Why Toledo City, other areas outside Metro are under-reported

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Friday, May 30, 2014


JOHN Henry “Sonny” Osmeña was asked when he assumed office as Toledo City mayor last June 30 what he’d wish for.

The sort of question showbiz reporters ask of movie or TV stars, one that wouldn’t be expected of hard-nosed political journalists, but there it was.

Instead of: How do you cope with anti-Osmeña councilors who think the mayor and vice mayor are carpetbaggers in their city?

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Sonny, 79, former congressman and three-term senator, told the unusually large media assembly: “I wish you’d cover the city more often. There are many interesting things happening here.”

Apparently, the reporters -- or more precisely, their editors -- didn’t agree.

Scant interest

Since the start of his term, reporters hadn’t adequately covered, and editors hadn’t given much space to, events in Mayor Sonny’s city.

Not until the past week or so when bickering of rival politicians -- led or fueled by the Espinosa-Zambo clan he drubbed in the last election -- drove City Hall to near collapse: employees were not paid their salaries, electricity was cut off for unpaid bills and lawmakers on the other camp and Sonny’s group engaged in serial lawsuits over a budget deadlock.

Finally for a number of days now, Toledo has helped fill prime-time TV and radio newscasts and begun to occupy space in the papers.

Before the controversy, why the scant interest in areas outside Metro Cebu -- or more precisely, outside Cebu City and Cebu Capitol -- which Sonny bitched about last year?

Problem of logistics

It dates back to decades ago when Cebu media had few reporters and photographers to field in many key areas of Cebu. Aside from the problem of logistics, news editors and directors believe their audiences wouldn’t care about what happens outside Metro Cebu radius unless they’d involve a major event, say, a multiple-death road smashup, a massacre, or a cult leader’s crimes.

That radius is at times shrunk further when work force or budget is tightened, limiting regular beats to Cebu City Hall, Capitol and the police.

Other areas like the cities of Mandaue, Talisay and Lapu-Lapu are often left to stringers (correspondents) or “parachutists” who go there for only the big news.

Danao is distant land that’s noticed only when the Duranos feud or a big accident occurs.

Ditto with the new cities (Carcar, Naga and Bogo) that earned major news space and time only when they fought for dear life in the Supreme Court.

Many editors assume that their main audiences are in the Metro sphere: readers and listeners are interested largely in (a) what’s happening in Cebu City and the power enclave within the city otherwise known as the Capitol and (b) occasional interesting stories like the “butanding” (whales) in Oslob or the ambush killing of a slick lawyer and his aides in Boljoon.

Handicap

The practice, which few newspapers or broadcast stations have bothered to revise, has become a handicap to media’s task of preventing the problem before it arises or worsens.

Called by some as preventive journalism, media stories, analyses and features drum up interest and sound the alarm. Toledo’s fiscal woes could’ve been foreseen and public awareness could’ve been heightened had media reported on the problem as it rose and grew.

But then Cebu media was looking elsewhere -- taping of babies’ mouths and denials of Cebu House members on the pork barrel mess. How could’ve Toledo City and Sonny’s bickering with younger politicians have mattered?

It’s both economics and marketing: limited resources of media and selective audience interest.

No ‘OMG’ stories

There are ways though for stakeholders in areas outside Cebu media’s “comfort zone” to get attention even when no “Oh my God” story is happening in their city or town.

l Communicate with news desks by e-mail or cell phone on events and issues they think need to be publicized even when they’re not earth-shaking;

l Use social media to raise matters of interest to the public within and beyond their borders;

l Call radio talk shows and write to editors for their opinions to be heard and read.

Public scrutiny

Alert news desks monitor what’s going on in the rest of Cebu. What’s trending or interesting usually get editors’ attention.

A p.r. officer who knows how local media gathers the news can influence media coverage beyond the Metro area, through direct news advisories and tips on news and issues in websites and blogs.

But here’s the rub: a public official who doesn’t want public scrutiny wouldn’t want pervasive and intrusive media presence, would he?

[publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 31, 2014.

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