Baldo among others in beefing up the Desk.

When the team took over in September 1998, all PJI papers hit the ground running. For the first time in years, newsboys were carrying the Journal.

People who knew the legend in Joe Burgos bought the paper to see if the firebrand is really back.
Tito Boy’s frontpage columns were hitting the likes of “Marcosa” -- his way of referring to the Imeldific one whose family is now in control of the Journal.

He also jumpstarted a crusade against violence and pornography, prompting a rival tabloid chain to print his picture on their frontpages and started branding him as the “Goebbels” of the Estrada administration.

But Tito Boy’s gung-ho management approach – which was perfect in the old mosquito press days of Malaya and WE Forum – was a square peg in the PJI’s imperfect round hole.

But wait, we’re supposed to be talking about the INsider.

When Tito Boy left the Journal in November 1998, the dream journey was abruptly cut. The planned total redesign of the broadsheet was scuttled and the Journal was back to its lethargic ways. It came to a point that we were producing the paper for the sake of just putting it out. There was no proper page planning, no story conferences, lay outs in disarray and reporters just file whatever stories they feel turning in.

No amount of motivation and bullying could prompt the PJI’s marketing people to pull in ads for the broadsheet. Circulation was down to 5,000 – and even with such low print run, the returns were high.

And so the decision to put the mother paper to pasture was made and the Journal had its last
run on June 31, 1999. Except for a group picture taking of the people who are putting the Journal to bed for the last time, no bottle of champagne was uncorked that night. No fat lady was called in to sing.

The suddenly orphaned Journal staff – around 20 or so – we’re distributed to the surviving papers. Manny Ces – the last editor of the broadsheet – Gwen Reyes and Tere Orendain retired. Bobby Tuazon, Leena Calso, Stephanie Asuncion and I were shipped to People’s Journal while Tess Lardizabal and Nixon Canlapan were moved to People’s Tonight. Others like Francis Riva, Vangie Bolinas, Nonoy (sorry I forgot his family name) and editorial assistant Lorena de Luna were displaced.

Ferdie Ramos, then PJI general manager and Tonight EIC, came out with a plan. He proposed the putting up of a “scandal sheet” – another publication featuring investigative reports, gossip pieces and paparazzi shots. His pet project was initially dubbed as the “Enquirer”.

Boss Ferdie – the true and tested Erap loyalist – would often call me and Porky for an impromptu watercooler chat to see if his idea would fly.

Later on, the top brass decided that the “Enquirer” should be showbiz-oriented as it is much easier to produce and sell compared to a political scandal sheet which could easily be saddled with libel suits. Just between us – the weight of the decision was more skewed on giving an Estrada publicist his own kingdom at the PJI.

Even before I was to report to Sir Roy Acosta for my new assignment at People’s Journal, my much higher boss, Raymond Burgos – the publisher – seconded me to the “Enquirer” project.

My marching order was to scavenge from the carcass of the Journal and put flesh and bones to the “Enquirer”.

The project’s working name drew flak from who else, but the Inquirer!

Even before we sat down for our first brainstorming session. The Inquirer blew the lid off the “Enquirer” in one of its business columns.

Before our first meeting, we were told to come up with a name for the new magazine. I think I had 10 names on my list, but none of us got the chance to bring out our notes as our chairman, Direk Eddie Romero – a national artist for film – drew his one ruler-length list of possible names. And the name Insider – the first on his list – was the hands down choice.

Capitalising the letters I and N in Insider was the idea of my handpicked creative director, Norbert “Bones” Calleja.

From a scandal sheet idea, the INsider concept evolved into a hip entertainment mag with sports added to balance showbusiness.

Bones and I fashioned out “studies” based on page designs adapted from US mags like Entertainment Weekly, People and of course, the National Enquirer.

Jie Flores, whom I managed to lure out of Supplements, was giddy on the idea of an in-depth, news-feature approach to presenting showbiz stories We were looking at the way entertainment stories were made by Parade magazine, TV Times and Jingle in the 70s and 80s.

Zean Macamay, the defunct Journal’s sports ed, was working on a lineup of sports features to be crafted by his able lieutenant, Reira Mallari (now sports editor of the Manila Standard Today).

Pictorial essays on celebrity lifestyles and events were also being planned with “real” photographers -- not the Luneta-types that was a dime a dozen at the PJI -- to give INsider readers the real inside view on their favorite stars.

Staff morale pumped up further when Raymond designated the I.T. server and gameroom to be the new home of the INsider team.

While all these things were happening, the designated kingpin of the INsider was doing his own sweet thing in his cubicle. He was just waiting to be served.

Behind our backs, he managed to sneak in a “chief correspondent” who’d work in his cubicle.

When the green light for the INsider to produce its launch issue was made, the “editor” threw all the fantastic ideas out of the window and did everything his way. It turned out that he couldn’t hack the concept. Hindi sya marunong magsulat ng English!

From an envisioned hip quality entertainment magazine, the INsider became a “Kislap”.

PR shit disguised as legit stories from paid hacks found its way into the magazine.

The INsider’s saving grace was in its design. The stories may be bakya, but the page designs were brilliant.

For our launch issue, we had the “Tatlong haring bastos” – Randy Santiago, Willie Revillame and John Estrada – hosts of the noontime show Magandang Tanghali Bayan – on the cover while sex kitten Priscilla Almeda was on our first centerfold.

The INsider had a grand coming out party at Club Filipino with the cover boys as hosts.

Some “Who’s Who” of showbiz, politics and sport were there.

The late doyen of the movie press, Inday Badiday, was there. Then PNP chief Panfilo Lacson and Presidential Adviser on Flagship Projects Robert Aventajado were there. The entire brass of the Philippine Sports Commission seemed lost among a band of screaming faggots lumped in one table.

President Erap was expected to come, but failed to. I think Jinggoy and Jude Estrada – the president's sons – were there.

Chairman Eddie gave a speech outlining the vision – based on the original concept – of the INsider.

The proceeding were aired live on a radio program hosted by the lucky publicist.

I did not last long at INsider. I was supposed to be named the mag's Managing Editor, but some insecure faggots blocked my appointment papers.

I left the INsider after three months and finally reverted to hard news via People’s Journal.

The INsider – being a new format in tsismis mags – was well received. In a short time, it became a revenue generator for the PJI.

But the editor at the helm at that time underestimated the intelligence of the Filipino reading public. Soon, they too got tired of all the crap.

The INsider’s credibility sunk to its lowest when at the height of Erap’s impeachment trial, the magazine became a scrapbook of the publicist’s relations with the president.

The once-promising magazine became a laughing stock when on the week that EDSA 2 was happening, the INsider boldly proclaimed that Erap will not be abandoned by his friends, especially Nora Aunor.

As that issue was being sold on the streets, the Superstar was at the EDSA Shrine denouncing her allegiance to his once leading man.

I believe that was the turning point for INsider. The magazine lost whatever headstart advantage it had.

At that time, Robina Gokongwei’s Summit Media had rolled out YES! – and followed the real INsider concept. ABS-CBN Publishing also joined the fray and came out with Starstudio and the showbiz magazine market once again became vibrant – thanks to the trail blazed by INsider.

1 comment:

  1. langya, pre. tindi ng memorya mo! :)

    naalala mo pa lahat ng mga detalye! hehehehe... -porky