June 14, 2024

Dr. Charles M. Hamada, Baguio Midland Courier’s late publisher and son of one of its founders, used to tell us that Midland Courier street sales were dependent on school days. He noted a steep decline in circulation copies whenever there was a school break such as in December and during summer vacations particularly on Holy Week where the production would dip to 23,000. By the time classes open, street sales and the number of pages would go up again to around 28,000 and 48 pages, respectively. I asked him about this correlation and he said among the factors would be teachers who require their students to read the Midland Courier.

We never did get to explore so much of this correlation, on who and where the buyers are coming from and why some tended not to buy on school breaks. So perhaps it is true that students and teachers composed a big chunk of the readers.

A few weeks ago, I was asked by Assistant Editor Jane Cadalig to write an article about the legacy of Midland Courier in education, I felt a little bit stumped.

To sum up the paper’s seven decades of contributions to education would mean doing historical research and finding the intersections on which this institution and education in all its levels and facets meet. But I couldn’t just comb through the Kisad Road archives just like I did in 2009 for the Baguio Day Centennial issue. Thankfully, the University of the Philippines Library houses copies of the Midland Courier from as far back as 1965.

Intersecting with education

The title for this piece came from one of the lessons in the book “The Rise and Fall of Philippine Community Newspapers” written by Dr. Crispin Maslog back in 1993. Featured in this book was the Baguio Midland Courier, the first in the list of the few successful community papers in the country.

Apart from good business and editorial content, the success of a local paper has a direct correlation to the literacy of the community where it operates. Baguio is of course known as an educational hub. Having a newspaper documenting its affairs is a necessity.

Most newspapers in the country are written in English, therefore catered to the English-speaking middle class and elite in their communities. This is the class which can afford to buy newspapers and have formed the habit of reading them, according to Maslog. Baguio is a highly literate community with functional literacy levels that outshine even the national average.

In the Midland Courier issue of May 29, 1966, Lt/Col. Juan Aguas wrote about Baguio being a “Citadel of Learning.” He wrote: “For a population of hardly 60,000, Baguio’s role as a college town would not be out of the ordinary, if this were the United States. More would this be so if we had here only one big university and only one or two other colleges.

But Baguio’s case is unique, what with three state supported institutions – the Mountain Agricultural College, the University of the Philippines Colleges Baguio, and the Philippine Military Academy – all within the angles of an imaginary triangle extending from Trinidad to Loakan. In this triangle also stands Saint Louis University.

CITADEL OF LEARNINGBaguio City in undisputedly the educational center of the north being host to some of the top of universities in the Philippines, including Philippine Military Academy, which is the premier military institution in Asia. — Harley Palangchao

Within elbowing distance from each other inside Baguio’s main business district are Baguio Colleges, Baguio Tech, and Eastern Philippine Colleges, each lending its mite in the task of nation-building, each holding high a flaming torch to push away the darkness of ignorance, greed, and intolerance.”

The names of many of these schools have changed over the decades and Midland Courier has always been there to document their successes and challenges. Midland Courier in its own way supported the schools in their task of nation-building and pushing away the darkness of ignorance, greed, and intolerance.

The education beat is one of the more underdeveloped beats when it comes to journalistic reportage. Education stories rarely make it to the front page. Yet Midland Courier has tried its best to cover stories that affect the state of literacy and education in the region. It did not limit its coverage to school openings and closings.

It covered special education schools, the fate of school athletes, Panagbenga participants, as well as advocated for teachers. It featured brilliant home-grown academics, honored champions, topnotchers, inventors, and awardees enabling the community to rejoice in their wins and take pride of their own. It sometimes helped raise funds for students in need and advocated for programs that supported literacy and the arts such as free art workshops and reading programs.

Contributions to journalistic practice and research

Like many who were born and raised here in Baguio, I grew up reading the Midland Courier. Sunday wasn’t complete if you didn’t get to read the headlines and more importantly the obituaries.

