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Little Revolutions: 24 Years of The Philippine STAR

The Philippine STAR president and CEO Miguel Belmonte at The STAR’s press area.

MANILA, Philippines - Far from a mere registry of our daily travails, struggles and triumphs, whether quiet or resounding, The Philippine STAR has stood as a banner for truth and nation building. History has been kind to what supposedly was the twenty-third newspaper when it came out on this same day in 1986. Journalists and media stalwarts, Maximo Soliven, Betty Go-Belmonte, Art Borjal and later, Louie Beltran sought out to establish a newspaper whose aim is to tell the truth and deliver the news in its most succinct and accurate form. 

The STAR was born amidst one of the most challenging times in Philippine history. It was a time when newspapers thrived due to the long oppression of press rights during the Marcos regime. In effect, the media airwave became cluttered and increasingly volatile with rabid criticism of the state of the nation from one columnist to another. Yet, a few months after the EDSA revolution, the founders of The Philippine STAR found themselves embarking on a quest. Guided by their firm faith in God, they borrowed the motto “Truth Shall Prevail” as the newspaper’s mantra. Twenty four years later, the motto still rings true, emblazoned in its now iconic yellow and blue logo, with the rising sun (patterned after the Philippine flag) proudly shining in the background.

More than just a repository of disheartening news that paints a rather bleak portrait of the human condition, The STAR was also founded with the intention to help move the country forward after the EDSA Revolution. “I know that my mom [the paper’s founding chairman, Betty Go-Belmonte], wanted to have a paper that would be supportive of the administration of then President [Cory] Aquino,” current STAR president and CEO Miguel G. Belmonte discloses. “There were many challenges to the President at that time - people who wanted to grab power; people who were out to advance their interests. They thought that since Marcos was gone, they could serve their own selfish interests. President Cory had to meet those challenges and my mom wanted to help make her job a little easier.

“This is why we have the yellow logo. We didn’t change up to now our logo is still yellow.”

To highlight the significance of the newspaper’s launch, then President Cory Aquino, Vice President Salvador Laurel and Cardinal Sin were invited during the launching and blessing on July 26, 1986. The affair didn’t have other guests, only the STAR family and relatives.

Fittingly, the first issue of The STAR was only eight pages without any advertisements. It was straightforward news with the headline: “Wear Yellow and Die”. It was about a Cory supporter, Stephen Salcedo, who was mauled by Marcos loyalists in Luneta. The late Betty Go-Belmonte even established a fund drive to assist the victim’s family to get justice. The photographs of the incident, taken by Nick Galino, were also instrumental in apprehending the suspects.

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Such a significant event left an indelible mark in the newspaper’s history, signifying the role of the The STAR in the country’s development. The STAR would go on to participate in such other historical events and even introduce some important industry milestones in the country.

The first anniversaries of The STAR saw huge celebrations, that would cause massive traffic jams and prove naysayers wrong about the fate of the paper, which they said would only last a few months. In 1990 and 1991, the anniversary coincided with two disasters that tragically struck the nation: the killer earthquake in July 1990 and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. In both instances, The STAR family decided to forego the celebration and instead donate money to the victims as part of the STAR’s Operation Damayan, the company’s social responsibility arm that continues until now, helping scholars and other people in need (more on Operation Damayan on Section P)

The STAR was the first newspaper to go into full-color publishing with a full-color front page in August 1995. By 2001, the STAR became colored from cover to cover. The innovation dramatically increased both the advertising and circulation of the paper, offering an enormous advantage in terms of producing a more graphic and comprehensive presentation of news and information. The integration of press upgrades and computer-to-plate digital facilities in 2000 were also instrumental in delivering better services to readers and advertisers alike. The system allowed the printing of images directly to film, without the need for intermediary film. The process resulted in higher quality images and faster production time.

