(Editor’s note: This is an editorial written by Eileen G. Mangubat, publisher and acting editor in chief of Cebu Daily News, on the occasion of the newspaper’s celebration of its 15th anniversary on Friday, February 8, 2013)
Cebu Daily News turns 15 years old today, stretching its wings farther to explore the challenges of a digital world.
Staff members, journalists and executives of “the only independent newspaper” in Cebu led by its president Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez will gather today in the CDN building in Cebu City to celebrate with a call to action as its anniversary theme: Engage. Empower.
In the past year alone, the paper revved up efforts to serve a wider online audience, including young professionals and Cebuanos too busy to grab a print edition in the morning.
The appeal of a hyperlocal, community paper translates well for readers beyond the borders of Cebu who want to know what’s going on in the fastest-growing, oldest, biggest vote-rich island province in the country.
After Oct. 21, 2012 was set as the date for elevating a new Philippine saint, CDN launched the micro-site “Viva Pedro Calungsod” to assemble key articles and photos of the paper’s running coverage of Cebu’s preparations for the canonization of the teenage martyr.
In print and online, a wealth of stories emerged.
CDN reported how local tour agencies, who expected 500 pilgrims to go to Rome, were overwhelmed handling 3,000, the largest wave of travelers for a single event for tour operators since the 1970s.
Even the three-foot statue of Calungsod, packed in styrofoam and velvet, had its own seat in the plane to Italy.
Another article described, but did not reveal, the “mystery patient”, a Visayan woman whose speedy recovery from a deep coma was the only miracle certified by the Vatican to support Calungsod’s sainthood.
Then there was international designer Kenneth Cobunpue and his dioramas, handmade sculpted artwork in a box, offered as Calungsod commemorative pieces for well-to-do donors who would contribute P25,000 to the church.
The ease of reading CDN’s output this way online – not as an avalanche of links but a focused selection of material at your convenience – is one of the biggest advantages of an online platform.
On Nov. 30, 2012, almost a million people gathered in an open field in Cebu City for a national thanksgiving Mass for the new saint. A special 8-page supplement was put out to mark the milestone.
CDN also had the event captured on video and livestreamed for online viewers in partnership with NowPlanet.TV, reaching thousands of faithful across Cebu, the rest of the country, and as planned, homesick, overseas Filipinos.
A digital world indeed offers an enviable reach: 1 story told in five platforms.
You can deliver the same message in a daily paper, a special event website, livestreaming video, CDN’s Facebook account and breaking news on Twitter.
Not content to grow its subscription base of home- and office-delivered copies in Cebu and the Visayan region, CDN released in January 2013 a beta version of a new,improved website www.cebudailynews.ph
The site highlights the striking photography of CDN and a chance to purchase the images in an online photo store. The redesign also presents news stories and opinion columns in a format that’s easy on the eye.
As a treat for loyal subscribers, those who sign up for a one-year paper subscription are also offered free digital access to CDN and all offerings of the Inquirer Group as part of a grand collaboration.
Since June 2011, CDN has joined the Digital Newstand of the Inquirer Group, allowing entire pages to be read on the iPad, Android tablets, smart phones or the desk top.
It’s exciting to give a different reader experience where you can flip through pages on your desktop or handheld device, something that appeals to traditional readers who appreciate the look and feel of a classic paper in a digital environment.
One of CDN’s most compelling stories was triggered by a Facebook photo of a teenage girl trying to stand on the back of a whale shark in the shallows of a coastal town.
The image sparked online outrage, but it took a CDN team to track the joyrider to Boljoon town, south Cebu, where the girl tearfully apologized for what she thought was harmless fun.
It was “NO FUN FOR TUKI” said the CDN headline. (The gentle behemoths are called ‘butanding’ in Luzon and ‘tuki’ in Cebu.) CDN’s special report on the “friendly” whale sharks of
Oslob town, whose shoreline visits stirred debate on whether hand feeding them was exploitation or eco-tourism , won for senior reporter Marian Z. Codilla the award of Reporter of the Year for Print (environment and disaster reporting) in the first Globe Media Excellence Awards for Cebu last September 2012.
Siloy, a black-winged songbird native to Cebu, is the paper’s sassy mascot who appears in the 15th anniversary logo. It also roosts in the must-read corner of the paper (as well as the new website) called “Siloy is Watching”.
Here daily street scenes that need urgent attention are exposed – road potholes, leaning electric poles, pedestrians who jaywalk, red-plate government cars parked in malls on a busy weekend.
Citizens who channel their complaints to this corner are amazed when the problem gets solved – a fresh layer of asphalt on a neglected road, eyesore spaghetti wires removed from overhead power lines. No surprise there since utility firms and government offices also watch the corner closely.
Siloy has become something of a by-word in local slang. If someone is guilty of a misdeed, or flirting with the prospect of violating the law, a Cebuano could be heard saying, “Hoy, baka ma-Siloy ka!” (Hey, careful, you may be exposed by Siloy!)
The heart of CDN’s influence is its credibility as a watchdog.
From the time its first issue rolled out on Feb. 8, 1998, the paper has demonstrated a zeal to champion the interests of its readers and stakeholders.
It remains “the only independent newspaper in Cebu”, free to report on government affairs and uncover shenanigans because the owners don’t belong to any political family in Cebu.
This edge becomes all the more apparent in the run-up to the May elections when powerful political clans – Osmeña, Garcia, Gullas, Durano, Del Mar – again field family members for office.
Sustained reportage uncovered the P98.9 million “amazing Balili land deal”, where private lots in Naga city were bought by the Province of Cebu even though most of the land was underwater. Since 2009, the story was pursued with vigor by CDN as a tragedy of public misspending and environment abuse.
The coastal land, which Gov. Gwen Garcia defended as a potential magnet for investors, was partly backfilled as a landfill for coal ash waste of a new Korean power plant, whose fly ash was already the subject of complaints of nearby residents suffering from air pollution and mysterious dumpings of black ash. CDN asked: Why use land, purchased without a development plan or geodetic survey, as Cebu’s largest ash tray?
As it turns out, the Office of the Ombudsman has found strong evidence to file graft charges against Garcia and seven others for irregularities in the land purchase. With a Sandiganbayan trial to begin soon, Cebu Daily News appreciates all the more the need to stay true to its mission of “telling it as it is”.
But CDN isn’t just about graft-busting. The paper gives special attention to what makes Cebu proud of its identity. Every January, for over a decade, the paper has covered the Sinulog with a special nine-day Fiesta Guide for visitors and locals, relishing an event rooted in devotion to to Cebu’s patron, Señor Sto. Niño.
Achievements that place Cebu on the map regularly land on the front page. Conde Naste ratings of Cebu resorts as among the best in the world are worth a banner. So are Cebuana nursing board topnotchers and the Ironman 93.1 triathlon held in Mactan.
A 15th birthday for the paper allows for some nostalgia, but Siloys Nest is a perch for moving forward.
The bird call to engage more readers and empower them is a more urgent – and appealing – task for CDN journalists, business staff and shareholders, who view their role in
mainstream media as an indispensable force for positive change in Cebu and beyond.
For Siloys, the flight plan is clear: Stay true, stay connected.