June 17, 2024

September 2009 marked a significant turn in my career and, unknowingly at the time, my personal growth. After five years of bustling through the communities of Benguet, which was my area of coverage as a field reporter of the daily paper Sunstar Baguio, capturing stories as they unfolded; I joined the Baguio Midland Courier. The transition was more than a mere change of workplace; it was a complete overhaul of my professional identity.

Field reporting was exciting – each day was unpredictable, filled with new people and lively stories. It involved chasing the pulse of the community, from breaking news to heartfelt stories. Moving to Midland thrust me into an entirely different world. Suddenly, I was confined to a desk, poring over articles, ensuring they met our publication’s standards before they could grace the pages of our Sunday edition. The adjustment was not easy. The thrill of the chase was replaced by the meticulous, often monotonous rigor of editing.

The shift from field to desk was not just about losing the adrenaline rush of reporting; it was also about adapting to a more structured and, frankly, more isolating routine. The working hours starting on Thursdays, overnight stretches on Fridays, and the final push on Saturdays tested my resilience. More than once, I found myself longing for the chaos of the field. At times, I found myself crying in the bathroom in the office asking what was I doing in front of the computers when I should be out in the field talking to people and observing proceedings.

How I realized I was called for another purpose

Just as I was grappling with these professional changes, nature unleashed its fury on the Philippines. Typhoon Ondoy hit the country barely a month after I joined Midland. The typhoon left a lot of families in the National Capital Region wading through flash floods. This was followed closely by Typhoon Pepeng, which affected the Cordillera devastatingly. The latter claimed more than 300 lives to landslides and left thousands of families displaced in Baguio, Benguet, and Mountain Province.

Since I was no longer a field reporter at the time, witnessing those calamities from the confines of home and the desk felt like a cage. I wanted to be out there, doing something more than just reading and editing texts.

But it was through those disasters that I discovered a reason for my decision to move to Midland and be one of its desk editors. Our general manager then, the late Dr. Charles M. Hamada, initiated a relief drive, initially for the victims of Typhoon Ondoy. It hit me: Midland wasn’t just about delivering news but was also engaged in mobilizing support and resources for those in dire need. I was reminded this is not the first time Midland initiated a relief drive. It did so for the survivors of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

The Typhoon Ondoy relief drive reshaped my understanding of the impact I could have through my role, even from behind the desk.

A week after announcing the relief drive for Typhoon Ondoy survivors, we had to redirect our efforts closer to home to help the families affected by Typhoon Pepeng.

The relief efforts we undertook were extensive. From collecting the donations and repacking the goods at the Midland marketing office, we collaborated with a local partner – the Benguet Electric Cooperative – to deliver aid to the hardest-hit areas. The scenes of eroded roads and families in temporary shelters were heart-breaking, making the stories we told all the more critical. During that time, social media was not yet a major means of delivering news and information and since Midland is a print medium, readers were getting glimpses of the devastation through the stories and the photographs being published. A total of P694,201; in-kind donations worth P298,150.50; and 3,836 kilos of assorted clothing were collected through the relief drive.

For various days in weeks, Midland delivered the relief items to the most affected communities in Bokod, Tublay, Itogon, and Tuba in Benguet and Tadian in Mountain Province.

I remember when we were in Sitio Labey, Ambuklao, Bokod, I found it difficult to maintain my composure upon seeing the families who hiked for kilometers to reach the relief distribution area because the road was cut and there was no way we could bring the relief items to the community. It was heart-wrenching to see the families carrying the items back to their homes. If only we could bring the goods to their doorsteps, then they wouldn’t have to endure such a hardship.

PPI HALL OF FAMER — For its consistent excellence in civic journalism, the Baguio Midland Courier has been a steady recipient of various awards from the Philippine Institute, which is the national association of newspapers in the country where it is a member. The PPI conferred the Hall of Fame award to Midland during the 2017 Civic Journalism Community Press Awards in Manila with General Manager/Publisher Gloria Hamada and Asst. Editor Jane Cadalig on hand to receive the recognition. — Ofelia Empian

The experience I had with Midland’s relief effort profoundly influenced my editorial decisions. It became apparent to me that stories of tragedy, resilience, and community support were no longer just news items; they were urgent calls to action.

