Media as a business is not spared from the economic backlash of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On May 3, the editorial staff of Sun.Star Baguio announced that it is permanently stopping operations, 26 years after publication of its maiden issue in 1995.
The announcement was made just as members of the Fourth Estate are celebrating the World Press Freedom Day.
Sun.Star Baguio publisher Reinaldo Bautista Jr. said the decision to stop operations was reached when the paper was no longer making enough revenue to sustain its operation.
Bautista said stopping operations was not an abrupt decision. He said the “test time” was during the presidential campaign in 2016 when he expected that the paper could earn enough from political ads. But he said news or interest in Baguio waned, which affected not just street sales but also the advertising.
He added that with the speed of information accessed through social media, publishing has become less relevant. He said he decided to continue publishing but the lockdown imposed since March 2020 due to the pandemic has aggravated the already volatile situation not just of Sun.Star Baguio but of news publishing in general.
“The pandemic caused so many problems for community papers, much more a daily,” Bautista said.
From March to July 2020, Sun.Star Baguio ceased operations due to the lockdown but it continually updated its social media page and website.
The paper has resumed publishing printed copies on July 2020 but on a weekly basis only then started to print daily from October to November but operational costs were still high so management reverted to printing a weekly edition in December 2020.
Bautista said an attempt to slowly return to normal has not been achieved. The last printed edition of the paper was its Dec. 30 to Jan. 3, 2021 issue. It ceased operating after that. On May 3, its 16 employees were told that the company will be shutting down.
“The life of a paper is not from its stories but through advertising. Newspaper sales or awards or headlines cannot pay for salaries. Not to mention competition,” Bautista said.
He said there was an attempt to salvage the company by going purely online but the costs were also high.
Sun.Star Baguio, formerly Sun.Star Daily Vibrations was established in 1995 with businessman Ofie Dimalanta as manager and the late Gerry Evangelista as its first editor.
Former Department of Transportation and Communication secretary Jesus Garcia under then President Fidel Ramos is a part owner of the paper. Sun.Star Baguio is the first affiliate of the Garcia-owned Sun.Star network of community papers based in Cebu City. In 1997, after Garcia acquired full ownership of the paper, it was renamed Sun.Star Baguio.
In 2009, Bautista’s father, Reynaldo Sr., a known businessman and educator in Baguio, partnered with the Garcias and acquired 40 percent shares of the company. He initially managed Sun.Star Baguio but later let his eldest child, Reinaldo Jr. and recently, his youngest Jen, manage the company.
Sun.Star Baguio is a pioneer in many aspects. Apart from the only surviving daily in northern Luzon, it pioneered in multimedia platforms in news delivery beginning with its website, then social media pages through Facebook and Twitter, and TV format through a weekly news show called Newsbits.
Sun.Star is also a known training ground of journalists who have now established their careers in media, such as former Baguio Midland Courier senior reporter and columnist Jimmy Laking, Courier Editor-in-Chief Harley Palangchao, Courier Asst. Editor Jane Cadalig, Courier cartoonist Jogin Rey Tamayo, Philippine Daily Inquirer Chief Correspondent Vincent Cabreza, Philippine Star photojournalist Andy Zapata Jr., and former Sun.Star Baguio editor now The Visayan Daily Star desk editor Cheryl Cruz. – Rimaliza A. Opiña