By Rachelle Cruz
If there was any science behind journalism, then this down-to-earth, strong and sharp-witted Filipino-Canadian TV reporter/news anchor has got her formula down pat. In her years as a financial and economics reporter, the CBC’s Marivel Taruc has covered groundbreaking stories from the economic aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, to the 2008 economic meltdown, including the GM and Chyrsler bailout. She has made her rounds at the Manitoba Legislature to city hall while reporting back in her hometown Winnipeg. Marivel has interviewed big players, including business leaders and top seasoned politicians like Bob Rae. To put icing on the cake, she’s now the host of the newly-launched show Our Toronto, a one-hour program focusing on what’s happening in Canada’s largest city profiling events, movies, books, among other hot topics. Most recently, Marivel got a chance to sit down with Toronto Raptor’s new GM Masai Ujiri as they talked about his plan for turning the team around, and why he loves Toronto.
MARIVEL TARUC (Photos courtesy of CBC)
“This doesn’t happen very often in a journalist’s career – to launch a new show, to be able to shape it still and have that much input. I’m very lucky that we get to do that,” Marivel said.
Beneath her friendly smile, her natural warmth and polite attitude, is a quiet confidence- simmering of accomplishments and career highlights tucked under her belt. Even her familiar pretty face gives no indication that she’s a seasoned veteran in the industry. Asked if she had any favourite stories she covered, Marivel laughed and quickly retorted, “There’s so many! You’re talking 20 years of journalism!” she exclaimed. Yes, that is correct – 20 years of reporting since day one. But let’s go back and see how she got started.
As soon as she graduated from Ryerson University`s Journalism program back in 1993, getting a job in her field seemed like a gloomy prospect. They were warned that fresh grads might have to move up North and write for a small paper, or not work in journalism at all. Still, Marivel saw the opportunity to move back home, but also find her place in the world,
“I knew I’ve always wanted to work for the CBC. If I’m just going to show up at somebody’s door, it might as well be CBC. I’ve just graduated, I think I have pretty good skills, let me hang out. That was the risk that I took, thankfully, they took me up on it,” she said.
And so for weeks, she hung out in the newsroom. From chasing interviews, attending meetings, pitching her story ideas, volunteering for late-night shifts to make long-distance calls to the Philippines because of the time difference, and speaking in Tagalog to get that connection and interview. Marivel made a nuisance of herself. But her relentless determination later paid off. When she returned to Toronto for her graduation ceremony, she received a call from the executive producer of CBC Winnipeg. At the age of 22, fresh out of journalism school, they offered her a reporting job. The rest was history, “I barely know what I’m doing but it was the best way to learn. You sink or you swim,” Marivel explained.
But let’s go further back. Way back.
Marivel`s story of how she fell in love with journalism can be captured in the popular kid’s show Sesame Street. She chuckled and found it hilarious to be conveying the moment she decided to pursue her calling, “I might have just been five or six years old and I saw on Sesame street that Kermit the frog is a fast-breaking news reporter. That’s what he called himself all the time and he had a hat that said “Press” on it and I remember being completely captivated by what he was doing. He was a muppet! On Sesame Street! But I remember that struck me,” she recalled.
Born in the Philippines, Marivel and her family immigrated to Canada in 1974, when she was only 3 years old. Her family is from Pampanga, and ever since she has committed to learning the local dialect and Tagalog. As she got older, her parents have always been news junkies and she remembered that together as a family, they would watch the evening news. She also looked up to trailblazing Connie Chung, the first Asian woman to anchor and co-host CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, “I thought to myself that’s the closest thing we have to a Filipino journalist – an Asian, it was Connie Chung and I thought, if she can do it, I can do it,”` Marivel said to herself.
And she did. Twenty years ago, there were no Filipino journalists when she started. While Marivel, admits that there was no ethnic barrier, at least from her experience, her heritage was in fact an advantage and an asset to be able to represent the large number of Filipino population in Winnipeg,
“I am here to do this job but I never felt like I am only here because I am a person of ethnicity. That’s a credit to the people I worked with there and the people who hired me. They just saw promise and potential and an opportunity to reflect a large part of the community that was, at that point wasn’t being reflected,” she said.
“I don’t think I was treated any differently,“ she continued.
Still there were challenges on her journey to the top.
One of them were, looking young.
“What I learned afterwards was there’s good and bad to this, and I just try to use it to my advantage. It’s a disadvantage because people don’t take you seriously, but it’s an advantage because they don’t take you seriously. It’s the same thing. You can get more stuff sometimes out of people when they don’t think you are this hard-nosed, cynical journalist.
Sometimes, you would get a better interview, because people are more open with you,” Marivel explained.
She may not come across as a confrontational journalist, but Marivel is thorough, and firm when she needs to be, but always polite in a way possible. Imagine this small-framed reporter interviewing high level politicians caught up on their message track and evading questions they don`t want to answer. Marivel explained that it pays off to know your facts and to be ready with them. She replayed her interview with one of our top seasoned politicians, Bob Rae over his run for the Liberal Leadership race, “There isn’t a single question that’s going to throw him off. But I had to ask him, ‘How do you think you’re going to make the Liberal Leadership run, how are you going to win over the Liberals when there are people in your own party in the NDP who weren’t really happy with what you ended up doing?’ And he kinda just skimmed over it. And went straight to what his strengths are as a Liberal Leader and I said, ‘Don’t you think people in Ontario will have that memory? Bad memories of how you ran this province?’” she pressed.
“Maybe he had a message track, but I was determined to get him to answer at least that one question,” Marivel persisted.
What it takes to do her job is guts. To hit the ground running on a regular basis. To be prepared to talk to people who don`t want to talk to you. To convince someone to share their great story. To ask a really hard question, especially to those people in power.
In the years that she`s covered everything, from high profile stories riddled in controversy or catastrophes, the ones that sticks with her were the human stories that come to life: One of them was The 1997`s Flood of the Century. CBC Winnipeg sent her to North Dakota to cover the big flood,
“Fargo had to be completely evacuated, but we found this one guy. He was a man in his 80’s sitting on his front porch as the water was rising in front of his house. And we were there with some military and they said, ‘Sir, you have to come with us. This place is being evacuated, you cannot stay here.’ And he said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, this is my home. We tried to convince him and his family was all there too trying to convince him and he was holding his ground. This old man, he said ‘I’m not leaving, if I die here, I die here, I’ve lived here my whole life.’ The grandkids finally convinced him. They were like ‘Grandpa, we really want you to be around, we want you to be safe, come with us.’ And the last shot I had in my story was of this man sitting on the back of a military truck, with all whatever possessions he could put on the truck, sitting there looking at his house, like it maybe the last time he ever sees it and tears coming down his face. I’ve never forgotten about him. I’ve forgotten the names, what street he lives on but I’ve never forgotten that story,” `Marivel reminisced with a crack in her voice as she played it out.