THIS seems like an unlikely blog entry on my birthday, but now is as good a time as any to touch on the issue of what makes news and how newspapers survive in today’s world crowded with all sorts of stimulus from old and new media.
When I was in a fellowship in the US with journalists from nine other countries a little over a decade ago, I couldn’t help overhear one of the fellows thinking aloud and wondering why certain people (and that most likely included me) from the lifestyle beat made it to that year’s fellowship alongside him, a serious, no nonsense political and opinion writer from India.
He was speaking to fellow hardboiled journalists in charge of covering and/or commenting on straight news stories for their respective media outfits, which also included radio and TV. He said it with a straight face as if I, a lifestyle reporter, wasn’t in the room.
Ignore, ignore, ignore
Instead of reacting, I chose to ignore it like any good Filipino who had no desire to rock the boat and cause trouble in a strange city while in the company of virtual strangers. After all, it was only the second or third week of a four-month traveling fellowship, and making enemies that early wasn’t on top of my to-do list.
Besides, the fellow probably had no intentions of insulting anyone. Everyone, including American organizers of the fellowship who deemed lifestyle journalists worthy of several coveted slots, is entitled to his opinion.
Instead, I brought the matter up to two kindred fellows much later: a lifestyle journalist like me from Mexico and a health and wellness journalist from Brazil.
The Mexican, who described herself as being afflicted with “verbal diarrhea,” lost no time weighing in on the matter. I don’t remember anymore her exact words. What I do vividly recall was her parting sentence: “…it’s because the bulk of advertising are carried by the lifestyle section, and every newspaper needs this source of revenue if it is to survive, thrive and remain independent.”
As newspapers and news magazines continue to fold or suspend their printed editions in favor of purely digital versions, my Mexican colleague’s observation couldn’t have been more spot-on.
In today’s world where companies are slashing ad budgets or spreading these budgets too thinly to cover more ground, traditional newspapers are finding it harder to stay afloat and maintain their independence.
Those who manage to survive either have deep pockets funded by filthy rich businessmen and interest groups, or are finding creative ways through marketing and corporate tie-ups. Like the Inquirer, it also helps if they have a huge circulation.
But a big circulation, per se, doesn’t bring in the money. In fact, the more units of a particular issue you sell, the more money you lose. Why is that? Since the cover price of a newspaper (P18 to P20) is not worth the actual price of the paper it’s printed on, newspapers as well as glossy magazines absorb a bulk of the cost. They make up for the shortfall through ads.
It may sound like a paradox to us, but not to businessmen whose primary goal is to make money. Lest we forget, newspapers are businesses, too.
Ad placements in newspapers may have lessened considerably over the years, but the fact remains that companies place a major bulk of their ads in such sections of the newspaper as lifestyle and business.
Besides, lifestyle—which usually includes fashion, home, food, youth, health and the arts—has a built-in readership that even the likes of respected and serious media institutions such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek and Time have acknowledged for several decades now by playing up soft news stories and features on their front pages and covers.
But as living, breathing and thinking individuals, are these issues the only issues that consume us? Are these the only issues that affect our lives and, yes, our lifestyles?
I bring this issue up after encountering a mini critique of my favorite newspaper, which I felt was unfair and utterly selective.
The guy took to task the Inquirer by describing the front page of its February 2 issue as “kababawan (shallow) unlimited.” He also asked why newspapers “wonder why circulation is down.”
He was most likely referring to the picture of a Valentine’s Day cake and its accompanying story. Well, that story happens to be a recent Inquirer Lifestyle event to mark the launch of “Inquirer Lifestyle’s Best Desserts” by Vangie Reyes-Baga, a definitive guide to the country’s sweetest and yummiest offerings.
While the guy was at it, he conveniently excluded from his snapshot the remainder of the Inquirer’s front page, including its banner story implicating former Sen. Ramon Revilla Sr. in the PDAF or pork barrel scam.
It was a “like father, like son” angle, as Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. is now finding himself in hot water for his inability to explain where his pork barrel went. The all-knowing critic, for reasons known only to him, glossed over this fact.
I’m quoting below part of my reaction on Facebook to the outright oversight the critic did just to advance his argument.
“I think that’s (referring to the book launch and accompanying front-page news story) what guys in PR and advertising call branding. What the critic conveniently forgets is the banner story just below the ‘offending’ story, and how the Inquirer set the ball rolling last year on what turned out to be the mother of all scams, which is PDAF or how our lawmakers’ misspent and/or pocketed their pork barrels.
Relevant and newsworthy
“It is the goal of every newspaper to be hard-hitting, ‘relevant,’ ‘newsworthy’ and loaded with exposes every single day of the week. As a serious reader, who doesn’t want that?
“Unless an interest group is funding it, a newspaper without ample advertising and marketing support would be lucky to last even a month. Besides, a newspaper of general interest is expected to provide something for everybody, especially on a Sunday. So, the next time we criticize, let us view the big picture first, okay?”