Cherie Mercado is now a CNN Philippines anchor

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The new CNN Philippines anchor, Cherie Mercado, shares insights on how journalism can be a form of public service. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When Cherie Mercado was a newbie field reporter covering the police beat, she would get nightmares about the dead people she saw on the job.

Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of distressing stories she covered everyday, Mercado told her boss that maybe she wasn’t meant to be in that line of work.

“I was crying and [I said,] ‘I don't think I can continue this anymore,’ and he was just laughing at me,” she recalls. “It was such a serious life decision and he was like, ‘Hay there's an opening in the sports beat sige.’”

Mercado went on to cover sports, tried her hand at the military beat, read the business news, and led a radio show, among many others — all in the span of 10 years in ABS-CBN.

“The thing about my job that made me stick to it is the purpose of the job,” she says. “Whatever my complaints are, whatever makes me want to go back to bed in the morning and not go to work, it gets dwarfed by the purpose of being a news reporter.”

Starting as a reporter on the ground covering a multitude of topics gave Mercado a sense of obligation to the Filipino people. She saw people who had barely anything to eat and people who could not find justice, and being in a position to tell their stories was a task that she did not take for granted.

After a decade in ABS-CBN, she moved to TV5 in 2004 where she anchored the network’s flagship newscasts, election coverages, and morning public affairs shows. She also anchored foreign coverages, such as the 2013 Papal Conclave in the Vatican and the 2011 Royal Wedding in the UK.

Photo-1 (10).jpg Mercado became the assistant secretary of the Philippine Department of Transport (DOTr), where she assisted in the study and implementation of national projects. And in line with her work experience, she also conducted media briefings and interviews on top of responding to public inquiries through social media. Photo by JL JAVIER

In 2016, she felt it was time to put her journalism hat aside and be part of an institution that would serve the public on an operational level. “I was actually thinking of going into an NGO, ‘yung actual work. And then the government offer came along, I said, ‘Sige, baka it's time na nga to give back,’” she says.

Mercado became the assistant secretary of the Philippine Department of Transport (DOTr), where she assisted in the study and implementation of national projects. And in line with her work experience, she also conducted media briefings and interviews on top of responding to public inquiries through social media.

After a year of working in the government, Mercado made the decision to resign, citing personal reasons. Today, she finds herself back in journalism, joining CNN Philippines. She says that government work has given her perspective — one that will certainly be helpful in her new role as the anchor of the 9 p.m. edition of CNN Philippines’ “Newsroom.”

Speaking with CNN Philippines Life, she shares several insights on journalism as a public service, her role as a journalist in a changing media landscape, and what lessons from her stint in government she’ll carry over into reporting. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

We had a conversation earlier about the ways in which people consume news in the digital age. You mentioned that Filipinos need to be more discerning when it comes to taking in information online. As a journalist, do you feel an obligation to educate or influence your audience?

You're not going to pontificate about these things. You do your thing, you’re one drop in the ocean, and [you] hope it ripples. Maybe some of that entails ignoring if there are comments that are not worth engaging [with] … [It’s also] being an example, being a model. You don't know if people will follow [your lead], but then again you do your one drop in the ocean and you just hope [that they will].

In terms of wanting to educate, that's really one of the reasons why I went back to the career that I dedicated a chunk of my life to ... There are very basic things that I believed in when I was 20 years old that I still believe in now, which is that the news is never about the one delivering it. It's always about the message, it's never about us.

"You're vigilant, you're trying to watch what the government is doing, but I don't believe in distrust because there are good people in government. And what kind of relationship will work if it's based on distrust anyway?"

The Philippines, sometimes, we're a culture of personalities, even with our politicians. We elect them because they're famous, because they're a familiar name, which should not be the criteria for choosing an official. And sometimes we're like that with the people delivering the news. We believe them because we know their face, we've heard them before — which is okay, that's credibility.

But for us, for us news reporters, the deliverers of the news, it's never about us. It's always about the message. I learned that early on. I also want to be able to maybe influence some younger journalists to stick to the basic core principles of journalism which, in this age of the internet and fast information, [still hasn’t changed]. It's still accuracy, it's still the truth, it's still fairness, and it's responsibility.

Photo-8 (5).jpg “Whatever my complaints are, whatever makes me want to go back to bed in the morning and not go to work, it gets dwarfed by the purpose of being a news reporter,” says Mercado about how she has managed to be a journalist for over two decades. Photo by JL JAVIER

Have you had any difficulty with having to express your opinion about the state of our country, considering that you also know the day-to-day of government work?

As for biases, I can say during my early years on field and talking to people about it, I've never really had a problem ... It was never an issue for me because we deliver both sides, and now that I've worked in government, I’ve had to double check myself.

It's a different perspective now, knowing how it is to work in the government, at least for that period of one year, ‘no? I've seen how difficult it is.

There's that balance. You're vigilant, you're trying to watch what the government is doing, but I don't believe in distrust because there are good people in government. And what kind of relationship will work if it's based on distrust anyway?

Your transition to government work seemed to stem from wanting to serve the public, just as how journalism, at its core, is a public service. What do you think are lessons from your governmental stint that you’ll carry with you into reporting the news?

A more open perspective. I used to be very cynical, very impatient with government processes. Now, I realize that even if you want things to move fast, the system, our system in government, just prevents it because of all the processes that you have to go through.

When I was in government, I saw that officials were scared to sign things, to move things, because somebody can target them for any political motivation and try to find something that they signed, and that can go against them.

What do you think should journalists keep in mind at this time in the Philippines?

Just remember that the basic things and the basic values apply. Your idealism should always be there — never let it be affected by the realities that you see. The idealism, the hope — these are the things that will move you forward. And the purpose. You should always have a purpose.

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CNN Philippines’ “Newsroom” airs at 9 p.m.