[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”no” equal_height_columns=”no” menu_anchor=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_position=”center center” background_repeat=”no-repeat” fade=”no” background_parallax=”none” parallax_speed=”0.3″ video_mp4=”” video_webm=”” video_ogv=”” video_url=”” video_aspect_ratio=”16:9″ video_loop=”yes” video_mute=”yes” overlay_color=”” video_preview_image=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding_top=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=”” padding_right=”” type=”flex”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ layout=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” border_position=”all” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding_top=”” padding_right=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” center_content=”no” last=”true” min_height=”” hover_type=”none” link=”” border_sizes_top=”” border_sizes_bottom=”” border_sizes_left=”” border_sizes_right=”” first=”true”][fusion_text]
ON World Press Freedom Day, I was taken by surprise upon hearing the news that SunStar Baguio was closing down. My Monday mood swung from being enthusiastic to being sentimental.
I spent close to five years as a reporter working for the only community newspaper in the region. I had my first byline at SunStar Baguio as an intern in 2008 and regularly as a columnist for their Campus section before finally joining the editorial staff as a reporter in 2010. After a brief stint as a staff writer here at Baguio Chronicle, I learned the ropes and hard work of churning out five (and then eventually two to three) stories daily before the 5 p.m. deadline as a reporter at SunStar.
While writing community news for a weekly paper seemed like a breeze, writing for a daily newspaper was like being sent to a warzone every day and in a hurry to compose your story before the deadline. Rain or shine. Typhoons, blackouts, landslides, and traffic jams were never exemptions. At some point, there were times you have to stay longer at the office past midnight because of proofreading duty or when the editor is out and you have to be in charge of the paper for the day.
With a humble salary that can hardly pay the rent, food, and transportation expenses, I persevered because I love journalism. There were times when I had to question myself why I continued working in a newspaper when I can hardly pay rent. But as they say, when it’s your passion, you’ll find ways to continue doing it. I am just thankful that while at SunStar, I was allowed to work side gigs as an Online Freelancer then at ODesk (now Upwork) and send stories to Solar News that eventually became CNN Philippines.
My editors and coworkers were also the reason why I enjoyed working at SunStar. It was my former editor May Anne Cacdac (my internship supervisor) who invited me to join the newspaper in 2010 at the prodding of then Editor-in-Chief Sam Bautista. Both were great mentors. I also worked with an amazing team of reporters like Rimaliza Opina, Roderick Osis, Malen Catajan, and briefly with Rubyloida Bitog, and Mark Pasagoy at the editorial department. We shared stories, contacts, and scoops to deliver exclusive reports and breaking news. SSB reporters will be at the newsroom every afternoon pounding on the keyboards and submit stories to Kuya Sam and Ate Maan. My fondest memories at SunStar are when reporters are all present at the Magsaysay office to discuss local issues or simply see our stories appear on the final draft. Sometimes, food would arrive sent over by friends and the bosses and we will have merienda before we continue writing our stories.
The management of Sunstar Baguio led by Dr. Reynaldo Bautista was among the most supportive of the SSB editorial team. RCB was a visionary who respected journalists’ hard work and was the most hopeful for the success of the paper. When his son former Baguio mayor Peter Rey Bautista took the helm of SunStar Baguio, there was hardly any intervention despite his former ties with local politics. I can attest to both their respect for our work as journalists that there were no favors made to slant any stories in their favor. That is how they value the integrity and high ethical standards of SunStar Baguio employees especially the journalists.
Now the question most people are probably asking. How come that a newspaper with a monopoly of daily news in Baguio and the region close down when there’s hardly any competition from Monday to Friday? What happened? The answer that most of you are probably thinking, is that the Covid-19 pandemic happened.
While I have not been privy to the earnings of the SunStar Baguio since I left in 2014, I think Covid-19 was the final nail that sealed the fate of the only daily newspaper in the region. In last Tuesday’s Kapihan sa Baguio, topics delved into the struggles of local media as advertisements became scarce since the pandemic started and distribution of newspapers was threatened when newsstands were planned to be removed from sidewalks.
However, as I dig deeper, community newspapers like SunStar Baguio have been bleeding in terms of revenues even before the pandemic. Even weekly newspapers like the Baguio Chronicle, Herald Express, and the more established Baguio Midland Courier have reported a drop in circulation and advertising before the transition to the new normal. As discussed in Tuesday’s press conference, most of the local print publications merely rely on judicial and legal notices for their daily keep. Even big businesses like telecoms, malls, and government agencies have slowly diminished their ad placements in newspapers in favor of new media and content from video bloggers, influencers, and content creators.
As for SunStar Baguio, it has a beautifully designed and well-curated website that ranks high in Google page rankings. In fact, if you search the keywords “Baguio news” or “Cordillera news,” the SunStar Baguio website ranks first when it comes to SEO scoring. A high page ranking is something that Search Engine Optimization content editors like me are envious of because placing first in Google rankings is something that attracts local, national, and international advertisers.
So what’s the problem? The local owners of the daily newspaper including the editorial department do not have full control of the website. That is one reason that locally placed ads do not appear on the SunStar Baguio website. For me, it’s a huge missed revenue opportunity if the local franchisee or owner does not have full control of the website and only receives residual earnings from the network owner based in Cebu. Recently, SunStar Baguio also ventured on electronic paper versions and came up with a digital weekly newscast which in one way or another helped the paper compete but it was already late in the game and then the pandemic happened.
Another observation I see in community newspapers is that they lack the full understanding of optimizing their websites and monetizing their content. This is something publishers should study before venturing into the newspaper business in the advent of social media. Why would the World’s Richest Man Jeff Bezos of Amazon invest in The Washington Post? Why is media mogul Rupert Murdoch still earning millions from his media empire despite a dwindling print publication? It’s because these businessmen know how to monetize content. Some of them even enforced paywalls for exclusive website content. Accurate content from credible journalists is not something the likes of Mocha Uson or Banat By can proliferate. Other newspapers are also using data culled from readers and subscribers may it be their reading habits, demographics, and what type of content they are reading to drive revenues from advertisers. While advertisements remain premium to keep the business afloat, data from users/subscribers, content, and backlinks with other businesses have become additional revenue streams.
Another revenue stream for the daily newspaper that was also greatly affected by the pandemic was the printing press. For a time, earnings of SunStar Baguio’s printing press actually exceeded that of the newspaper. In Baguio City, only Midland, Chronicle, and SunStar Baguio newspapers have their own printing machines. The rest of the weekly papers send their final drafts to third-party printing shops to print the newspapers. But with lockdowns and class suspensions during the pandemic, the publishing business also experienced a slowdown in print jobs as print publications were replaced by online modules and digital prints.
Engaging in Traditional Marketing and failure to shift to Digital Marketing methods are also partly to blame for the demise of community newspapers like SunStar Baguio. In the old days, newspapers had to wait for businesses or advertisers to place ads. If publishers are aggressive, advertising account executives would go around hunting for advertisers. But all these are traditional marketing methods that are no longer viable in the Social Media Age.
In the age of social media, content is key for monetization. If only local newspapers use their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and even TikTok content to their advantage (meaning to drive traffic to their websites), they no longer need to beg for advertisers to place ads on their websites and social media pages. If they look closely at the articles published at the BBC, New York Times, and Bloomberg, they would see that even journalistic writing has since changed to a long-form style of writing with sub-headings to be able to rank higher with Google. There’s plenty of other means for monetization and I’ll discuss them in the next Freelancer column in a couple of weeks. Happy Weekend!