Jimenez-Magsanoc was the eldest of nine children of Colonel Nicanor Jimenez, a former Philippine National Railways (PNR) manager and director of the NISA, the government intelligence agency, later Philippine ambassador to Korea. She is survived by her husband Dr. Carlitos Magsanoc; and her children Kara Magsanoc, married to Dondi Alikpala and their children; Dr. Nikko Magsanoc, married to Gina Bengzon Magsanoc; and Dr. Marti Magsanoc.
Magsanoc described herself as "newspaper-struck" from an early age, contributing features to the (Philippine) Sunday Times Magazine while a senior at St. Teresa's College, Manila, encouraged by Times women's editor Eugenia Apostol. She spent most of the 1960s in the United States, taking a masters in journalism at the University of Missouri. In 1963, she married Carlos Magsanoc, a doctor. Her daughter Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala is a broadcast journalist who produces news documentaries. Jimenez-Magsanoc died on the night of Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015 at St. Luke's Medical Center in Taguig City, after suffering from cardiac arrest.
The Magsanoc family returned to the Philippines in 1969. Magsanoc joined the Manila Bulletin. When the women's section editor of the Bulletin's Sunday magazine, Panorama left, Magsanoc was asked to take the job. "The last place I wanted to land in, in any publication was the women's pages, which I consider a journalism ghetto. I was trying to get away from writing about lipstick and fashion. fortunately I was allowed to write about almost anything. Sometimes it had nothing to do with women.".
In 1976, Magsanoc began to write for the daily Manila Bulletin, after a co-editorship with a male colleague did not work. She wrote a thrice weekly column, The Passing Scene, alternating with columnist Tony Nieva. Later, she was given her own column Not for People Only. This was when she began to get into trouble with authorities for being critical of the post-martial law Marcos government.
In 1978, General Hans Menzi, publisher of the Manila Bulletin, asked Magsanoc to take over the editorship of Panorama. Magsanoc was reluctant. "I did not want to be editor because I just wanted to do writing. You know what it's like to be editor, you have to sit at the desk, give out assignments, and clean up everybody's copy. It is difficult to conceptualize the whole issue. What I wanted to do was go out and write." She demanded that Panorama be given a 60 per cent editorial to 40 per cent advertising ratio and to her surprise, Menzie agreed. Magsanoc's arrival at Panorama gave the magazine a new reputation. Circulation soared with Magsanoc's editorship. Panorama staffer Margot Baterina said: "We pursued stories that nobody else dared to touch." National Press Club data of the time put the magazine's circulation at 300,000 on Sundays more than triple the combined circulation of the two other morning dailes.
Between 1976 and 1981, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc was editor of Panorama, the Philippines' largest circulation magazine of the time. Five months after being named one of the 1981 Ten Outstanding Women of the New Society she was forced to resign after writing an article perceived as critical to the government.
A Time magazine article which hailed Magsanoc as an Asian hero described the circumstances that forced her departure from Panorama: "Magsanoc had written a tongue-in-cheek story on Marcos' third inauguration as President. Marcos had sought to fend off criticism of his rule by staging a faux election. His "victory" was celebrated in a sumptuous, if surreal, ceremony, in which a choir sang Handel's Messiah. Magsanoc led off with a line from Handel: "And he shall reign forever and ever." Marcos thought that blasphemous and got her fired."
Magsanoc's forced resignation sparked a media furore, with journalists using their columns to speak out, though several pieces were suppressed by publishers. Several articles rejected by other magazines were published by Eugenia Apostol's women's magazine, Mr & Ms.
Magsanoc's article was a piece about the inauguration, illustrated with candid photographs and captions, under the title There Goes the New Society; Welcome the New Republic
The forced resignation of Letty Jimenez Magsanoc was the first of a series of events that led to criticism of the Marcos government for suppressing press freedom. The events were:Letty Jimenez Magsanoc forced to resign after writing an article perceived to be critical of the Marcoses.
The arrest and filing of subversion charges against We Forum publisher/editor Jose Burgos, Jr and his staff
Libel case against Panorama editor Domini T. Suarez and writer Ceres P. Doyo
Military interrogation of Bulletin columnists Arlene Babst and Ninez Cacho Olivares; Mr & Ms editor publisher Eugenia Apostol and Managing Editor Doris G. Nuyda; and writers Lorna Kalaw-Tirol and Jo-Ann Maglipon
Resignation of Tempo Editor Recah Trinidad.
The Lady at Maynila
Survival: Variations on the Human Condition
Letty Jimenez Magsanoc was editor of Mr & Ms Special Edition from 1983 to 1986.
Magsanoc was invited to become editor of Mr & Ms Special Edition by publisher Eugenia Apostol in the aftermath of the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr..
Apostol, in her acceptance speech at the 2006 Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, said: "The Filipinos were outraged and more than two million of them joined (Aquino's) funeral procession. But the Marcos media hardly took note of the event. That was when I decided to do a 16-page special issue on Ninoy Aquino's funeral, using the resources of a woman's magazine called Mr. & Ms. which I was then editing ... The response to the funeral issue was unbelievable. The agents kept coming back for more, and so we had to print 500 thousand copies. After that, I had to ask Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc to help me edit a weekly Mr. & Ms. Special Edition just to feed the hunger of the readers for more about Ninoy and a growing anger towards martial law and Ferdinand Marcos. Every week we felt called upon to record the various demonstrations of civilians against Marcos, and when no reprisal came (except for an invitation to an interrogation at Fort Bonifacio in January 1983), we went on for three years ..."
Magsanoc was the first editor-in-chief of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine from 1986 to 1987.
Magsanoc was the editor-in-chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer since 1991 until her death in 2015. She was the first woman and the longest-serving (to date) editor-in-chief of the country's leading newspaper. Almost one month after her untimely passing, Magsanoc recognized as the Filipino of the Year for the year 2015, by the newspaper she worked for three decades.1981: Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service. (Ten Outstanding Women of the New Society.)
1993: Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, University of Missouri.
2006: Time International "60 Years of Asian Heroes".
2015: Journalist of the Year, 19th Rotary Club of Manila Journalism Awards.