COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing relevance of print media


N.B. – A journalism student at a university in Manila asked five questions about the state of print journalism. These are my answers.

Do you think print journalism is slowly becoming irrelevant to society given that people would opt to find news via smart phones rather than newspapers?

Print media are feeling the effects of low subscription and minimal advertising revenues due to the pandemic. The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) says that at least 11 publications have temporarily stopped publishing print editions; and that at least three publications have reduced either their circulation or their pages.

This does not mean, however, that print is becoming irrelevant. While the reality in urban areas like Manila is that there are people opting to use smart phones or other devices to read the news, that is not the case in many areas of the country, especially the remote, rural areas where Internet connection (or even electricity) remains a pipe dream. This is where the importance of print media is felt, especially the community papers which provide information to a specialized audience.

If ever the production of news continues to decline or completely die, what would be the impact of this on our society?

Right now, the decline of news production in various forms of media is generally more qualitative than quantitative.

News production needs to improve qualitatively. While there is a quantitative increase of news reports with the emergence of various news media organizations across various platforms (especially online), there should be qualitative improvement in terms of form and content. With Internet penetration rate increasing globally, I seriously doubt any decline in news production although other forms of media (e.g., print) are experiencing a decline in readership, forcing many community print publications worldwide to scale down production or close down altogether. It is unthinkable for news production to completely die because there will always be news media organizations that can help provide the people’s information needs.

Alternative media, for example, exist for that specific purpose, free from any trappings of commercialism even if they also have to struggle against various forms of media repression.

In the unlikely event that news production completely dies, that would be the end of democracy. The shaping of public opinion will be done not by journalism but by government-sponsored public relations.

Do you think digital news (including television and radio) can completely fill in the gaps left by print media? What will happen to those who were left behind?

The so-called old and new media should complement and not compete with each other. Print journalists have learned to adapt to the changing times by maintaining Internet and social media presence. Print news media organizations have also embraced digital technology. The different forms of mass media have their own respective attributes that cannot be taken away just because they are deemed to be obsolete. The permanence of print, for example, will not be replaced by the permanence of electronic books and websites since the latter have different levels of attributes and are inherently dependent on, among others, power supply and devices.

If the recent typhoons are any indication, being deprived of information could mean life and death. The closure of ABS-CBN resulted in an information gap as its wide reach and signal failed to provide up-to-date information to certain residents who can only access ABS-CBN. In the context of community print publications, they should be strengthened not just by the people’s support but by ensuring that press freedom will be promoted and upheld by the government.

Do you think the pandemic is the main reason why print journalism is slowly dying? Or did it speed up the fate of print in this era of social media and the internet?

Print journalism has been struggling with low readership and reduced income stream even before the pandemic. The prevailing culture of impunity characterized by repression, red-baiting and killings is also factor for the daily travails of media, including print.

The current health crisis exacerbated the situation of print news media organizations, especially the community-based ones. For example, they cannot rely on fees from the publication of legal notices (a major revenue source) because of postponements of hearings and court decisions. Many business establishments had to close temporarily or permanently and they do not see the need to spend for media advertising. Print sales and subscriptions were also compromised by travel restrictions. In a sense, the global pandemic hastened the closure of some print news media organizations, especially those that have been operating in the red prior to the lockdown.

In your opinion, is there a way to make print journalism adapt under the current circumstances? And how would the industry change if print journalism has finally reached its conclusion?

The best way for print journalists and print news media organizations to adapt would be to adjust to the changes without compromising the normative standards of the profession. They should also keep in mind that print media can never be replaced by the new media, particularly online publications. Complementation of the various attributes of media would be the key to surviving and continuing the mission to help shape public opinion. Defending press freedom and ending impunity should also be ingrained in the daily work of journalists as it is now their ethical obligation to fight media repression. (

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