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Keeping traditional media alive in the digital age
Harley F. Palangchao

SMARTPHONE COUNTRY -- The accessibility of free social media platforms and availability of technology such as smartphones have made sharing of information and events such as the Panagbenga Festival easier to people from all walks of life. For years, social media has been posing a great challenge to traditional media in terms of reach and audience, but the latter remains a credible source of news and information. -- Harley Palangchao

When the groundwork for the first ever community paper was laid down in Baguio in 1947, the founders of the Baguio Midland Courier, the longest running English community paper in Luzon, envisioned a paper that would overcome the tests of time.

Digital media then was not in the horizon and certainly the threat it poses to print media today was far from the imagination of the founders. There is no debate over the fact that print media circulation remains precarious in an age when global news is a fingertip away.

Yet the Courier remains not only afloat but also at the crest in a sea of media competition, enjoying runaway awards for journalism excellence.

From a four-page issue with 200 copies for its maiden issue, the Courier has grown into the leading community paper in the Cordillera. To date, close to 20 other local papers see print on weekends together with the Courier.

Long before the coming of digital media, the Courier over seven decades now, along with other esteemed local papers, has been a reliable source of news and relevant information that greatly helped shape opinions on matters of public interest.

It has often been said that print media is a dying industry, suffocated by the popularity of online news. Yet traditional media based in Baguio has maintained its niche in the mass media market. In fact, the vibrancy of traditional media is proven by the establishment of four new local weekly papers in the last 10 years along with the phenomenal rise of digital media in terms of readership and reach.

The reality, however, is that some local papers have folded up due to some compelling reasons. The Baguio Reporter, the Luzon Morning Sun, and the Cordillera Today have opted to type -30- (a journalist’s sign for ending a story or signing off) after close to two decades of dedicated public service through civic journalism.

Stories that matter

While news and information from around the world are readily available with just a tap of a finger, community papers survive mainly for publishing local stories that matter to their readers – stories of local interest with global impact.

Community newspapers undoubtedly know their audience best, making them most effective in local storytelling. Community papers cater to stories that are important to people but not widely reported in bigger media outfits with a nationwide reach. Ellen Mangubat, editor-in-chief of Cebu Daily News, shared this view when she delivered remarks at the Philippine Press Institute’s annual conference in Manila in 2013.

Like the community papers in Baguio, the Cebu Daily News together with Sun.Star Cebu and Freeman have been keeping community and civic journalism in Cebu vibrant for decades now.

Aside from just chronicling important events unfolding in the localities, community newspapers maintain strong ties with political leaders, community elders, and decision makers. Other members of the community press even set precedents for policy setting agendas.

Coping with the demands of time

Acknowledging the fact that post-millennials belong to a generation that does not read neither local newspapers nor broadsheets but rather relies on their smartphones, ipads, tablets, desktops and laptops for information, community papers such as the Courier have launched their own websites for the online version of their newspapers.

A decade ago, the Courier marked its 60th anniversary with the launching of its official online version, Today, the Courier website has generated more than four million unique views.

Again, it is not because the Courier and other leading community papers nationwide felt threatened by reports that the days of newspapers are numbered that they have gone online too. The Courier strongly believes that serious and responsible print journalism will not fade away. In fact, this paper still enjoys having the highest circulation among all regional papers in the Cordillera as it has over the past seven decades.

That time, the Courier’s website was launched just as recent studies showed that websites of top newspapers worldwide are going strong despite a noted decline in the circulation of print newspapers in the wake of the online media revolution.

Responsibility and accountability

While misinformation and disinformation have become prevalent and widespread in social media platforms, journalists who work for traditional media – print, broadcast and television and now, online media – always ensure that they uphold the tenets and DNA of journalism –  being a reliable source of news and information with high regard for responsibility and accountability.

Studies on traditional media versus social media have one thing in common – it is still impossible for social networks or media organizations led by non-journalists to replace traditional media as far as credibility, reliability, and accountability are concerned.

In the article “Why Hong Kong’s traditional media is alive and kicking in the digital age” written by Keith Kam, chair of the Newspapers Society of Hong Kong, she said, “The way traditional media handles news and information still strictly follows an inherent code and standards, meaning that facts are verified and rumor-mongering is avoided.”

This means, Kam added, that no matter how negative the prospects for development of traditional media seem to be in the eyes of the public, when it comes to credibility and reliability, it is still impossible for social networks or media organizations led by non-journalists to replace the traditional media.

Innovate or die

It is inevitable that social media platforms are widely dominating the super information highway and have revolutionized how news and information are processed, delivered, presented, and consumed by a wide range of audience never imagined before by the pioneers of traditional media.

