May 20, 2024

Well-written reading materials can be considered as excellent tools for teaching English. As they say, a good writer has to first learn to be a good reader.

In this mountain region, a newspaper can make its claim to fame as one of the best teachers of English, if advertently, for simply having excellent writers and editors pioneering it and passing on the torch of excellence down the line.

Since its maiden issue swept the streets in Baguio City in the post war period of April 1947, the Baguio Midland Courier did not only become the official chronicler of Baguio City and the rest of the Cordillera, it has also served as an alternative English teacher in this highland region.

This remains true to this generation despite the soaring popularity of digital and social media platforms, as experts in various fields regard the publication as a paper with an excellent command of the English language.

“The paper is an authority when it comes to teaching English to the readers, including the English teachers themselves. We give credit to its founders, who were among the best writers in their generation,” said seasoned journalist March David Fianza, who himself was a reporter of the paper in 1989 before being promoted as one of its page editors a year after. He eventually worked as a correspondent of a national broadsheet several years later.

Fianza recalled that during his stint with the Midland Courier, the publication was the only regional English paper that circulated even in the remotest areas of the Cordillera.

“Those coming from Baguio bought the paper and compiled them in their homes. Many copies of the paper were also compiled in the school libraries in the urban or rural areas,” Fianza added.

Even after more than a decade since the release of its maiden issue, no other mass media outfit such as radio, print, or television stations existed in Baguio, which made the Midland Courier the primary source of news and information in the English language.

Fianza, along with former staff members of the paper, also attributed the publication’s success as an alternative medium for teaching the English language to people in the highland to its former writers-cum section editors.

Midland Courier’s founding editor, Sinai C. Hamada, was one of the most prominent Filipino writers during the post-war period. Along with his brother Oseo, they espoused the paper’s tenets: Fair, Fearless, Friendly, and Free: Exponent of the Wonderland of the Cordilleras and the Richness of the Ilocandia.

A reputable lawyer by profession, Hamada was even described by 1980 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for literature and National Artist F. Sionil Jose as the best Igorot writer and no other Igorot has surfaced to replace him.

His short story, “Tanabata’s Wife”, a romantic story between an Igorot woman and a Japanese farmer, was considered “the finest love story ever written by a Filipino.”

An inspiration to Cordilleran prolific writers

The Midland Courier has also inspired prolific writers from the provinces such as the late Ramon and Jose Dacawi, Cid Chammag, Gus Saboy, former Benguet Gov. Jaime Paul Panganiban, Juan Valdez, Gabriel Pawid Keith, G. Bert Floresca, Ricardo Paraan, Romeo Florendo, and DomC Cimatu, among other notable writers.

Among the prominent individuals who also became writers and photographers for the Midland Courier were former House Speaker Ramon Mitra, former Benguet Rep. Andres Cosalan, and Primitivo Mijares, author of the 1976 memoir “The Conjugal Dictatorship” that exposed the familial dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and wife Imelda.

Midland Courier’s longest serving editor-in-chief, Cecile C. Afable, was the face of credible journalism north of Manila for her unparalleled accomplishments in pursuing excellence in civic journalism.

Midland Courier – a template for regional papers

Undeniably, the success of Midland Courier gave birth to other weekly publications in the Cordillera, although many of them have ceased operation due to the advent of digital media.

An award-winning Baguio-based journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity shared that people who regularly read the Midland Courier, or any other English newspaper, can best express themselves when writing, compared to those who simply learn the meaning of the word inside the classroom.

“Writing construction is better when one is reading newspapers like the Midland Courier. One learns the proper usage of the English word in a sentence,” said the journalist.

A Hall of Famer in civic journalism excellence as conferred by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and recognized with awards by national and international award-winning bodies, the Midland Courier has also set a precedent for other Baguio-based publications to follow.

In recent years, at least three Baguio-based publications have also reaped awards and recognitions conferred by the PPI and other award-giving bodies.

High-level of English fluency

Franklin Cimatu, a multi-awarded Baguio journalist and a two-time Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards winner for Literature, has confirmed that the founders and writers of the Midland Courier were authorities in the English language.

