The current state of local news

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

As part of the celebration of National Press Freedom Day last Aug. 30, 2023, there was a forum on “The State of Local News” in the MBF Press Center in Lahug. It was attended by reporters, journalists, and media persons from all media in Cebu including government media outlets. Journalism students from some universities, particularly from UP-Cebu and Cebu Normal University were also in attendance to ensure input from young journalists. The objective of the forum was to get a glimpse of how media coverage of local news have changed with the IT technologies, and its impact on reporters, journalists, news sources and the readers. I attended the forum as trustee of the Cebu Citizens Press Council and as a columnist of The FREEMAN.

A presentation of an initial study of local news coverage was shown over a 30-day period and it had police/crime stories getting more than 50% of the news coverage. Political news came next, then social and cultural news, and religious and others. While significant events like the Sinulog, elections, or sporting events will shift the distribution depending on the timing of the surveys, it was the consensus that police/crime stories are dominant due to public interest on sensations and the easy availability of the sources of information. In terms of media outlet, The FREEMAN topped the coverage followed by the other local newspapers, (print and online), and radio/local TV news.

In the discussion, it was suggested that a similar study should be made on the news that is coming out of social media, and to compare it with the distribution in main media. A Journalism professor pointed out that most young people now really get their news from Tiktok, Instagram, Messenger, Facebook, and other social media sites, which may not be the most reliable sources of news. They prefer short news bursts which could be due to short attention span or instant gratification.

Among the suggestions to improve the state of local news are the enhancement of the online presence/edition of the local newspapers and providing the context of the local news. News in the social media are just stories of an event without the background information and the consequences, so it is for the main media to provide the context and details, within the same 24 hours. While social media may be ahead in any “breaking news”, only a seasoned reporter can get the context/meat of the news.

The political environment is also still a problem in local news coverage. It has improved since the repressive and hostile attitude of the Duterte government against the legitimate press, but there are still an atmosphere of smug non-cooperation with the press in many government offices. Even the PIO’s of government offices, with their numbers and high salaries, do not have the obligation to answer queries from reporters. The Freedom of Information law is blocked by administrative requirements to control the narrative and they have government propaganda take the lead stories. There are also still a lingering and hopefully diminishing climate of fear on the local and national media as paid “trolls” and some police/military pressure are still at play.

The financial condition of local newspapers and other media was also discussed in view of the diminishing number of pages in the local newspapers. Circulation and advertising revenues are declining and staffing are also decreasing, with less reporters and editors. There is also competition with social media in advertising as it is also a function of circulation and exposure. The business model of newspapers are undergoing an evaluation/evolution to stay in the game and it will take the media people and the reading public to cooperate and coordinate to succeed. The media people have to take a stand for a professional and ethical news coverage, and the people have to be weaned from propaganda and fake news in a democratic society like the Philippines.


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