MNP Q&A: Joseph Cataan, Executive Producer for 'CNN Philippines Network News'

By Media Newser Philippines | Thursday, June 16, 2016

Photo and logo: CNN Philippines
Artwork: Media Newser Philippines
If you're a regular viewer of CNN Philippines, you've probably seen how it shifted its focus from non-news programming to breaking news and newsmaking interviews — a move consistent with the reintroduction of the network under the stewardship of CNN veteran Armie Jarin-Bennett.

Joseph Cataan, the 26-year-old executive producer of both Network News and Newsroom (9PM edition), has witnessed that. "The channel 9 now looks totally different from the channel 9 four years ago," he says. "The management is committed to earn the trust of audiences in the Philippines."

An alumnus of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Cataan began his television career in late 2011 as a researcher for TV5's Alagang Kapatid. He would eventually go on to become a segment producer for Wanted and Anggulo, where he would cover drug buy-bust operations and issues such as malnutrition, poverty, among many others.

In late 2012, Cataan made the big jump to the then-rising Solar News Channel as a producer for news.PH — where he would meet his mentor Pia Hontiveros — and the election primer Elections 2013, then-hosted by Nancy Irlanda.

He would later become involved in the production of other shows such as MedTalk, Updates, and Headline News, while also serving as a writer for Rod Nepomuceno's now-defunct debate show Opposing Views.

Earlier this year, Cataan received a hefty promotion when he was tapped to lead the production team of Network News — making him the youngest executive producer of a major evening newscast. "It may be a badge of honor [to be the youngest EP] but it’s also a huge responsibility," he says of his promotion. "People might think I cannot do it because I’m too young but I see this as an opportunity to learn more."

In this MNP Q&A, the young CNN Philippines producer talks to us about his broadcasting career and his experience working side-by-side with both Pia Hontiveros and Armie Jarin-Bennett. Be sure to join our discussion by posting your comments below or on our Facebook page. You can also tweet us @medianewserphil.

Name: Joseph Rick Cataan
Birthdate: August 16, 1989
Occupation: Executive Producer, CNN Philippines
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Communication, University of the Philippines Diliman
Guiding Principle: Ask the hard questions.
Media Idols: Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt, Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, Cheche Lazaro
News Sources: CNN, CNN Philippines, Al Jazeera, BBC, NBC, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star

Let's start with a little introduction. Kindly introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m Joseph Cataan. My colleagues call me ‘Seph’ or ‘Sef’. People think I watch television too much but the truth is, I avoid it whenever possible. I’d rather be online, and I am, 24/7. When I’m outside the Newsroom, I’m travelling somewhere to eat and rest. I like reading books about international politics, history, and media criticism. I’m a coffee-addict by the way.

Tell us about your current post as executive producer for both Network News and Newsroom.
I’m currently leading the production team of Network News, the primetime and flagship newscast of CNN Philippines, and the 9PM edition of Newsroom. As executive producer, I work with the team to finalize the lineup of stories that we will air in our newscasts. We make editorial decisions with the help of senior managers. I also write the headlines and top stories.

How's it like working side-by-side with Pia Hontiveros? How would you describe her?
With Pia Hontiveros during the third and only Vice 
Presidential Debate in University of Sto. Tomas
Photo: Joseph Cataan
Pia Hontiveros and I have been working together for almost four years now. We launched her political talk show, news.PH, together back when channel 9 was starting as Solar News Channel. She considers me as her son so yes, she’s my second mother. [Laughs.] I admire her work ethics as a journalist and her dedication to her craft. She’s reasonably strict and fair. I consider her as one of my industry mentors. Pia taught me that true journalists write and produce their own stories.

How do you manage working as EP for two of CNN Philippines' daily newscasts and at the same time retain your post as producer for News.PH, and also EP for MedTalk? 
News.PH has its own team but I volunteer to help in their production sometimes. I love the show. Pia and I launched it together so I can’t just let go. I produce three shows — two with the news department and Medtalk with current affairs. We usually tape Medtalk before I begin doing my news tasks. If you ask if it’s overwhelming, yes it is on many occasions; but it is also fulfilling. Of course, behind these great shows are dynamic people who put things together so we can produce a good show everyday.

"The channel 9 now looks totally different from the channel 9 four years ago. Our brands may change  but our mission since day one remains, and that is to tell the story of the Filipino."

How's your day-to-day life like? Can you describe to us your daily routine?
I wake up 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning everyday. I read the news while eating breakfast then go to the gym or jog around for an hour. I usually do my errands and other personal tasks before preparing for work. I go to work noontime to prepare for Network News and Newsroom. The team meets in the afternoon for the daily show meeting. That’s when we discuss how to present stories that we will air. We air the show exactly at 6 o’clock in the evening. Afterwards, we finalize the story line up for Newsroom and air them at exactly 9 o’clock in the evening. The team usually meets after airing to discuss how to further improve the shows. My work ends 10 o’clock in the evening except nights with breaking news.

