CEBU, Philippines – On the isolated Cebu island of Olango, information has become a struggle after Typhoon Odette took down the cell tower serving the 42,000 residents on the island.
But for Elmer Tradio, 21, the lack of signal is not a reason to stop publishing.
“After Typhoon Odette, we at OLIB (Olango Island Bulletin) still do our best [to post]. Even if we don’t have electricity or internet, we try to find ways,” Tradio told Rappler in Cebuano.
“We go to Sitio Bantigi, where they have cell signal to look for internet connection,” he added.
The cell towers on Mactan or Cebu can sometimes reach the shoreline area of Bantigi, which faces mainland Cebu. But, on rainy nights, the wind and rains and big waves can drench people who go to the area to try to send their text messages, or check their Facebook accounts.
For now, Tradio writes his stories or posts offline and quickly tries to post them once he’s able to find signal.
And they have to be quick as 3G or LTE signal can last for less than a minute or two sometimes.
Journalists on the island also have to conserve battery in the gadgets they use to write their stories as majority of homes still do not have electricity. They have to search for charging stations or places with solar chargers.
Unlike more popular news outlets in Cebu, the OLlB does not have a website, radio station, or print publication connected to it. They publish directly on the Facebook page and group.
Over 3,100 are members of OLIB’s Facebook group, where most of their stories are posted, while about 2,000 people follow the Facebook page.
The page is run by four administrators, who act as content editors, and eight “patrollers” who are the reporters for the pages.
OLIB was started in July 2021 to give residents an alternative news source, or one not owned by local government officials.
The last few posts on the public group by the admins include information about food aid and relief efforts on the island.
Aside from social media, most residents get their news from mainland Cebu newspapers, TV and radio stations, which do not cover what is happening on their island very often.
“Mainstream media, even local mainstream media, does not really cover our island enough aside from probably religious festivals,” Tradio said.
Tradio said while they do cover local politics and hard news, they want their coverage to be issue-based and focused on the people and industries of the island.
Prior to the typhoon, they have featured stories on fishermen, shell craft makers, and crab fishers.
Their news coverage also includes tourism, anti-drug advocacies, police stories, and stories on the environment.
The administrators of the page act as editors, vetting the information and making sure stories are complete with the “five Ws, and the h (who, what, when, where, why, how),” the young reporter said.
“We’re not perfect but we’re doing our best. I’d grade ourselves an eight out of 10,” he said.
Another challenge is getting the stories to the intended audience. The aid situation on the island is still dire and many residents are still waiting for food and do not know when the power will be turned back on.
Tradio is a student of Cebu Normal University in Cebu City but has been stuck in his hometown since face-to-face classes were suspended due to COVID-19.
Even if he is not earning from his practice, Tradio is enjoying honing his storytelling skills in his hometown.
“I wanted to join to inspire others and I want to utilize my talent,” Tradio said. “There is a lot of talent in Olango and they are not confident enough to showcase their talent,” he added.
Aside from problems accessing the internet, he said they also have a limited budget to cover events or do information gathering far from home.
In the future, the new publication hopes it could grow its audience and more people would be inspired to tell the stories of Olango Island. – Rappler.com