To cope with the demands of the digital age, traditional media – especially print – are investing on innovations such as publishing their online versions and providing updates as events unfold.

Most newspapers – broadsheets or local dailies and weeklies – have created their official Twitter and Facebook accounts where breaking news and other compelling stories and photographs are posted that allow readers to link to their websites.

Singapore-based news anchor and business editor Jennifer Alejandro, in her research titled “Journalism in the age of social media” written for Reuters Institute Fellowship Paper at the University of Oxford, said that journalism in the age of digital media is not dead but merely adapting and the journalists of the future need to reinvent themselves, meaning they “need to care about where audiences are and how they are going to reach those audiences” whether they are online, in print, broadcast, mobile, or social media platforms.

Alejandro, who has close to two decades of in-depth journalism experience, had conducted a survey among editors of known news services to determine how social media and Web technologies such as blogs affect newsroom operations in news reporting. She likewise surveyed journalists from various media outfits on the nature of news gathering process and the way information is disseminated.

In her survey, she found that changes happening in the news industry brought on by the rapid advances in technology should not be seen as a threat to traditional mass media but are instead complementary – in reaching targeted audiences in a world of personalized media by offering digital narratives and customizable news experiences that allow users to share and participate.

She added that the journalist of the future has to be more technology-savvy as news organizations become more digital-centric.

Investing on the editorial board

Since traditional media remains the most reliable source of news and information crucial to survival, investing on members of the editorial board from the editor-in-chief, news desk, reporters, and even layout and graphic artists is paramount.

This means investing in the training of the members of the editorial board for them to cope with the demands of time especially on a variety of stories not well presented on social media or by citizen journalists.

In-depth and investigative journalism make traditional media above par over social media, as quality still reigns over quantity.

The future of traditional media

Reports have it that the future of traditional media, especially print media, remains bright as long as they innovate and adapt to changes and challenges.

While those born in the post-millennial era heavily rely on social media for news and information and entertainment, a huge number of millennials still rely on print media in their search for job opportunities while older generations keep abreast with news and current events, advertisements, opinions, and real estate, among others, through print.

In one of his interviews about his thoughts on the future of traditional media, Philippine Star President and Chief Executive Officer Miguel Belmonte told Star Features Section Editor Abby Rebong that the new media, social media included, is a big complement (but not meant as a huge competitor) to the decades-old newspapers.

Just like the Philippine Star, other regional newspapers and broadsheets still maintain their niche in the market despite declining circulation in some papers since the advent of digital media. Belmonte also refuted claims that the print media is a “sunset industry” due to a series of reports of newspapers cutting down on staff members, closing some editorial sections, or worse, closing down the entire publication.

In 2011, Christoph Riess, CEO of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) also told journalist Rebong, “Print media in several Asian countries are still enjoying double-digit growth, notably Indonesia, India, and China. Economic growth and rising literacy levels are bringing more readers and advertisers to several Asian papers.”

Riess added that traditional media should use the new media to their advantage by using it as a guide for creating and validating good content. “New media has developed into a very important tool to get news and get it very fast from different sources around the world. At the same time, media companies have to learn how to use new media in order to reach their readers. Therefore, new media works as a complement for creating and validating good content. We should use them to strengthen our business,” Riess said in an interview with Rebong.

Print journalism is not dead

Amid the domination of the digital media, traditional media, particularly print journalism, still plays a critical role in this ever-complex society.

In fact, journalism exists even at the core of digital media, as materials considered as valuable that are posted in the Internet are products of good writing, research, fact checking and investigation, which are among the values of journalism.

Regardless of how much technology and the digital media affect the world today, the core values of traditional media, which are truth-telling and touching lives, make people need traditional journalism more than ever.

The late American journalist John Carroll, former editor of Los Angeles Times, once said that the survival of newspapers depends on the stand point of owners. He said that in the face of challenges, newspapers need a different form of ownership, one that values journalism, believes in public service, and is unwilling – as a matter of principle and of long-term business strategy – to strangle newspapers for their short-term cash.

Such standpoint has been the battlecry of the founding fathers of the Courier, which, despite the challenges posed by the digital media, remains a medium for the free flow of information, for transparency and good governance in Baguio and the rest of Northern Luzon to the faraway lands reached by its online version.

PRINT JOURNALISM IS ALIVE -- Traditional media entities such as the Baguio Midland Courier and the other community newspapers and broadsheets continue to function as reliable sources of news and information amid the challenges posed by the digital media. Like the Courier, other newspapers maintain stable circulation. -- Harley Palangchao


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