HFC Scholarship Aims to Build a Future with More Local Filipino Journalists

Last month, Filipinos and journalists around the world were ecstatic that veteran Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa was selected (along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov) as the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize awardee. The Nobel Committee said they were chosen “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Ressa, CEO, president and cofounder of Rappler (digital news site), is the first Filipino ever to win the Nobel Prize.  How rare is this accomplishment to receive arguably the most prestigious international award? In the Nobel’s 120-year history, besides Ressa and Muratov, only six other journalists won the Nobel, two of them for their work outside of journalism.

Within journalism, three Filipino-Americans garnered the industry’s top award, the Pulitzer Prize. While working at the Seattle Times, journalist Byron Acohido won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting for his investigative work of rudder control problems on the Boeing 737. Putting herself in harm’s way covering the Iraq war, independent photojournalist Cheryl Diaz Meyer won the Pulitzer in 2004. While at the legacy newspaper Washington Post, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2008 for his work on the Virginia Tech shootings. Each year on average about 10 Pulitzers are given to journalists among thousands in the media.

There are other Filipino American standouts in the profession. To name a few: Elaine Quijano (anchor CBS News), Cher Calvin and Jean Martinez (anchors, Los Angeles), Veronica De La Cruz (MSNBC news anchor), Kristine Johnson (anchor New York), Frances Rivera (anchor Boston). Our very own Hawaii Filipino Chronicle columnist Emil Guillermo is a pioneer among Filipino journalists as the first Filipino American to anchor a regularly scheduled national news program, NPR All Things Considered.

Hawaii Filipino Chronicle (HFC) Journalism Scholarship
While there are standouts of Fil-Am journalists, our community remains underrepresented in media. This is one reason why publishers of the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle Dr. Charlie and Chona Montesines-Sonido (also managing editor) have established the Filipino Media Foundation (FMF) in 2019, a scholarship program that awards Hawaii students of Filipino descent who are majoring in journalism and mass communications (JMC).

Now in its third year, FMF is accepting applications for this year’s $2,500 journalism scholarship. “We believe in investing in the future of Hawaii’s media by helping college students financially as they will be the ones continuing our work someday.” said Montesines-Sonido. She also “wants local talent to stay in Hawaii since the community will benefit a lot from them.”

High cost of higher education
In 2020, Forbes reported that college tuition is increasing at more than twice the inflation rate. Even with financial support, 69% of US college students in 2019 took out student loans. The cost of college is so high that even with loans, an increasing number of lower and middle-income students are bereft of the means to attain a college education from a four-year university.

Another problem, the high cost of education is forcing some students to work longer hours (even full-time in some cases) while attending school. In time their overwhelming work-school schedule disrupts learning, delays graduation, or in a worst case, leads to school dropout.

How expensive is college in the US (highest college tuition in the world)?  A moderate college budget for in-state tuition at a four-year public university for 2020-2021 averages $26,820 annually ($35,830 at a private non-profit college), according to a College Board report.

The 2021 tuition and fees of University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) are $12,186 for Hawaii residents and $34,218 for out-of-state students. This does not include the cost of basic living needs, housing, food, books or other expenses. And Hawaii’s high cost of living adds to students already heavy financial burden.

Fundraising difficult at this time
Like most non-profits during this pandemic, FMF is also experiencing a drop in donations because benefit events had to be either modified or cancelled entirely. Plus Hawaii’s local economy has been flat, making it difficult to raise funds.

Still, publishers of HFC remain committed to awarding a scholarship this year. “We need good journalists who are the ‘eyes and ears of the community’, and the Chronicle believes that we must build a pool of journalists in the future to safeguard our democracy,” said Montesines-Sonido.  

What one scholarship could possibly do
A scholarship goes a long way in helping our youth fulfill their dreams. It could be that jumpstart to making our world a better place.

A poignant example: Nobel laureate Ressa said receiving her Fulbright scholarship changed her life. She grew up in the US but it was a scholarship that enabled her to return to the country she was born. “I had the Fulbright scholarship to go back to the Philippines and that changed my life. I never left.”

That one scholarship was in fact a jumpstart to making a world a better place. Ressa’s work in journalism – bold truth telling under hostile, even frightening circumstances– will always be remembered and something generations of future Filipino journalists can look to for inspiration.

If you believe in the HFC scholarship mission, donations are welcome via the FMF. Contact filipinochronicle@gmail.com.

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