May 21, 2024

“What’s for dinner?” That was the most important question of the night for me.

The answer was equally life-changing. Pork chops, menudo, adobo, sinigang, beef maharlika, sweet and sour fish, thanks to manang Adela Garas, our hardworking chef. I was solo-living in my mid-20s back then and wasn’t a good cook so I anticipated the dinners on Fridays. They were the highlight of my week. I gained a few pounds and inches in my midsection as a result.

The next important question was, “Are you done?” or “Is it done?” This query, posed by our production assistant, was very crucial.

As the person in charge of production, he wanted to make sure the newspaper was delivered on time. If we were really pressed for time (pun intended), the question eventually came from Baguio Midland Courier General Manager, Dr. Charles Hamada. When it was Sir Charly who asked, the newsroom would become thick with tension as we hastened our work while still striving for accuracy. 

When it comes to copy, the key is consistency, Sir Charly hammered. I carried that principle long after I left the newspaper and ventured into other cities and countries.

Friday night live

“Press night” started on Friday afternoon, when most of press releases from the city council, city Public Information Office, and various offices and organizations were submitted. Editorial Assistant Cristopher Hamada inputted and performed basic editing and proofreading on all submissions. At that time, email submissions were still new, with most being physical printouts.

The final editing process was a collaborative effort between Kathleen Okubo, assistant to the fearless editor-in-chief Cecile Afable, and myself, assistant publisher. As the newspaper expanded in size, we enlisted journalism interns from the University of the Philippines and hired additional desk editors such as Kat Acupanda and Leia Castro-Margate, who eventually took over my role.

By early evening, the newsroom on 16 Kisad Road bustled with more energy.

The editorial board composed of Jimmy Laking, Dexter See, and Liza Agoot, along with photojournalist Harley Palangchao and sports writer/cartoonist Jogin Tamayo filled the room as they diligently worked on their stories.

It was the culmination of their weeklong hard work of covering the beat, gathering information, and conducting interviews. They worked late into the night, sometimes even into the early hours of the morning. In the event of breaking news, they wrote their stories on Saturday mornings, with spare time dedicated to editing.

All news stories were forwarded to the editorial staff for editing according to the Midland Courier’s standards. Some were more straightforward to edit than others. If needed, we sought clarification from the writer. My guiding principle was: if I didn’t understand it, others likely wouldn’t either.

We did not have the luxury of Grammarly to assist with grammar or syntax 24 years ago.

We relied heavily on the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage for guidance. If we did not know where to put a double quotation mark – is it before or after the period? – we would pick up the book and consult. We eventually developed a style guide specific to the Midland Courier which was handed over to succeeding desk editors.

After passing our meticulous eye, graphic designers arranged everything out in column format for further proofreading before it was deemed ready for the stripping room. The strippers’ primary task involved meticulously cutting and arranging each title, column, and photograph onto a white sheet that mirrored the size of the final printed paper. They were responsible in making all elements fit together, much like assembling a puzzle.

Following layout, each page underwent another round of proofreading by the desk editors. If a story exceeded its allotted length, the last paragraph could be trimmed and discarded, thanks to the inverted triangle news writing style.

On the other hand, if a story fell short, we revisited and rewrote certain sections. Throughout its development, I can say a news story or article underwent editing or proofreading at least 10 times by more than one person. It was important to not have any typographical errors.

In between our demanding duties, we shared meals, snacks, and stories – even a basketball game with Sir Charly sometimes. These precious breaks provided not only nourishment for our bodies but opportunities to nourish our relationships, camaraderie, and teamwork. It fostered a sense of unity and much needed moments of levity, and forged bonds that extended beyond the confines of the Midland Courier. Many of us are still friends to this day because of this.

The Midland Courier’s transformation

The weekly press night was just one aspect. Alongside our usual duties, we implemented changes that transformed the Midland Courier. I am honored to have witnessed it during my brief six-year tenure. Let me count the ways (not necessarily in order).

We brought in fresh content. A variety of respected members of the community wrote for the Midland Courier, such as Andres Cosalan, Benny Carantes, Dr. Charles Cheng, Pablito Sanidad Sr., Guillermo Bandonill, Morr Pungayan, Patrick Rillorta, Virginia De Guia, Stella De Guia, Baboo Mondoñedo, Gaby Keith, Jimmy Laking, and Jogin Tamayo, etc. but we did not have young writers.

So, we introduced “Speaking Out” to give voice to the Cordillera youth. Submissions poured in. When we started receiving light-hearted essays and essays from older people, “Animated Me” was born.

One unforgettable contributor was Clarita Sumahit who shared her life’s journey with Midland Courier readers over the years. She was diagnosed with cancer and was given only six months to live. She beat the odds and lived five more years (if I remember correctly). Her secret was fermented vegetables, she told me once. She was a sweet lady.

We made it more cohesive. The news stories had been consistently categorized by type – opinion, city, regional or sports – yet lacked clear identifying markers.

So, we established sections and named them: The City, Opinion, Business, The Environment, The Region, Culture and Arts, and Sports. We also upgraded author photos/headshots from small, low resolution mugshots to the larger high-resolution portraits with enhanced graphic design that we still use today.

We modernized the front page. Initially, only the Baguio Midland Courier logo featured color, and the layout followed a strict eight-column design. We revitalized the front page with a larger, colorful cover photo and a flexible layout featuring various column widths. The trademark yellow cartoon box by resident artist Jogin Tamayo adjusted accordingly.

We made our workflow more efficient. The conventional cut-and-paste method by our strippers gave way to the more efficient software computer program in the hands of our graphic designers. They did all the layout on their computers – news, ads, and jump pages – cutting production time in half. And instead of printing paper copies for editing and proofreading every single story, desk editors edited directly on the computer to save time and paper.

We were presented with a wider variety of food options. As previously mentioned, I enjoyed the dinner menu, but it wasn’t initially as diverse as that. Dinner was almost always pork chops in the beginning. However, over time, we were given the opportunity to request our preferred dishes. We were happy and satisfied.

These changes brought some accolades for the Midland Courier

In 2005, the Philippine Press Institute and Konrad Adenauer Foundation declared the Midland Courier as the Best Edited Weekly Newspaper and the Best in Photojournalism among all local papers in the country. In 2006, we were awarded Most Child-Friendly Community Paper by Unicef and Best in Business and Economics Reporting by PPI. We received the Best Editorial Page award in 2002.

The most significant indicator of the Midland Courier’s success was when the publication expanded from its original 24 pages in 2000 to producing over 40 pages in 2004, reaching a circulation of over 25,000. By 2005, the anniversary issue had grown to 66 pages.

What came next?

In 2007, a year after I left, the Baguio Midland Courier website was launched in commemoration of the 60th founding anniversary. It was the beginning of the digital age for the Midland Courier. An official Facebook account followed suit. Now, in addition to counting circulation numbers, they are counting hits, likes, follows, and shares.

Other awards also came later such as Best in Business and Economic Reporting, Best in Cultural and Historical Reporting, Best in Climate Change and Biodiversity Reporting, and Best in Science and Environment Reporting. Lastly, I’m certain the press nights have also undergone significant changes compared to two decades ago. The weekly menu might have been, too, but as long as it satisfies the palate, that is one challenge conquered for the night.