April 17, 2024

The past decade saw the closure of at least four community newspapers in Baguio City, including one of the affiliates or networks of one of the biggest publications in the country today. 

Access to the Internet and the revolution of the digital and social media as a primary source of news and current events plus a wide range of entertainment dealt a telling blow on the operation of traditional media, especially on print – both local and broadsheets.

The Covid-19 pandemic has even made social media and other digital platforms more significant to people from all walks of life, owing to the ease of access to information, both verified and unverified.

At the height of the pandemic, Sun Star Baguio, one of the reliable sources of news, information, and current events in Baguio and its neighboring areas, closed its operation on May 3, 2022 after serving the public for 26 years as the only daily community paper in Northern Luzon. Around 16 regular employees were left jobless.

LOYAL READERS — The Baguio Midland Courier is grateful to its countless readers who always ensure they get the latest edition of the paper that comes out every weekend. It has been a common sight to see copies of the paper being sold within the compounds of various churches in the city and neighboring areas. — Harley Palangchao

A month after, another network, Sun Star Pampanga, went digital while other community papers that were barely surviving on judicial or legal notices as a primary source of revenue, either closed or reduced their circulation.

It was a dim situation even in first-world countries. In the United States, for instance, more than 360 newspapers shut down even before the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times report in June 2020.

Surviving tough times

At the height of the pandemic, when almost all local publications had temporarily stopped their print edition while broadsheets were inaccessible due to travel restrictions, the Baguio Midland Courier sustained its print edition while making its online presence felt during one of the most challenging times in the history of mankind.

The Midland Courier did not miss on running even a single issue during the pandemic in order to live up to one of its primary functions, which was to inform the public by printing for free the crucial public advisories from the Department of Health and other agencies that were in the frontline of battling the virus.

This feat of milling out its weekly issues against all odds necessitated by the pandemic puts the Midland Courier in the pages of journalism history, not just in Northern Luzon but also in other parts of the country. This is due to the starkness against the reality that almost every other community paper stopped its print publication and went online as revenue from advertisements, sales, and legal notices dropped tremendously, making most newspapers hardly surviving or forced to close down. 

It’s not to say that the Midland Courier had smooth sailing that enabled its continuous operation. Just like other leading papers in other parts of the world, it also saw a drastic decline in circulation and ads during the pandemic, as its loyal advertisers were also highly impacted when the world stood still, so to speak. 

But the decline in circulation and ads placement did not discourage both the editorial board and management of the Midland Courier from performing its role as the unofficial print chronicler of Baguio and its environment, the role it painstakingly performed since its inception in April 1947.

MILLION VIEWS — News, current events, and other information that are of public interest posted on the official Facebook account of the Midland Courier received high post impressions, reach, and engagement without spending an amount to boost its post. Here, the post on 2022 Bar top 20 Kyle Terense Amilao Viloria of Arellano University and Cervantes, Ilocos Sur has reached 2.8 million post engagement and still counting.

The Midland Courier has a long history of surviving the most challenging periods in more than seven decades, becoming one of the most enduring publications not only in the Philippines, but also in Southeast Asia.

Surviving the digital age

In more than a decade, new media has revolutionized the spread of news and information to people from all walks of life. News is even more rapidly delivered through digital media platforms with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as the most popular venues.

Online and electronic avenues have broken the barriers of space and time. Major publications and news networks and anyone with a smartphone or Internet access for that matter carry the news online in the same timeline through photos and videos of events happening in their communities.

With digital media, everybody can claim to be a citizen journalist, an analyst, and even a publisher, as claimed by an African editor in his paper about the “Survival of the Print Media in the Digital Age.”

The author, Victor Ifijeh, is also managing director and editor-in-chief of The Nation newspaper in Nigeria. He said, “The digital revolution strikes at the core of the print business. While what basically constitutes journalism hasn’t changed over the centuries and may not change for years to come, how it is practiced is undergoing massive changes brought about by digital revolution.”

“Few years ago, proprietors of evening papers were smiling to the bank. The papers were first with breaking stories. The daily publications were uncomfortable but could not respond. The new media came and displaced the evening publications. Now, the new media are in fierce contest with morning publications,” he added.

Social media presence

While the Midland Courier has maintained its presence in the community even during the height of the pandemic, it saw the need to make its presence felt on social media, as its countless readers, advertisers, supporters and patrons were locked down in their homes.

From its 64,000 followers in its official Facebook account, the Midland Courier gained over 30,000 additional followers between April 2020 and the late quarter of 2022, a modest feat for a publication that posts breaking news, photographs, and other relevant information, mostly generated by its editorial board. 

When materials are generated mostly by its editorial board, it means that the Midland Courier ensures accountability and integrity of the information dispatched to its followers in social media, as well as to its thousands of visitors in its official website: www.baguiomidlandcourier.com.ph.

Many social media accounts with higher numbers of followers do not generate their own contents, but have developed the habit of sharing posts of others. Whether these are verified or unverified, it does not matter to them.

Other local publications, including government information offices, have gone online to boost their presence, especially on Facebook and Twitter, which also saw the meteoric rise of their followers in the past two years.

Today, most government information offices break the news in their own social media accounts without dispatching similar information to the mainstream or traditional media. 

Accuracy and credibility

The Midland Courier along with other regional publications remain relevant and have kept their credibility as reliable sources of news, current events, and other information, even with the soaring popularity of the digital media.

Regional print publications likewise remain a relevant component of advertising while it is the preferred medium for legal and other judicial notices requiring publication for the information of the general public.

