The multi-awarded broadcast journalist reveals what keeps her going every day, and answers the one question she’s never been asked before—who is Karen Davila?

If there is one word to describe Karen Davila it’s unflappable. Whether it’s dealing with a controversial interviewee, her dogged detractors, vicious online trolls, or a stray leaf swatting her in the face during her recent return broadcast as anchor for TV Patrol, the journalist always remains unflappable and steadfast in her calmness and conviction.

Many would suggest that the 51-year broadcaster has arrived at the pinnacle of her career by securing her role as one of the three main anchors, replacing the iconic Noli de Castro in the Philippines’ most-watched news show. However, the 2021 National Winner of the Best News Anchor by the prestigious Asian Academy Creative Awards doesn’t see it this way. “The thing is, I don’t consider myself at the top of my game. That’s not how I think. I’ve been in the industry for 28 years and I just feel I am where I’m meant to be at this point in time.”

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Above Davila wears an off-white blazer and white shirt by Massimo Dutti, and Serpenti Seduttori watch with 18k rose gold case and bracelet both set with diamonds, and white dial, Divas’ Dream necklace in 18k rose gold set with diamonds and pavé diamonds, Fiorever 18k rose gold necklace set with a central round brilliant-cut diamond and pavé diamonds, all by Bulgari

Admired for her hard-hitting interviews on ANC’s Headstart, Davila has worked her way from the ground up, beginning her career as an investigative journalist. Her 2005 documentary, Children in Jail, earned her several prestigious accolades, notably the Unicef Child Rights Award. Before the controversial shutdown of ABS-CBN, Davila was anchoring three live broadcasts daily as well as writing and producing the magazine show My Puhunan.

“I think being a news anchor is about your track record,” Davila states. “It’s not about fitting a certain image, but about the work that you do. What is most important is effective communication and storytelling. And being relatable to your audience.”

The thing is I don't consider myself at the top of my game . . . I just feel I am where I'm meant to be at this point in time
Karen Davila

Rather than stay comfortably in her lane, Davila sought to capture a wider audience via the internet. She launched her YouTube channel only last May 2021 and already has over 500,000 subscribers. “I was wondering who would watch me,” she exclaims. “I knew I couldn’t be a vlogger in the real sense of the word because vloggers share their lives so intimately. When you are a journalist, it’s not about you; I want to feature the lives of other people and share inspiring stories that my viewers can learn from. I feel that people need different sources of joy, especially now.”

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This is not always the case online. The murky, unregulated waters of the digital realm have drastically changed the way people consume their information. Algorithms and social media platforms have become the primary vectors of news and media, often creating more polarising opinions and exacerbating partisanship. “In this age of disinformation, it’s crucial to have more institutional news organisations, that information is vetted, context is given. There is a whole process behind the breaking of a story. There is accountability.”

In the past decade, news and media have had the daunting task of adapting quickly to stay afloat as traditional television slowly becomes obsolete. However, for ABS-CBN, the web offered a lifeline to its audience when the Duterte administration ordered its closure in May 2020. Davila, while reporting on the entire process, had to walk the difficult line of being an impartial journalist while standing up not only for her convictions, but for her colleagues and their careers.

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“All human beings have some sort of bias, but a journalist is trained to fight those biases and to ask the right questions to get to the truth,” she explains. “People often think that being impartial means you don’t have conviction. If you believe that a free press is a constitutional right, that it’s essential in a democratic society, then with that alone, you cannot be completely impartial.”

But how does Davila use her reach to influence positive change? “You become an advocate. Education, women’s rights, free press…Journalists all over the world fight for basic human rights.” However, she further expresses the importance of knowing one’s limits and responsibilities as a journalist. “There is nothing wrong with being an advocate and still being a journalist, but you can’t advocate for everything. For example, policy: you are a journalist when policy changes are being made. You need to be able to bring all sides out for the public to understand what’s at stake for them.”

Much like the ladies of Apple TV’s The Morning Show, with her big smile, perfectly coiffed hair and tailored shift dresses, it’s easy to paint Davila in the glamourous light of showbusiness. Nothing could be further from the truth, as being an outspoken news anchor has garnered her all kinds of vitriol from offended supporters of popular politicians and personalities that she’s interviewed.

“When I moderated the presidential debate in 2016, I received so much online bashing from then-Mayor Duterte’s fans,” she shares. “Things like: ‘You should be raped,’ ‘You should be killed,’ ‘Bayaran ka [You’re a paid hack],’ ‘When I see you, I will kidnap you.’ People think I’m so used to it. No, I am not used to it—but I keep going. Every day, I just do my best with what I can.”

