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Beginnings of Cebu Media Professionalism


AT this writing, the Public Information Agency has listed 16 AM stations in operation in Cebu City, and 23 FM stations. Some of the FM stations tried to balance their serious and popular music programs with news and public affairs items, specially significant breaking news, that they broadcast in between programs. Hence, while FMs' program emphasis is on serious and popular music, they try to compromise with the taste of some of their listeners for current events and public affairs through the insertion of newsbreaks.

The broadcast industry in Cebu has practically ballooned to phenomenal proportions since the day radio first came to Cebu City in 1939. The first station to operate then was the KzRC, which later became the DyRC. Its first manager was Harry Fenton who initiated the first ever most popular "amateur hour" program. Being the only radio station outside Manila then, it was called "The Voice of Cebu". Fenton became a household byword as amateur hour anchor when the war broke out, projecting a jolly person, which did a 360-degree change when he became leader of the Cebu guerrilla movement.

Unfortunately, Fenton got embroiled in a power struggle with another group headed by another American, a Colonel Cushing. The conflict came to a head when Fenton ordered the execution of some original guerrilla leaders. In the ensuing power struggle, Fenton lost control of his group. I cannot quite recall now what really happened, but it resulted in the execution of Harry Fenton himself, and the ascent of Cushing to the joint top leadership of the guerrilla movement with Cebuano officials until the end of the war.

In August 1947, the KzRC was revived under the management of the Cebu Broadcasting Company, actually becoming the first postwar commercial station outside of the national capital. When the government required in 1949 that the radio stations in the country should carry henceforth the "Dy" in its name, it became DyRC. The following year, in 1950, the Philippine Broadcasting Corporation opened DyBU as a competitor to DyRC.

The friendly competition went on until September, 1972 when DyRC came to an abrupt end. It was ordered to cease operation at the onset of martial rule. When it reopened in January, 1975, the two pioneering Cebu radio stations had fallen under one ownership: the Elizaldes. And it remained so until August, 1999 when DyRC permanently stopped operation after 60 years in the air due reportedly to heavy losses.

The Cebu dailies, on the other hand, fought their way to survival through sheer courage and determination. And because the staff members in the meantime agreed to work with only the assurance that they could get cash advances when ad payment could be collected. Professionalism in the print media did not begin until the decade of the '80s. In a sense, until Sun Star Daily's entry in the print media industry, it was largely a touch-and-go affair where the paper's next issue would depend on the goodwill of the printer.

It would be fair to say that the entry of SSD on November 25, 1982 in the Cebu media industry, was also the effective date when professionalism among media practitioners received a real push and moved forward in earnest. For it was then when the friendly competition among the four Cebu dailies blossomed into a strong demand for truly good and effective photo journalists, reporters, copy editors, proof readers and feature writers. To attract them to join the staff, the editor must have a package of enticement.

Competing for better and talented staff, the management of the publication was forced either to increase salary levels, generate a truly wholesome work place environment, and create a respectable public image for the publication. To do this, the management had to put in more investment. Up to that point, the Cebu media was used to operating on a shoestring budget. But with the entry of SSD in the game field, the other publications were forced to improve themselves, agitate the owners/investors to close their eyes and go for additional investment to make the whole organization feasible.

The post martial law publications did retain, more or less, the format and content that they got used to during those years. While they gave priority to public and private news events in the front and back pages of the paper, they maintained sections designed to draw public interest, such as classified ads that give information on job openings, cars and real estate marketing opportunities, information on miscellaneous services. In addition the dailies also had the opinion page that featured freewheeling columns, and the entertainment and lifestyle that used to be the society page of pre-martial law dailies.

The dailies appear to have generated a good mix with their content since they are able to get a growing number of readers. The entertainment and lifestyle section cater to the community's social elite and the crowd of young professionals and college and high school age youth. The content mix may have proven successful for the print medium appear to be at home with the kind of content balance the publications achieved.

At this point of the post-martial rule period, the Cebu dailies numbered four, a carry over from the pre-martial law years of the '60s. The dailies that proved tenacious in the effort to survive amidst the harsh economic realities of the environment were the The Republic News, the Morning Times, The Cebu Advocate, and the Freeman. A fifth one joined the group towards the latter part of martial rule. The Sun star Daily began publication on November 25, 1982. Its emergence in Cebu that time, on hindsight, seemed providential.

The Sun Star begun with the "migration" of some key editorial personnel from The Freeman, including its editor, lawyer Pacheco Seares, to form the new daily's initial staff.

The Sun Star had an auspicious beginning then, but in the same breath, it left the Freeman editorially crippled for a while until the remnant of its staff was able to undertake immediate fire control, and continued publication without interruption. The coup undertaken by the Sun Star succeeded because the new publication offered better pay to its workers, as well as benefits. It also initiated the practice of "pirating" the better workers from other publications through offers of better salaries and benefits. It also opened a friendly competition among the media workers for better performance.

The entry of Sun Star in Cebu City's media game field set the stage for a new phase in the industry's growth. It stirred public interest in the local media, inducing a resurgent sense of trust and confidence in a resulting mix of old experienced and new crop of practitioners. The latter not only infusing public assurance of learned competence from the city's mass communications schools, but also generating a sense of dependability and professionalism. The new media environment gained for the practitioner the people's trust.

The return to so-called democratic normalcy did not in anyway alter the pattern of life in the city, much more so in the media community where life among many of the practitioners practically continued to be a touch-and-go affair. The end of martial rule did not in any way change their lives either for the better or for worse. The economy of the city remained as it was with the rest of the country. Yet, it could be taken as a truism in the media industry that whatever is the state of the economy in the environment of a publication so could be the possible financial health of the media enterprise.

It was thus rather awkward to admit that at this stage in its history, the Cebu City business community, while long showing a robust economic health, was just starting to flex its economic muscle in support of the community press. As if suddenly realizing the importance of print media in its life, the local business community begun to advertise, many of them no longer needing ad solicitors to urge or entice them to do so. Many just went on their own to the publications' advertising offices to place an ad as walk-ins.

And so, growth came to the print media industry in Cebu. It began, not only to survive on its own steam, but also to be more profitable. As a consequence, a healthy business competition ensued among them. With profitability came salary standardization, human resource development, and increased fringe benefits. Until then, for instance, allowances for transportation and per diem while on assignment in the field, was unheard of.

While columnists in Manila dailies were regularly paid, it was a "labor of love" in Cebu, or on cash advance basis for certain columnists. But things started to change in the mid-'80s. The city's civic community developed a new respect for the media practitioners. And the Catholic Church initiated the Cebu Archdiocese Mass Media Awards (CAMMA) in 1990, giving the imprint of professionalism on the journalism practice in Cebu. It was a propitious beginning for the Cebu media in the decade of the '90s.