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Award-winning Journalist Jay Taruc Explains Why He Left the Media for Motorcycles

The documentarist hasn’t worked in almost three decades, sort of.
IMAGE Cyrian Agujo
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“Do what you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life,” or so goes the saying. That’s why when someone as acclaimed a journalist as Jay Taruc says he’s done doing award-winning documentaries, people scratch their heads. Hard. And he’s leaving it all for…motorcycles?

“It came to a point when I really just had to move on,” Taruc says.

IMAGE: Cyrian Agujo
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Two decades of Serbisyong Totoo

To understand where he’s headed, let’s first go back to where he came from. The son of noted radio journalist Joe Taruc started his media journey more than two decades ago as a Broadcasting graduate from Centro Escolar University. A few years after being a reporter, he got his first taste of doing documentaries after being selected as a guest host for the then little-known show called iWitness: The GMA Documentaries.

“They asked me to do a story around ’98 or ’99 as a sort of test. Then the following year, they gave me three to four slots. They finally gave me a permanent slot after Luchi Cruz-Valdez (who was one of the pioneers) left the show. It was a dream job for any journalist, I think.”

With the pillars of GMA7 as mentors, Taruc was able to hone his craft until he, along with colleagues Howie Severino, Kara David, and Sandra Aguinaldo, became the face of iWitness. The show has gone on to become the most-awarded documentary show in Philippine history, winning all types of awards including the most prestigious of them all—the George Foster Peabody Award—twice.

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A not-so-secret love affair

While he was busy doing stories that cut deep into the bone of his viewers, he was also developing a love affair with motorcycles. He began riding in the early 2000’s, but it wasn’t until a new show—Motorcycle Diaries (MD), which first aired in 2011—that he really began understanding the riding lifestyle.

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Motorcycle Diaries was focused more on documentaries rather than on the motorcycle, ” Taruc shares. “But visiting different places and being educated with different types of motorcycles, different communities, different riders, it opened my eyes to their needs and the challenges of the community.” 

And his love for motorcycles isn’t just all talk. At his home in Quezon City, he has several of them carefully parked in a special garage. He has a custom Harley Davidson Sportster 883R, a 1979 BMW R65, A Royal Enfield Bullet 350, a white Vespa PX150, and a smaller Vespa 50 S.

According to his wife June, he used the Harley Davidson to pick her up for their first date. Badass.

Taruc does minor repairs and maintains the bikes himself, and he even built a custom tools rack. Of course, he also has several helmets and jackets.

“I try to take them (motorcycles) for a ride at least once a week, or whenever I get the time. I like to take them out in rotation, so I get to use each one.”

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Riding regularly became a challenge for Taruc as he was doing both iWitness and Motorcycle Diaries on top of some of his duties as a regular beat reporter for the network.

“I only got to ride during shoots of MD but it was still refreshing and exhilarating.”

Of the hundreds of stories he’s done though, there’s one small segment in Motorcycle Diaries he recalls very vividly.

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“I asked the management if we could feature the then (Davao City) Mayor Rodrigo Duterte because he was really an avid rider, and this was before anyone had an inkling that he’d run for office. The episode turned out to be one of our highest-rated ever, and this made them realize how big the riding community really is.”

Family first

Taruc went on hosting both shows for years, churning out stories week after week after week. While the grind wasn’t much of a problem during his younger years, Taruc’s priorities started shifting, especially with his youngest child, nine-year-old Sofia Gabriela, dealing with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a physically debilitating illness.

“As much as I love doing field work, I had to allot time for my family and Sofia Gabriela. There were times when I’d request to turn a three-day out-of-town shoot into just two days because I needed to help my wife in taking of the family.”

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Taruc also became more and more immersed in the motorcycle riding culture, especially with the deeper problems the industry was, and still is, facing.

“I saw how lots of riders were really lacking education. Accidents were also happening left and right, and then we have the crimes; it’s really the whole industry. There’s also a huge void in terms of support for the community,” says Taruc.

Taking the leap

These realizations coincided with GMA 7 suddenly pulling the plug on Motorcycle Diaries in 2017 despite its critical success. Taruc continued doing iWitness, but he knew the writing was on the wall when he realized that he kept coming back to his passion—motorcycles.

“The first story I did for iWitness in 2018 was about the traffic in the metro and somehow, a large part of it became about motorcycles again, about how they are both a solution and a contributing factor to the traffic problem.”

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After Motorcycle Diaries went dark, Taruc immediately sought permission to use the show’s format, laying the groundwork for what would become Ride PH, his self-produced TV show meant to educate and support riders in the country.

IMAGE: Cyrian Agujo

Ride PH aired in August 2018, and in December of the same year, Taruc finally made the decision to leave GMA Network and become a full-time producer and entrepreneur.

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“I worked with some of the best journalists in the industry, the (GMA) pillars trained me and mentored me, so I was really fortunate and thankful. But I also knew I won’t be doing this forever. I couldn’t see myself being in the field well into my 70s.”

While some may assume that becoming a TV producer is just a natural progression for any journalist, Taruc begs to differ.

“I thought I knew TV. But when I became a producer, I found out I can’t just focus on the content anymore. I need to think of the business aspect, the sustainability of the show, the commercial viability, and many others.”

Still, two decades being in front of the camera and creating valuable and life-changing documentaries has its perks.

“Being a journalist for a network like GMA 7, the good thing is that the credibility and good reputation is still there. So it’s really an advantage for me when I talk to sponsors or clients.”

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Adds Taruc: “I had to reinvent myself because we’re now doing multiple tasks. But my knowledge and experience as a journalist helps a lot in terms of just giving a different perspective to things.”

If leaving something you’ve done for 20 years (and won boatloads of awards for) seems impossible to some, Taruc says knowing your priority certainly helps. A lot.

“Having more freedom to organize my schedule now allows me to devote more time to my family and my daughter. It’s really that simple. And if I was still a journalist working a minimum of 10 hours a day, it’s just not possible.”

Riding high

As for Ride PH, Taruc says it’s still continuing to evolve and he’s not content with calling it just another media entity. He wants it to become a platform riders can use to educate other riders as well as voice out their opinions and ideas.

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IMAGE: Cyrian Agujo

Taruc has also started to venture into events production. His latest one, the Ride PH Cafe in Pasig a few weeks ago, was a huge success and was attended by all the big guns of the motorcycle world—Harley Davidson, Ducati, Royal Enfield, Bristol, and many more.

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“I’m now fully devoted to the concerns and needs of riders. Unlike before when I needed to be objective, I can now make a stand and do something for the community and the industry.”

While there is no exact blueprint on how to successfully transition to the next phase of one’s career, knowing what you really love is probably the best place to start.

“I’m just really, really blessed because I love doing documentaries and I love riding motorcycles. Whichever I choose, it’s still a win for me. And If I don’t do good in this new venture, then at least I did something I’m really passionate about.”

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