From Quezon to Bloomsbury: A Journalist’s Journey

Born and raised in the province of Quezon in the Philippines, Carolyn Bonquin (MA Investigative Reporting, 2018) journeyed to the streets of Bloomsbury to better understand the evolving landscape of journalism in the digital age.

Carolyn made her start as a journalist before coming to Birkbeck, completing a bachelor’s degree in communication at the University of the Philippines in Baguio City. With a major in speech communication and a minor in broadcast communication she ventured into the world of journalism as a segment producer and eventually became a TV, radio, and online reporter for ABS-CBN, the largest broadcast network in the Philippines. Her work encompassed a range of topics, including justice, the environment, and agriculture.

In 2017, Carolyn embarked on a new chapter by enrolling at Birkbeck to pursue Investigative Reporting on a Chevening Scholarship. Her decision to study in the UK was driven by a desire to delve into big data journalism and understand how journalists in other countries approach the continuously evolving ways in which people consume news.

At Birkbeck Carolyn relished the opportunity to immerse herself in a culturally diverse and intellectually stimulating environment. The flexibility of her schedule allowed her not only to focus on her studies but also to explore the city and learn from people of different backgrounds and professions: “Part of me still misses living in London. Through Birkbeck I got to meet so many people from different walks of life. I got to peak into so many different cultures, but also learned a lot from all the different professionals who brought their experiences into our lectures and seminars.”

Carolyn describes two elements of her Birkbeck experience as ‘pivotal’ in shaping her career: “First, the lecturers at Birkbeck constantly reinforced the fundamentals of journalism, reminding me of the proper approach and methodology in the field. I already had seven years of professional experience, but this reminder enabled me to be more critical, objective and mindful in my work.”

Second, the degree equipped her with the essential skill of handling big data, a tool which has proved crucial in her recent role as a health reporter for CNN Philippines. “It helped me navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Philippines, the Department of Health share raw data in these huge spreadsheets and I had to be able to extract a story from this and think about how best to present it to the public.”

She was able to draw meaningful insights, relay vital information and help counter the viral spread of misinformation on vaccines and COVID deaths. “My main goal was just to allow people to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing, whether it was about getting the vaccine or how to minimise risk of infection.”

Reflecting on her career, Carolyn is most proud of her three-part investigative series on the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, which garnered recognition at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual awards. Through this series, she shed light on the environmental challenges faced by the bay, the effects on local wildlife and the informal settlements that contributed to the problems. Her in-depth, passionate reporting was commended for connecting local people to the issues and uncovering the complexities of tackling pollution in the area.

Carolyn reporting from the settlements around Manila Bay, 2019

Now as she takes a career break to focus on being a mother, Carolyn is looking forward to some time to reflect on what she wants to do next and how she can continue to use her skills and platform to address important issues.