Cataan with Mitzi Borromeo and the entire staff of Newsroom 9PM edition
Photo: Joseph Cataan
How's it like for you being the youngest EP of primetime newscast? Do you wear that as a badge of honor?
I’m sure there are young EPs out there, too. It may be a badge of honor but it’s also a huge responsibility. People might think I cannot do it because I’m too young but I see this as an opportunity to learn more. I’m fortunate to have news managers who support the programs everyday. I also think that the viewers of yesterday are not the viewers of today anymore. The audience now has a different lifestyle, a different need and there’s a different demand rising for an excellent viewing experience. I believe, it’s time that millennials step up the game, lead the pack, challenge the notions we learned and reinvent them. Broadcast media is such a powerful tool and it’s constantly evolving. I see a lot of ways on how to innovate viewing experience.

Having been part of channel 9 since 2012, what do you think your network should do more and do less to attract more eyeballs? 
The channel 9 now looks totally different from the channel 9 four years ago. Our brands may change [from Solar News to 9TV to CNN Philippines] but our mission since day one remains, and that is to tell the story of the Filipino. The management is committed to earn the trust of audiences in the Philippines. CNN Philippines will uphold the standard of journalism CNN is known for. We will continue to develop shows within the standard of CNN. We continue to understand which shows the audience need and want. I’m leaving it to our senior managers to develop shows. In the coming months, you’ll hear and see new programs on our air.

"Journalism is 'truthcasting' and a real journalist shoots and writes his or her own stories. Journalism is called the fourth estate for a reason."

How has the network improved under Armie Jarin-Bennett? And also, how is it like working with such an accomplished journalist?
No kiss-ass but I’m so thankful that CNN Philippines has a very supportive management led by Armie Jarin-Bennett. It’s good that she knows CNN. She’s with CNN for almost 19 years. We learn the CNN way because of her. She’s very straightforward, honest, and fair. She makes sure we adhere to the highest standard of journalism ethics that CNN is known for all over the world. I think we’ve proven that in the recent PiliPinas 2016: Vice President debate, as well as in our all-day, all-night election coverage. We have a lot of work ahead and I’m excited to work with her.

Without giving too much about your own strategy at both Network News and Newsroom, what has been your ultimate goal since taking the helm as EP?
Network News is the flagship newscast of CNN Philippines. We pour all our resources into it so we can build an excellent primetime newscast day by day. Since I started as EP of the program, one word is on my mind, “strong” newscast. Our strategy is to be accurate, fair, and balance. We want to make sure we present the stories that matter to our audience. For both Network News and Newsroom, we make sure our storytelling is strong. We want to be first always in news but it’s also important we get it right.

Tell us about your experience with Probe Media Foundation. How would you sum up your years with them?
Screenshot: Probe Productions
My first stint at journalist was with Probe Media Foundation when I was 15 years old. I auditioned as a youth reporter for a television program called Kabataan News Network or KNN. I thought I would just report on camera but I learned that the goal of KNN through UNICEF is to train young journalists. I went through trainings on how to conceptualize stories, how to be a cameraman, as well as writing and doing on-cam reporting. Our trainers are veterans like Probe founder Cheche Lazaro and other journalists we look up to. KNN gave me a lot of opportunities to learn the craft at a young age including representing the country in one of the regional youth media conferences in Bangkok. There was a point I was called bureau manager and my task was to mentor younger reporters. My journey with KNN was a turning point. That’s when I knew I want to be a journalist someday.

What is journalism for you and what's your definition of a real journalist?
Journalism is “truthcasting” and a real journalist shoots and writes his or her own stories. Journalism is called the fourth estate for a reason. We serve as a check and balance for the three branches of the government. Journalism is being there at the heart of the story. A real journalist tells the truth no matter what, even if your voice and legs shake. Journalism is also a passion and an advocacy. We owe our existence to many decades of bloody struggle for free speech. We have a great responsibility to tell the people what is happening. Journalism must shed light to the dark corners of governance, and expose the abusive and the corrupt. Journalism must show the plight of those pushed in the outskirts of society. Real journalism is fair, balance, and accurate.

