It’s fairly common in journalism circles, particularly among students and graduates of mass communication-related fields, to discuss the prospects of volunteering for the alternative media.
Many of these aspiring practitioners, however, will tell you that for them it is but a pipe dream.
Too “unrealistic” or “impractical,” given the demands of having a more pressing commitment like a full-time job.
True enough, it really takes a leap of faith to even attempt such a feat. Mine took place in early 2021.
For months I had been considering volunteering for Altermidya (People’s Alternative Media Network)—a network of independent and progressive media outfits, institutions, and individuals. It admittedly took a moment of impulse for me to finally push through with my application. Though I’m glad I did.
From there, an officer welcomed my initiative and invited me to their office to proceed with an interview. It felt more closely like an orientation since they asked me to start right away, with any number of tasks already lined up just waiting for someone to step up.
Room for everyone
I entered Altermidya without much confidence in my reporting or writing skills, working just a little over a year in the media industry and graduating not too long ago from journalism school.
Of course, none of that mattered to my supervisors. The work did not discriminate, and neither did they. They entrusted me right off the bat with a few topics to storify into news or feature articles. Learning the ropes meant learning on the job, as my newfound mentors guided me through their editorial process in the “alternative way.”
I religiously paid attention to the editors’ comments. Through constructive criticism, they taught me to add different types of context, insert practical calls to action, and avoid mistakes like vague referents.
The office operated with the assumption that everyone must start from somewhere, so it never made me feel lacking or insufficient. Rather, it trained me to recognize room for improvement within myself so I can work toward better practices.
Of course, progress was never a smooth line upward.
There were days, weeks, and even months when I would be preoccupied with any combination of problems: work, finances, mental health, and so on.
Although Altermidya was never related to any of these, it had always extended the most understanding to my concerns. At the same time, it acted appropriately in reminding me to reach out rather than disappearing quietly into my struggles.
Colleagues would check in on my state during times of distress. Aside from this, Altermidya has also invited me to participate in multiple peer sessions to help me cope collectively.
Maturing in terms of proper work ethic was my responsibility alone, which is why I’m glad I stuck it out with Altermidya long enough for them to determine my dependability across editorial tasks.
Everything in its place
Just under two years since I joined, the newsroom has already assigned me to edit some stories and freely pitch topics.
I have only entered the physical office space a handful of times owing to the pandemic – meaning I still have much to anticipate during my stay. There are yet many more people, workshops, coverages, meetings, and memories to look forward to in the coming years.
To all my peers waiting to take that fateful first step into volunteering for the alternative media, searching for time, perhaps that’s not what Altermidya can give you. After all, there will never really be a “perfect time” to try. Instead, what Altermidya can offer is space – the room, the place, and the venue for the stories of the marginalized that otherwise have no airtime or means of reaching the public.
Likewise, the alternative media is a home that nurtures one to pursue the path towards a press that is at once free and freeing.
Ratziel San Juan is a journalism graduate at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. He works full-time for a magazine while volunteering for Altermidya Network.
Interested in joining Altermidya’s Internship and Volunteer program? Email your application letter and resume to email@example.com with the subject “APPLICATION FOR INTERNSHIP_Name.”