Maria Ressa’s name is spoken with awe by journalists around the world: she is a beacon for truth and a warrior in the fight against disinformation. The founder of Rappler, she has openly criticised world leaders’ policies and called out technology giants for spreading fake news and inciting hatred and violence. This dedication to journalism has led to accolades including the Woodrow Wilson Award from her alma mater, Princeton University; Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018; the Unesco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2021; and, of course, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside fellow journalist Dmitry Muratov.
Fresh from her Nobel win, she was warmly welcomed at Manila House for this month’s cover shoot. Ressa arrived wearing simple all-black attire and her signature ear-to-ear smile. She sat down for a conversation with long-time colleague and friend, broadcast journalist Karen Davila on having a sense of purpose, what she holds Mark Zuckerberg accountable for, and why she is still optimistic.
The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length. Watch the full conversation in our special edition of Tatler Talks below.
People might grow up imagining the possibility of winning an Oscar or an Olympic gold, but not usually a Nobel Prize. How was it for you, and how did you prepare for your Nobel Lecture?
I couldn’t have imagined this. It was shocking. Then to look at all the statistics: I was the only woman [laureate] in 2021. And, in the time the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded, only the 18th out of over 1,000. I felt like the responsibility is almost crushing: writing that speech was one of the most difficult things to do. What we do with it is the challenge now.
So, how did you get here: Nobel laureate, internationally acclaimed investigative journalist, global hero?
I think about living a life that has meaning. As a journalist, [having worked] in four different news groups, I’ve helped write standards and ethics manuals; that’s like an honour code. We each try to build our life, and we try to build it looking for meaning. In the age of social media, meaning is so much harder to find. But what I learnt really early on is that meaning isn’t something someone gives you; it’s every single little choice you make that builds meaning in your life. And I think in my case, it was journalism that made me draw lines [and understand the] golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So, how did I get here? I don’t think you can set out to get an award—I think that makes you a cartoon version of yourself. I think what you try to do is you build a life of meaning and then these things happen. It’s the same as if someone asks, “So how do I make money?”—if your goal is to make money, you will not be the best person you can be.
Journalism gave me a sense of mission, a sense of purpose; it gave my life meaning. You live the best life you think you can, and you do that by setting goals outside of yourself. You look at impact—you don’t look at gain.