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From all indications, hard copies of newspapers would soon be a thing of the past as more newspapers — mainstream and community-based, have scaled down their operations by doing away with print editions of their newspapers amid the financial constraints brought about by the economic recession due to the global pandemic scare.

The decision to go digital is seen as an earnest effort to keep their business afloat in view of the heavy losses incurred in the last eight months. At the same time, many publishers and small-time rollers of local and community papers, have finally realized that the newspapering industry is taking an inevitable direction — digital.

Among the mainstream newspaper outfits which have scaled down on their operations are Manila-based daily broadsheets, several tabloids, and the satellite newspapers of the Sun Star group of publications.

Big Publications

Manila-based broadsheets scaled down their operations via retrenchment of editorial personnel and demoting what is left of the reportorial team to correspondents who are only given two days to work. Even tabloids, whose circulation are concentrated in Metro Manila, either closed down or shun print editions, while keeping online platforms.

The 25-year-old daily Sun Star Pampanga (SSP) scaled down their operations at the onset of the government-imposed lockdown sometime in March, while Sun Star Cagayan de Oro did the same last week of June. Interestingly, Sun Star Cagayan de Oro’s entire newsroom personnel were fired June 29, citing heavy losses.

Both Sun Star satellite newspapers, however, would keep their online editions.

Citing the same predicament, the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City likewise opted to close down a few months ago.

Small-time rollers

Small time-rollers, who are mostly into weekly local newspaper publishing, also felt the adverse economic effects. Government restrictions have taken a heavy toll on them as they could hardly secure a credit line from the paper manufacturers.

Revenues of most local weekly papers are heavily dependent on publishing ordinances, notices and advisories, and subscriptions and inability to come up with a print edition translates to zero income.

They also can’t seem to get even business advertisements as most of the businessmen are still reeling from the adverse effects of the economic slump due to government restrictions and community quarantines. To them, business is indeed very bad because they can’t seem to find any other way to at least break even.

As such, many local weekly newspapers took the cudgel to go digital citing low operational cost. It is however not sure if the government branches and agencies from where they get contracts to publish ordinances, notices, advisories, legal notices would agree on having it published or posted in the digital platform.

Regional newspaper Punto Central Luzon likewise dropped printing newspapers for the period that Pampanga is under strict lockdown, but maintained their digital editions. Punto Central Luzon, which used to come out twice a week, however resumed printing copies of their newspaper once a week. But even after resuming print editions, salaries of their employees were scaled down by half.

New Media Entities

While most newspaper publishing companies feared shelling out more amid fears of incurring bigger losses, three newbies – Metro Sun and FrontpagePh dared to do what others won’t. Metro Sun and FrontpagePh commenced operations in the thick of economic difficulties.

Metro Sun kicked off March while FrontpagePH.com commenced operations only in October. Both managed to keep their operations afloat despite limited resources. With a lean staff, mostly doing editorial and reportorial jobs “just for the passion of journalism,” these digital dailies somehow survived the “storm” that saw many others fall.

The past months saw both digital newspapers boosting readability as reflected in Google Analytics, by maintaining and actively sharing links to various social media platforms.

The strategy gave both digital papers to compete with other big publications by coming out with relevant stories written the way readers can easily understand. Interestingly, both are bi-lingual.

Top editors of the two digital newspapers have admitted that they have yet to pay our news contributors and columnists. But they continue sending materials. In a sense, they are helping sustain the digital newspaper whose management promised to pay once the business side picks up.

Ceased to Operate

In Dagupan City, only five of the 15 community newspapers managed to survive.  Among those who withstood the not-so-favorable publishing climate in Dagupan City is the Northern Star, which scaled down operations by going digital.

Quite a number of community newspapers absorbed heavy losses because they were not able to get any advertisement. These newspaper publishing companies, which have been relying on judicial notices, are into neck-deep payables corresponding to office rental, electricity, communication and salary of editorial staff, leaving them no more funds to defray the cost of continuing their operations.

Wider Reach

Digital newspapers have better chances of making it as it embarks on minimal operational cost yet reaching out more than what the printed newspapers can.

Digital newspaper publishing companies reach more readers, who need not buy a copy of a newspaper just to get updated. In Metro Manila, broadsheets are sold at least P20 per copy while tabloids are pegged at P12 per copy.

Filipinos yearning to be informed on the latest news actually get what they want — real news at real time, without spending P600 monthly to buy a copy of a newspaper everyday.

Getting the news in this digital age need not be costly especially for the Philippines where 90 percent of its population are equipped with an android phone which offers access to the internet. At any time of the day or anywhere one would please, news would be just a click away.

Cost Efficient

For those behind these digital newspapers, they need not worry on sustaining the cost of printing, production and circulation staff.

An insider hinted that most start-up publishing companies embarking on print editions are bankrolled by politicians and businessmen. Politicians usually put up newspapers for the purpose of using it as leverage for publicity and influence peddling, while businessmen are bankrolling on a less lucrative publishing industry to protect their businesses from mulcting government officials.

Politicians and businessmen behind these ventures are — with all certainty — losing no less than P500,000 a month, with no clear sight as to when it would be able to break even, to the least.

Interestingly, maintaining digital papers need not cost that much, at least for now.

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