Early technological advancements in communication such as the internet, text messaging and e-mails were also incorporated early to further bolster the reach of the paper. In 1996, The STAR’s website (www.philstar.com) was launched to expand the global presence of The Philippine STAR. It averaged about 95,000 hits per day, and gave the online presence of a paper a head start in reaching out to the Filipino global community (more on philstar.com on Section O). Through the years The STAR has taken pride in delivering not only the most up-to-date news regarding the country’s state of affairs but also the brighter side of the news. The STAR, since its inception has made it a point to report good news in every issue, highlighting the triumphs of Filipinos and telling stories of Pinoys who have achieved astounding feats in their careers. This positive slant helped to distinguish The STAR from other papers, the way founder Betty Go-Belmonte wanted it to.

In 1996, The Philippine STAR introduced the first of its themed lifestyle sections via Young STAR, now accompanied by Y Style and Supreme. The theming of Lifestyle sections initiated by The STAR would become the precursor of the newspaper Lifestyle sections as we know them today. “I think the credit goes to our editors, in this particular case to Millet Mananquil for developing the sections ahead of everybody else,” Belmonte shares. “We realized that our future depended on the younger readers. That’s why we developed Young Star and later on, Supreme came in. We were the first to do it; we were early in the game, that’s why we can safely say that most of the young readers are reading The STAR today. The others followed suit but we had the advantage of being first. “

As part of the newspaper’s success, marketing strategies played an important role in gaining higher ground, considering that advertisements were only introduced in the paper six months after its inception.

From a mere staff of 28 and eight black-and-white pages without ads in its first issue, The STAR has significantly proved its mettle as the nation’s most trusted newspaper not only by readers but by advertisers and other partners as well.

Belmonte has the wonderful staff of The STAR to thank for the company’s constant growth. “I can say for sure that the success of the paper is because of the people who are working here. They work harder, they’re more loyal. I think because the company is like family. Most of us who work here consider the office our second home of all of us who works here. Obviously, Belmonte believes that there is strength in numbers, “We’re the biggest in terms of number of employees, which by the way is one of our missions — to provide employment and to help our country in that manner. It’s very easy to reduce our workforce and to modernize. We can afford it but we won’t do it. That’s why we enjoy the loyalty of our people.” Belmonte adds, “We may be the only major newspaper company that has no union. The relationship is healthy, there’s mutual trust and respect. There is no doubt in my mind that the contribution of every individual working in the company has put The STAR where it is now.”

Also, the newspaper has always been founded and guided by faith, as his mother Betty Go-Belmonte did during the paper’s formative years. “My mom’s style was to consult the Bible in everything that she does. It worked very well for her and all the decisions she made in her life was made doing that. Being prayerful, the Go family always relied on prayer. Mom brought that here and it continues to be embedded in the culture of The STAR. It has been 16 years since she passed away but the culture we have at The STAR today is still very much what my mom brought to the company when she was alive. We believe in the power of prayer. It’s still our habit to pray whenever we need guidance.

“I think the Lord has really helped us. I don’t think the success of The STAR would be possible without His help.”

The STAR today features a bevy of sections that cater to every interest there is. It provides a variety of news, sports, business, entertainment and lifestyle articles peppered with insightful commentaries from a gamut of columnists that add credibility to the paper.

With such increasing demand for information in this digital age, the STAR Group can only go further in its quest of responding to its readers and partners. “For one, we have to do everything within our means and our power to adapt to growing demand,” Belmonte shares. “We cannot remain stagnant. We always have to study how we can improve our paper; how we can explore other platforms to provide information; how we can continue to provide the best service not just to our readers but also to our advertisers, clients and other partners in the business.” Just as he extols the people who make up the company, Belmonte recognizes the role of the newspaper’s trusted partners. “It takes a partnership to make this kind of business exist. We also rely on newspaper dealers, the newsboys, advertisers, suppliers and of course our readers. People might not even think about it but everybody plays a part. We have to constantly think of how everyone can grow from our success because that’s the only way this business can survive and flourish,” he says.

This is why The STAR always strives to become a better newspaper. “We have to have a mindset of constant improvement: never satisfied, never complacent; always looking for what we can do to make our company a better media company.”