Retired journalism professor and journalist Rolly Fernandez used to comment about the importance of the Midland Courier obituaries, being the first of its kind to publish pictures of the dead in 1977, long before broadsheets started publishing them in the country. This is just one of the contributions of Midland Courier to journalistic practice.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s Midland Courier, being one of the few printing presses in town, started supporting campus journalism way before the Campus Journalism Act was passed.

It helped schools like then Baguio Tech now University of Baguio, Baguio Colleges now University of the Cordilleras, and Eastern Philippine Colleges now the Baguio Central School to publish their own campus papers which were the same size as the Midland Courier and included as an insert in its inner pages.

In return, Midland Courier has reached more readers in these schools. It was a brilliant marketing scheme.

Over the years, Midland Courier became a training ground for various writers and journalists like Steve Hamada, Peppot Ilagan, Domecio Cimatu, Joe Dacawi, Ramon Dacawi, March Fianza, Alfred Dizon, Jimmy Laking, Eliral Refuerzo, Baboo Mondoñedo, Nathan Alcantara, Dexter See, Aileen Refuerzo, Jimmy Laking, Jogin Tamayo, Liza Agoot, and countless others.

To this day, Midland Courier still caters to Journalism and Literature interns from universities and colleges in and outside of the city such as University of the Philippines, Saint Louis University, Benguet State University, as far as Mariano Marcos State University in Ilocos, Don Mariano Marcos State University in La Union, and Tarlac State University. The internship exposes these students to media life and work.

For the younger Journalism students, Midland Courier reporters and editorial staff have been tapped over the years to conduct journalism seminars. They have also acted as judges, starting at the district to the division, to the regional, and national Schools Press Conference. 

Then you have Midland Courier as part of academic study. Apart from Maslog’s study, dozens of theses have also been done on Midland Courier.

In UP Baguio alone, more than 20 undergraduate and graduate theses have used Midland Courier in their data. Then you have international researchers coming to visit Midland Courier to do research.

One came to the Kisad office before asking to be accommodated so she could study what she referred to as “the longest running community paper in South East Asia.” A communication study on Baguio would not be complete without Midland Courier in it. 

Among our columnists, we had Dr. Morr Pungayan, who was also an educator and created his own language institute. For decades, he took pains to teach the variance in language, oddities in words and other cultural topics in his beloved column “Ethnos Ibaloi”.

Calls for writers

Former assistant publisher Fiedes Doctor came up with the idea of a free column to help cultivate the craft of writing for budding writers in the community. So, the “Speaking Out” and “Animated Me” columns were born.

Every week, Midland Courier gets its fair share of essay contributions. From retired educators like the late Clarita Sumahit and Recolectica Agamata, young professionals like Scott Saboy, high school students like Ian Layugan. I remember when Ian, now a brilliant academic based in Japan, told me how as a kid he forced his mom to accompany him to the Kisad office so he could submit his first essay, the heartbreak he felt when this wasn’t published, and the fulfillment that enveloped him when his subsequent works finally saw print.

Midland Courier also issued other invitations for special issues in the past: one for editorial cartoons, and another for essay writing about Baguio. Teachers used these contests as assignments for their students so we received a deluge of submissions.

One of these articles written by Trisha Joi Esperanza which Midland Courier published even won the Unicef-PPI Outstanding Child Writer of the Year in 2006 and bagged for the paper the Unicef-PPI Child-Friendly Paper Award for two years in a row.

The annual anniversary and Baguio Day supplements of the paper are also avenues which enable writers, young and old, student or professional to share their stories.

In 77 years of publication, Midland Courier has helped raise generations of writers who have continued the practice of journalism or gone on to practice other professions. It has helped raise and educate generations of children and build a sense of the Baguio community for them. Just as it has helped raise me, from an avid Midland Courier reader since childhood to a Midland Courier-trained media practitioner and now a Journalism educator and researcher.