In the 75th anniversary issue of the Midland Courier in April 2022, the editorial board had detailed the paper’s relevance to the public in this highland region over the past decades as a media entity known for its accurate and credible reportage. One of the most meaningful recognitions conferred to the Midland Courier was the “Baguio Builders” award when the city government of Baguio, on the occasion of its centennial anniversary on Sept. 1, 2009, recognized the 100 institutions with great contributions to the growth of the city and improved the lives of its people.

The Midland Courier has also been mapped as an institutional heritage in Baguio City for its historical, social, socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-cultural significance, which is outlined in this report.

A newspaper with a heart and an English teacher

Mobilizing help and reaching out to those in need have long been engraved in the Midland Courier’s DNA as evidenced by the relief drives the paper has initiated during trying times and the various calls for help it published over the years. 

The past decades saw the paper having raised millions for the countless victims of natural disasters, ranging from typhoons, landslides, and flashfloods that hit the Cordillera and the rest of the country.

The Midland Courier also does not deprive young individuals who call for financial aid to support them in representing the country or the region in competitions held abroad.

As an exponent of the wonderland of the Cordillera, the Midland Courier has been chronicling the continuing struggle of the ethno-linguistic groups in the region for self-determination and full recognition of their rights over their ancestral domains. 

The Midland Courier’s reportage on the rich culture and tradition of the people of the Cordillera and migrants who now call the region their home can be traced to one of the pioneer founders of the paper, Yoshio “Oseo” Hamada, who carried the early cross-cultural legacy of this city.

Readers grab hold of the Midland Courier, especially on weekends, to be informed of the latest news in the Cordillera covering health, education, peace and order, and socio-economic issues to include public infrastructure, agriculture, and mining issues, among others.

The paper, as veteran journalists put it, continues with its role of being an English language teacher to its readers. Readers outside of the region would always remark how good the English of Cordillerans are and perhaps we’ve got the Midland Courier to thank for that. We just hope it will stay that way for the next generations to come as the paper forges on. 

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, who has done many researches, 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.

So, why? 

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. 

Print media is not dead, it’s evolving

Several, or many surveys on traditional media, have been consistent in their results that there is a noted decline in viewership and readership across traditional media, especially newspapers. The Midland Courier, along with other Baguio-based newspapers, is still alive and continues to be patronized by their respective readers, advertisers, and supporters.

The decline of advertisers is not limited to print alone, as television and radio have also suffered fewer advertisers resulting in decline in revenues among traditional media entities, not only in Baguio but also in other parts of the globe. The decline in revenue has its price – seeing some media entities cutting their regular working days while others were offered optional early retirement benefits.

ONLINE AND SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE — The pandemic saw a tremendous increase in the number of followers of the official Facebook account of the Baguio Midland Courier, which now has more than 120,000 followers. The paper also improved its official website, www.baguiomidlandcourier.com.ph by making it more interactive and browser-friendly.

But the decline in advertisers and readership does not connote a decline in public trust towards print media, as regional publications such as the Midland Courier remain among the trustworthy sources of news and information. 

But why should prospective advertisers need to consider print media to promote their products and services?

Placing ads in print media is a good choice, as print media has a higher frequency of viewing than online ads, which are displayed in a specific date and time. Print ads can last long, as newspapers or magazines can be displayed at home or at workplaces for a longer period of time.

People also have the tendency to read printed materials in a longer span of time compared to a time spent by people to read a long article online, as the new media has lessened people’s attention span.

Each print media such as the Midland Courier has its own niche in the market, giving advertisers more reason to target their exact audience. This also means that advertisers can tailor their ad placements to suit their budget and target audience.

Prospective advertisers can likewise have control over the appearance of their ad placements in print media such as the lay-out or design, including font type and size, while digital media gives the advertisers lesser opportunity to control some aspects of the ad presentation because some ads displayed on websites are also subject to browser configurations.

Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor Stephen Emrich reported in June 2022 that print media could be the most powerful branding tool that companies are missing while some business owners are dismissing print media as obsolete and unnecessary.

He said that according to Scientific American, the human brain will remember words on a physical paper much better than it would remember words displayed on dynamic screens. 

He added that print media builds brand credibility, as it is widely considered to be more credible than digital media. 

“People who subscribe to magazines and newspapers do so for a reason – they believe the information contained in the publication is accurate, credible, and provides them with some benefit. Advertising in these mediums increases your brand’s public perception, because they associate your brand’s name with the publication’s name,” Emrich wrote.

He further reported that people online do all they can to avoid ads while others have ad blocker plug-ins installed in their gadgets. “Digital ads are avoided at all costs, most digital ads are never even looked at, and when given the option, users close or skip the ad as fast as possible,” he said.

Even Trade and Industry Sec. Ramon M. Lopez has claimed that despite the rise in digital marketing, the role of the print industry is still an important method of advertising and is considered by many as more credible, informative, and long lasting.

“While print may have diminished in value in the present digital era and the rise of digital marketing, printing is still seen as an important method of advertising, given how people still like and respect newspapers and magazines. Many people consider print advertisements to be credible, informative, and long lasting,” said Lopez at the virtual signing of the memorandum of understanding on the utilization of DIGIFAB SSF between the Board of Investments, Philippine Trade Training Center and Philippine Center for Print Excellence Foundation (PCPEF) in 2021.

Midland Courier soars high at 76

As a Hall of Famer in civic journalism excellence, the Midland Courier also continues to play a critical role in defending democracy in the local front while it also empowers citizens to fight for what is right through its reports in its print and online editions.

Despite the great challenges faced by newspapers around the world in this time of social media revolution, the Midland Courier renews its commitment to continuously perform its role as a fair, friendly, free yet fearless publication; the same vow it proclaimed in its maiden issue in 1947.