In the face of the advent of the new media, Belmonte could only be more optimistic about the future of The STAR.

“The newspaper as we know it is still going to be around for a long time. In the US, whose technology and capacity to buy modern technology equipment is far beyond ours, you can see that newspapers are still alive. In fact, here in Asia, newspapers are still growing in circulation and advertising. My goal is for our paper to survive at least another 20 years and for this company to go beyond that. We are thinking about our young people here and we want the company to be around for them should they want to pursue their lifelong careers here in The STAR.”

As for his plans for the company, Belmonte considers the future of The STAR family as his top priority. “It would really hurt me to find out one day that I myself, or my family, or the Belmonte family became so comfortable from the success of our company but that our people didn’t benefit from it. That for me would be a big failure, even if The STAR earns the biggest income or has the most number of readers.”

Expressing a firm commitment to The STAR’s loyal readers, Belmonte concludes, “In the years to come, The STAR will continue to be an unbiased, accurate, reliable and trustworthy source of news and information for the Filipino reading public. That would never change.”

Did You Know?

“Cory yellow” is one of the official colors of the paper. As The STAR was put up as an administration paper in the ‘80s, it was only fitting to make use of “Cory yellow” as one of the official colors of The STAR to show its support for the Aquino government.

The Philippine STAR was founded after its sister publication, Pilipino Star Ngayon. Originally known as Ang Pilipino Ngayon, Betty Go-Belmonte thought of coming up with a tabloid that would cater to society segments that aren’t being targeted by national dailies. It used to cost a mere P1 per copy. Just a short time later, The STAR was born.

The Philippine STAR didn’t have a Sunday issue before. A devout Christian, Betty Go-Belmonte believed in observing the “Lord’s day of rest” and thought of doing only six issues of the paper per week. It was only after much prodding from co-founder Max Soliven that she agreed to have a Sunday edition of the paper.

A portion of the company’s profits automatically goes to charity. Almost two years after surviving without a Sunday issue, The STAR finally published a Sunday edition on the condition that profits of the Sunday issue would go to charity. Soon after, founding chairman Betty Go-Belmonte put up Operation Damayan, the informal foundation of The STAR, run by employee volunteers of the company, which continues to undertake various outreach programs for the less fortunate.

Starweek, the Sunday magazine of The Philippine STAR, started out as the Sunday edition of the paper. Given that the paper only had 12 pages then, its Sunday edition served as a roundup of what happened during the week. The first Sunday edition of the paper was published on February 12, 1988.

The Philippine STAR Group of Companies is composed of six publications, two printing plants, and a new media subsidiary. Aside from The STAR, other publications under the STAR Group are Pilipino Star Ngayon, PM (Pang Masa) – which are both solely owned by the Belmonte family; Freeman (a newspaper in Cebu) and Banat (a Visayan tabloid); and People Asia (through Stargate Media). Meanwhile, the company also has two printing plants – one in its main office in Port Area, Manila and another in Cebu. Rounding things up is PhilSTAR Global, the new media arm of the company that is responsible for philstar.com.

The 24th anniversary issue of The Philippine STAR is the paper’s thickest issue to date. The STAR started with only eight pages but 24 years later, on its 24th anniversary, the newspaper marks another milestone with its thickest issue ever at 212 pages. 

The first colored front page of The Philippine STAR was published on August 4, 1995. The photo featured a sprawling view of the French Polynesia which at that time was a big issue due to the nuclear bomb tests being conducted by France.

The Philippine STAR was the first daily to have a tie up with a fastfood restaurant. In 2003, The Philippine STAR partnered with Jollibee Foods Corp. in a pioneering breakfast tie-up that promotes the habit of reading newspapers among Jollibee customers. The tie-up started in just one store (Jollibee Aduana), which later grew to cover the whole of Luzon. Up to this day, Jollibee patrons get to enjoy their favorite Breakfast Meals with a free copy of The STAR on the side. 

 

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