On Monday, May 3, World Press Freedom Day, employees of community paper SunStar Baguio were told that the company was shutting down after 30 years.
Roderick Osis, editor-in-chief of the paper, told Rappler they were informed of the closure via a virtual meeting with SunStar Publishing Incorporated management.
SunStar Baguio, which has a total of 16 employees, was the only daily community newspaper in northern Luzon.
“Mahirap mawalan ng trabaho lalong lalo na at pandemic. 'Di namin ginusto 'to. (It is difficult to lose jobs, especially now during the pandemic. We did not want this to happen.) 'Yung impact sa community media – one of the pillars ang SunStar Baguio in Northern Luzon – 30 years – it has already become an institution kaya malaking kawalan ito (so this is really a big loss to the community)," Osis said in a phone interview.
The pandemic heavily diminished the paper’s revenue. Like many community papers, SunStar Baguio had to stop its operations from March 2020, during the lockdown, until July 2020, when they slowly resumed as a weekly publication.
From October to November, they resumed their daily operations but it was too much a burden. Starting December 1, they had to revert to weekly operations. SunStar Baguio’s last print edition was for the week of December 30, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
“And then after our print edition, we were no longer operating as a newspaper entity including on social media, we had no updates on our Facebook page, YouTube,” Osis said.
All 16 employees had been on floating status for 4 months – from January 4 until May 3 when the management officially announced the decision.
Osis said the management told them that all staff would receive the benefits mandated by law.
On June 30 2020, SunStar Cagayan De Oro ceased its print operations, with some former staff filing complaints with the National Labor Relations Commission Region 10 for alleged violations.
SunStar Baguio staff reporter Malen Catajan told Rappler they needed to be vigilant to make sure that they would receive what was rightfully theirs.
In a statement posted on her Facebook account, Catajan also said farewell to her home for the past decade.
“Dito magwawakas ang kasaysayan ng SunStar Baguio. Salamat sa lahat ng nagbigay ng lakas para makayanan namin ang araw na ito. Hayaan niyo lang kami mag luksa sandali tapos rak and roll na tayo uli. Walang paalam sa mga tunay na journo,” Catajan said.
(This is where the history of SunStar Baguio ends. Thanks you to everyone who gave us strength to make it through the day. Just let us grieve for a while and then we will get back to work. There are no goodbyes for real journalists.)
“Naniniwala kami na ang kompanya na pinag lingkuran namin ng matagal ay ibibigay ang dapat at sapat para sa amin. Ito ang aming dasal. Sa ngayon, we bow out proud. We went down fighting. Taas noo kami!” she added.
(We believe that the company we served for a long time will give us what is due us. This is our prayer. For now, we bow out proud. We went down fighting. We hold our heads up high.")
SunStar Baguio and SunStar Cagayan de Oro were among the many community news organizations severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (READ: Closure, job cuts: Why COVID-19 spells death for community journalism)
Many national news groups, such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and CNN Philippines, also had to cut jobs and expenditures to survive the pandemic. ABS-CBN was also forced to lay off thousands of workers following its government-backed shutdown in July 2020.
A global study by the International Center for Journalists and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University showed that an overwhelming majority of their 1,400 respondents said their most significant need during the coronavirus pandemic was funding to cover operating costs, including journalists' salaries. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org