Letty Jimenez Magsanoc: The Last Interview
For Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, three decades with the Inquirer was never a job.
“I just enjoy it, the work. It’s not like work. Even the long hours before. Because of the adrenalin,” she said in an interview conducted on Dec. 1 for the Inquirer’s 30th Anniversary supplement.
It was that same energy she showed in her final weeks with the Inquirer, staying until past midnight in the office to make sure the paper was put to bed with content the nation deserved to wake up to.
Magsanoc became editor in chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1991, five years after the end of the Marcos regime, becoming the first woman and longest-serving editor in chief of the Philippines’ newspaper of record.
She was reluctant.
“I never liked to be editor in chief. I enjoyed writing, to be around, to go out. Because I knew how it is to be editor. You had to be glued to the office … You have to check on everything, see the big picture. You cannot make yourself first like, oh, I’d like to cover that,” Magsanoc said.
But on the prodding of Inquirer founder Eugenia Apostol, whom she had been working with for years starting with women’s magazine Mr. & Ms., she began her journey with the Inquirer.
Magsanoc recalled her first day and how she got her instant office at the Inquirer’s rented building on United Nations Avenue in Manila.
“What she [Apostol] did was remove the table of the editor [who occupied the room], she pushed it out of the room by herself, pulled out the telephone, and gave me the space,” she said.
“I was already part of Mr. and Ms. It was like an automatic thing, because we had no staff. It’s like, whether you like it or not, you had to be in. In fact, at the time, anybody who walked through the door was [recruited] … nobody wanted to join the Inquirer,” Magsanoc said.
She remembered adjusting to the boy’s club at the newsroom.
“It’s like they had their own language, sometimes I felt left out. But it was OK, I just did my work,” said Magsanoc of the men in the newsroom, among them Joey Nolasco and Jun Engracia, both currently top editors in the paper, and former Inquirer editor Roy Acosta.
It was Magsanoc who gave the Inquirer the heart it is known for today. In 1994, despite protests from some of the men, she led the creation of Youngblood, the Inquirer’s popular youth column.
“Roy Acosta said it’s too feminine. But I just went ahead anyway because I wanted the Inquirer to be a very feeling newspaper, sensitive to the readers,” said Magsanoc.
“Like touchy-feely, but just right, not too-too. I always feel that, to communicate with your readers, you have to touch them. You have to touch them where it matters to them… Stories with a human face. The more abstract, the more you should put a human face,” she said.
Magsanoc’s vision could be seen in the Inquirer’s pages today, where positive stories, not just gore and controversy, are given prime front page treatment. Tales from the daily grind are delivered with that unique Inquirer style: strong when it needs to pounce, soft when necessary. At least, that’s the LJM ideal.
When asked what she thought was the highest praise she has received for the Inquirer, she could not identify a single point in history, but instead referred to what the newspaper has become.
“They say it’s not official if the Inquirer doesn’t come out with it. We’re an agenda-setter until now. It’s different [when it comes out in the Inquirer],” she said.
“So we have to really keep our noses clean, so that they cannot throw anything at us. I think that’s very basic for our profession that since we throw stones, we should really keep our house in order. We don’t want to be , you don’t want to be, crucified like some politicians are. So you have to live a scrupulously clean life. I mean, it’s necessary for the job,” she said.
As the Inquirer evolved with the changing demands of its readers, Magsanoc hoped to see a fully converged organization that remains steadfastly anchored on its thrust as an agenda-setter and driver of reform.
“A fully integrated Inquirer, where each platform will respect each other, respect and work together, which I’m not seeing quite yet,” she said of her vision for what has become a multimedia organization.
“The core values of the Inquirer should stay no matter how it evolves. The core values will have to stay, from generation to generation. I think the Inquirer is an institution now,” Magsanoc said.
She hesitated when asked what she considered her greatest contribution to the Inquirer: “I don’t know. It’s not for me to say. I never thought about it.”
After a pause, she gave her answer.
“I think just my enjoying the work. I think that’s it. I hope that I have infected the entire staff with that. That you enjoy your work because it’s contributing to the people,” Magsanoc said.
“It’s so rewarding, like in the pork barrel scam, you get people to jail. You know, these things I cannot explain. It’s a privilege for me to be in a job like this. You can make a difference, you can make change.”
Editors’ Note. Edited at 2:55 am to replace reference to “end of martial law” with “end of Marcos regime,” and to correct typos and other infelicities.
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