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Above Davila wears a black side-tie blazer by DD Daily, black shorts by Una Ricci, and Serpenti Tubogas double spiral watch in stainless steel case and bracelet, with silver opaline dial, and Fiorever 18k rose gold bracelet set with a central diamond and pavé diamonds, all by Bulgari
People have asked me what's the secret to success and I always say it's not talent. Talent just gets your foot in the door, but it's really grit . . . Grit is what makes you not quit
Karen Davila

When asked why she carries on despite the constant mudslinging, Davila cites her inspiration in Simon Sinek’s book, Know Your Why. “How do you know your why? First, you have to know what you won’t do. What are the boundaries? I always understood that media was the Fourth Estate, even as a student attending UP. But when you are actually living it, you realise: ‘I’m a voice.’ Then I understood that it’s a voice that can be corrupted. Right away, I decided that I will not take any money to corrupt my voice.”

From when her mass communications professor encouraged a young and inexperienced Davila to explore a career in broadcasting up until her significant following today, she has always grasped the significance of her influential platform. “I recognised that I could be a different voice in different times, for different purposes. But if you are a corrupted voice, you are no longer a voice. Journalists aren’t perfect. We can be wrong, but the odds are better when you keep your integrity.”

Davila’s hours are also gruelling, oftentimes working late into the night and waking up at dawn the next day, over and over again. “There have been many times that I wanted to quit, but for some reason I fight it out with resilience. People have asked me what’s the secret to success and I always say that it’s not talent. Talent just gets your foot in the door, but it’s really grit. Grit is the word. Grit is what makes you not quit. Sometimes people think there’s deep analysis or self-reflection. No, it’s just the strength to know I am just going to do this. I did badly today but tomorrow is another day.”

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Above Davila wears B.zero1 necklace with small round pendant in 18k white gold and pavé diamonds, B.zero1 ring in 18k white gold set with pavé diamonds on the spiral, all by Bvlgari, and Balenciaga white button-down polo

Karen Davila the journalist is always switched on and has proudly dedicated her life to her career. But she is also a mother and a family woman and, like many working women, not immune to mum guilt. “My first experience with mum guilt was when my son David was diagnosed with autism at three years-old. I was doing TV Patrol then; I was 32 and extremely driven with my career; my husband, DJ, was also a workaholic. When we received David’s diagnosis, I cried for two weeks because I blamed myself. I asked myself, “If you weren’t working that hard, maybe you would’ve detected it earlier, maybe you could’ve stopped it… ‘Lord am I being punished? You are punishing me, and I deserve it.’”

Rather than outsourcing the care of her son, Davila used her journalistic skills and dove deeply into the world of the autism spectrum. “I researched the best alternative ways to treat David, even if it meant giving him more attention and care.” Today her son David is 19 and enrolled at university, an accomplishment she feels grateful for. “No amount of success, fame, or wealth can equal the joy of knowing David will become a productive individual, one present in every moment and who enjoys relationships with those who love him!”

Her faith gives Davila the strength she needs to always push forward. “I am a Born-Again Christian, so my faith in the Lord is what drives me as a person,” she shares. “I don’t want to waste the one life that I have and throw it away by not making any kind of difference, no matter how small. What I want is to be able to use the talents I have been given for something of value. The idea is value creation, I want to create value in anything that I do.”

I don't want to waste the one life that I have and throw it away by not making any kind of difference, no matter how small. What I want is to be able to use the talents I have been given for something of value. The idea is value creation, I want to create value in anything that I do
Karen Davila

Even if she wasn’t a journalist, this purpose would carry over. “I would most likely be in some kind of public service or in an international, non-government organisation. I would probably be somewhere in Africa with the refugees. I am truly an adventurer at heart, and I would be in the field, not in an office.” Then she pauses and laughs. “But the other side of me would have wanted to be something like Donna Karan and fulfil my fashion designer dreams.”

It is not a stretch to imagine that Davila could perhaps follow in the footsteps of De Castro and try her hand in local politics, but she firmly states that it is not for her, despite being asked to run for the senate in the past. “I could not imagine it… If I retire, hypothetically, I would like to be an ambassador, wherein I could be a liaison for a big issue that is important to the country.”

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Above Tatler Philippines December 2021 issue is available now on Zinio, Magzter and Pressreader

Davila has persistently declared that she is and always will be a journalist, that it is a hat she will never take off. Nonetheless, a career does not define one as a person; it may be formative, but it does not define the soul. Therefore, who is Karen Davila the person? “I’m a fighter. I’m a life fighter. I’m not the type of person to quit, give up or just be afraid. I could be afraid, but I’d still continue.”

And continue she will. With her intelligence, courage and tenacity, there is no doubt that The Karen Davila Show still has many more seasons ahead.

This story was originally published in the December 2021 issue of Tatler Philippines. Download it on your digital device through Zinio, Magzter, or Pressreader.

  • PhotographyMark Nicdao
  • StylingLiz Uy and Justine Riguer of Stylized Studio
  • JewelleryBulgari
  • Make-UpJuan Sarte
  • HairPatty Inojales
  • Set DesignJustine Bumanlag
  • LocationCasa Bella showroom
  • ProductionIsabel Martel Francisco
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