THE Philippine Press Institute (PPI) is billed as “the association of Philippine newspapers” although most of its members are community publications or local newspapers, the media group they used to call the provincial press. A few “national” newspapers also actively take part in PPI.
Its two-day annual press forum is usually highlighted by talks on (a) “safeguarding and fighting for a free press” and (b) “principles and values of professional and ethical journalism.” Those are the major purposes of PPI’s existence, “its mission and mandate.”
Its 2019 assembly last July 4 and 5, which celebrated its 55th anniversary, was not much different. Its theme tells the content of discussions: “Governance, Media and Democracy: Building Better Communities.”
Except for the comment in PPI’s anniversary message about “keeping up with the evolving media landscape” and “print is not dying” and “newspapers have survived the test of time,” its program this year didn’t address, or didn’t pursue, the most formidable problem that local papers are facing: how to survive the economic crisis brought about by the shift in market conditions in this digital age.
People running PPI, more visibly executive director Ariel Sebellino, must know that in the local setting economic survival is more disturbing than threat to a free press or media workers’ lapses in ethics.
The many PPI assemblies I attended, as SunStar representative and the two terms I served as trustee for the Visayas in its board, convinced me that many members care more for press freedom and journalism values if their publication is stable enough to come out regularly and pay its bills on time. One can say that with the present crisis, many community publishers may be concerned about almost nothing else.
To PPI’s credit, in past press forums, as early as more than a decade ago, it already began discussion on dire things to come in the local newspaper business.
Talks about new technology and its influence on media consumers–news whenever and wherever the reader or listener wants it–and the need for leaner, more productive newspaper crews led to plans in some newsrooms, including SunStar (starting 2005), for convergence, multi-tasking and reinventing content.
The core issue this time is how the paper can compete as courier or medium in transmitting news, features and opinion. Plus the related, no less crucial, issues on content and display and how quality can be sustained with reduced and un-specialized staff of journalists.
In sum, it is a vast and complex problem that must first be understood in its totality before solution to each facet can succeed. Not helping is the fact that local publishers and editors must put out the paper every day or weekly even as they scramble for that solution.
PPI’s future press forums may help, in the way they are more effective: by informing, inspiring and prodding. PPI can enlighten publishers on how to navigate the current maze in local newspapering.
Preferably not just at the annual press forum but also between general assemblies, PPI may assist in collecting data on the situation in the country and finding a business model that will work in our media environment.
Community publishers are used to hard times but surviving this crisis needs more than sheer grit.