In your almost five years in the business, what stories you have covered are you most proud so far in your broadcasting career?
When I was a young reporter for Probe’s Kabataan News Network, I stayed overnight in a farm to know the plight of young farmers. It is entitled “Gapos sa Gapas”. It was an eye-opener for me because these are young people like me who have dreams in life but left with no choice but to help the family till the land they don’t even own. I also co-produced a video story for UNICEF entitled “Two Lives, Two Miles Apart” showing two different situations of Filipino children. It was shown in New York and Mexico. During my work as segment producer for TV5’s public affairs from 2011 to 2012, I’ve shot diverse stories of Filipinos too. I covered drug buy-bust operations. I went undercover and caught corrupt and abusive policemen on camera. I’ve tackled malnutrition, poverty, environment and other stories close to what we are as a nation. These different stories I’ve written and produced tell us who we are as a nation and contributing to national discourse through stories I’ve produced is enough for me.

Cataan with the anchors of TV5, taken during a shoot for the network's 2012 yearend special
Photo: Joseph Cataan
Who among the people you have worked with had the biggest impact on you and why?
I’ve worked with Pia Hontiveros the longest so I think she really influences my work a lot. I consider her as a mentor, a mother, and a friend. We’ve produced many Town Hall shows, set up exclusive interviews, and now our daily newscast. Armie Jarin-Bennett, on the other hand, is a relatively new boss, but her immense influence and guidance affect my daily work. Professionally, I’ve learned to always step up the game, be creative on-air, and have fun with the shows I produce. She knows when to intervene with my work and when to just let me do it on my own. Many people do not know, she’s a hands-on mom to two adorable kids. I just admire that she takes the time to take care of them them despite her busy schedule.

You have witnessed two elections (2013 and 2016) thus far. What for you has been the biggest difference from both of these election cycles, coverage-wise?
Media outlets continue to improve their coverage election after election but 2016 elections is a first of many. PiliPinas Debates 2016 proved to be potent tool and a game changer for voters and how they perceive the candidates. The sole official Vice Presidential debate hosted by CNN Philippines proves that. Leni Robredo herself said the debate was a turning point for her. She says, after the debate, her survey numbers begin to surge.

"We want CNN Philippines to be a go-to network of newsmakers. We promise our viewers that CNN Philippines will deliver when the news breaks."

As someone who has an editorial control on both NN and NR, how would you respond to accusations made by loyal supporters of Rodrigo Duterte that the media has been biased against their candidate?
CNN Philippines promises to earn the trust of our viewers. We guarantee that our newscasts are fair, credible, and accurate. At CNN Philippines, there will be no tone, spin, or opinion — just news. Recently, we launched “In His Own Words” to capture the sound bite of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte straight from him. We will also be having our “First 100 Days” campaign to monitor promises that Duterte make or break.

Just to add: media is a watchdog. It is the fourth estate. Media is an independent entity tasked to check and balance the government. We are self-regulating. I believe that all media outlets have their own editorial judgment and ethical standards applied in daily coverage. At CNN Philippines, we are committed to tell the story as it is. We have one promise to our viewers: we will be fair and balanced in telling stories. Writer, producers, and anchors have their own personal biases but they should not get in the way of telling stories that are fair and accurate.

Photo: CNN Philippines
Artwork: Media Newser Philippines

Your network seems to be taking more of the CNN-approach as of late, which means that your team is now more aggressive in getting those exclusive interviews (i.e with PNoy a month ago). Should the viewers expect more of these newsmaking interviews?  
Definitely. We want CNN Philippines to be a go-to network of newsmakers. We promise our viewers that CNN Philippines will deliver when the news breaks. Viewers can expect many live reports, special presentations and investigative pieces. CNN Philippines will continue to lead public conversations. We will talk to all the newsmakers and people that matter to Philippine viewers.

If you could be given a chance, what do you want to do next?
I’ve tried almost all stages of production already — from being a researcher up to now as Executive Producer. I want to try though if I have a future on-camera, maybe as a reporter or an anchor. I want to know if I can do it or I’m comfortable with it. I also want to study further to understand issues that shape the world. I also want to teach a subject in broadcast journalism.

In closing, what's the best advice you can give to aspiring journalists out there?
One of the last words of Steve Jobs was, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” To all aspiring journalists out there, know what you want and everything else will follow. Pray and work hard for it. Don’t settle for less. Study, stay curious, and find opportunities to learn everyday. Enjoy every moment at work and in the newsroom. Make journalism your way of life, your advocacy, your passion, and your expertise. Ask the hard and most relevant questions. Bear in mind that you are in a special place in society. The mere fact that you can go on air and broadcast without restrain and being intimidated is already a big opportunity to make things happen. There’s more to journalism than the bright studio lights, modulated voice and nice clothes. Journalism is out there in the most unwanted places. It is with people with different stories to tell. Journalism is not an easy job but it will always be worth it.

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