This is why until now, when I became one of those in charge of choosing the articles to be published, I always give preference to stories of volunteerism and appeals for help, not only during a calamity but also those calling for benevolent individuals to extend help to their children or family members who are battling a disease. Giving their stories a space in the Midland was my simple way of helping people in need. 

This responsibility deepened with the subsequent crisis – Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the country on Nov. 8, 2013, leaving more than 6,000 dead and millions homeless in Eastern Samar.

Once again, the Midland Courier initiated a relief drive for the survivors of one of the most devastating typhoons to ever hit the country.

Once more, the response of Midland’s readers was overwhelming. The relief drive, which started on Nov. 12 and wound down on Dec. 15, 2013, pooled P565,373.51 and in-kind donations worth P236,817.60. Midland tapped a reputable partner that delivered the cash and relief items to the survivors since it could no longer deliver the same to the Visayas due to concerns about logistics.

The Typhoon Yolanda relief drive reminded me that Midland’s humanitarian efforts extend beyond its area of coverage. Although we cannot publish stories from the Yolanda-affected areas as they were no longer part of our coverage area for news, I was convinced Midland was still fulfilling a mission; and as a member of the publication, I too, was doing my part to help.

In 2018, Midland once again mounted a relief drive for the survivors of Typhoon Ompong, which gravely affected families in Itogon, Benguet.

At the time, social media became one of the channels used by groups to call for donations, and Midland, with its long-established mission of reaching out and pooling donations for those in need, used the publication to call for help.

Now under the stewardship of our general manager, Gloria Antoinette Hamada, Midland was able to raise P300,180 and P41,182 worth of in-kind donations, which were turned over to reputable partners that delivered the aid to the beneficiaries.

Pandemic and the rapidly changing media landscape

Then came March 2020, the year the world came to a halt due to the threat of a highly contagious disease, the Covid-19. Midland was not spared from the economic wrath of the pandemic but we remained committed to our mission: bring legitimate news and information to a public that has now become more confused about what information should they believe in amidst the rise of disinformation about the Covid-19.

At the same time, Midland did not forget about its humanitarian obligation and allowed its pages to be used by groups calling for donations of personal protective equipment, medicines, and medical devices to be given to doctors attending to Covid-19 patients.

We worked to provide not just news, but once again served as a platform for aid, information on health guidelines, and call for support for frontline workers. We devoted our pages to announcements about guidelines on enhanced and general community quarantine, among other reminders.

Looking back, I see that my Midland journey has been one of profound growth. From the field to the desk, through natural disasters and a pandemic, my role has evolved. But the essence of what I do remains unchanged: telling stories that matter, in whatever form they take, ensuring they reach those who need them most.

Today, as the media landscape has rapidly transformed with the digital revolution, the challenge is not just to keep up but to remain relevant. Social media platforms have risen to prominence, overtaking traditional print media as the preferred source of information for many. The transition to digital is inevitable and while it presents exciting opportunities, it also brings along a wave of challenges and uncertainties. Despite these, the core of Midland’s identity – our commitment to journalism that serves and supports the community – remains.

Midland has a long-established tradition of delivering vetted news and information to its readers. For 77 years, it has been a steadfast companion to many, providing a reliable source of knowledge and a platform for community engagement. In an age where misinformation and disinformation spread like wildfire across social media channels, the importance of credible journalism cannot be overstated. It is the cornerstone upon which informed decisions are made and communities are built.

As we navigate these changes, I trust that Midland and its readers will continue to value the integrity and purpose that have always guided us.  As we gradually transition to a more digital-centric world, I hope that our readers will continue to turn to Midland for their announcements, appeals for help, and to share their stories. While the allure of instant updates and viral content on social media platforms is undeniable, there is a unique and irreplaceable value in the depth, context, and nuance that traditional journalism offers.

At Midland, we will continue to provide our readers with comprehensive news and information that will help them come up with sensible insights and intelligent decisions.

Despite the rapidly changing media landscape, one thing remains constant: Midland’s brand of reportage that is characterized by being fair, fearless, friendly, and free. In a world that has become so chaotic and divisive, I am convinced Midland serves as a unifying force, bringing people together through shared experiences, values, and aspirations. As we embrace the digital revolution and continue to adapt and innovate to meet the evolving needs and preferences of our readers, we remain mindful of the importance of maintaining the high standards of journalism that Midland is known for. I remain hopeful that our readers will continue to stand by us, recognizing and valuing the unique contribution Midland makes to their lives and communities.