“The founder of Baguio Midland Courier, Sinai Hamada, is one of the finest fictionists that the Philippines ever had. National Artist Gemino Abad even described him as the best fictionist of his generation,” Cimatu said.

Cecile Afable was also an accomplished fictionist.

“Both were already published as fictionists for Philippine Magazine, the literary magazine in the country in the 1930s and 1940s. They were the main writers for the Midland Courier which had demonstrated a high level of English fluency when it started to hit the newsstands,” Cimatu said.

He added that Midland Courier had also employed the best proofreaders.

“I remember lakay Potenciano and his wife, who were the former proofreaders of the main Manila newspapers, were employed by Midland Courier,” he said.

In his opinion, print media to this day is still highly respected in the Cordillera, particularly in Baguio City. 

“Radio was never quite the dominant media in the city. Remember that Baguio already had a bookstore in the 1920s, owned by the parents of Jean Edades, who was the chief grammarian of the country in the 1960s,” Cimatu shared.

Again, print is not dead

Previous studies have shown that people understand more what they read in print.

The Science News Explores reported in October 2021 that many studies have shown that when people read on-screen, they do not understand as well what they have read as compared to having read it on print. 

Patricia Alexander, a psychologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, in her research works, delved into the differences between reading in print and on-screen. Alexander says students often think they learn more from reading online. When tested, though, it turns out that they actually learned less than when reading in print.

WEEKEND HABITTo many, buying a copy of the Baguio Midland Courier will make their weekend complete. For the past 76 years, Midland has been a credible of news and information in this highland region. — Harley F. Palangchao

Why so? 

Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, who works at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that reading is not natural. She said people learn to talk by listening to those around us. It’s pretty automatic. But learning to read takes real work. Wolf notes it is because the brain has no special network of cells just for reading.

To understand text, the brain borrows networks that evolved to do other things. For example, the part that evolved to recognize faces is called into action to recognize letters. This is similar to how one might adopt a tool for some new use. 

Lecturer in English Parupali Srinivas Pao of King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia in his study on the role of newspapers and magazines to teach English in the ESL/EFL classrooms in the digital era has cited the value of the use of authentic materials in teaching English.

Pao said that to improve the language skills of the learners, modern  teachers of  English have been trying numerous techniques, methods, and approaches in order to meet the requirements of their learners.

He added the use of mass media as a teaching tool in English classrooms has increased significantly at all levels.  

“The print media plays a vital role in promoting the language skills of the ESL/EFL learners. Newspapers and magazines are the most widely used of the media and they expand the curriculum with infinite information to use as authentic materials to learn the English language,” he said.

Midland Courier staff members as trainers and lecturers

Another proof that Midland Courier is the leading English regional paper is the series of invitations from government and private agencies for its editorial staff members to be speakers or judges in journalism seminars and workshops.

For decades now, past and present editorial staff members of local papers have been making the rounds in the Cordillera to share their journalism skills to campus journalists, school paper advisers, public information officers, including ranking government officials. 

Communication student Gab Madriaga in his article entitled, “History of Journalism and the Baguio Midland Courier,” shared some interesting notes about the paper as one of the primary sources of information decades ago.

Madriaga wrote that while journalism schools and communication courses teach their students to not rely entirely on second-hand sources such as newspapers, a professor from the History department of the University of The Philippines Baguio, Mike Ang, once said that newspapers that were published 50 years ago were indeed primary sources of their time, especially in Baguio City.

Midland was not only just a chronicler, but it was also a source of history. It also became a community paper that has reached schools,” the article reads.

“Midland always used the English language as its medium when delivering news to the people, but it also had an Ilocano medium as its counterpart called the “Lowland Courier” that was based in La Union sometime in the 1970s before it ‘folded up,” Madriaga said.

Bearer of good news, truthful information

Fianza said that what makes Midland Courier and other Baguio-based publications relevant in this digital age is that these papers remain credible and reliable sources of news, current events, and other information.  “You are assured that what you are reading in the Midland Courier and some regional publications are verified information because most information posted online, especially those who are only hungry for likes and followers, are unverified information. In the true sense of journalism, ethics and accountability are paramount,” Fianza added.