BANGKOK—Inquirer president and CEO Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez said in a global conference of publishers on Wednesday that the Inquirer would pursue its “strong heritage of being a watchdog of government.”
Romualdez conveyed, in effect, a message that the Inquirer’s role as a sentinel of democracy, besides being a newspaper of record, was the heart and soul of the Philippines’ No. 1 national daily.
This advocacy has “gotten us into quite (some) burning pots situations,” she said.
Coming from this perspective, Romualdez talked about the paper’s success story since its birth 27 years ago, and discussed the larger media trends in the country amid technological innovations that were rapidly changing the media terrain in the print and digital spheres.
“Embrace it at a faster pace,” she said of the social media revolution.
Romualdez was the only other woman speaker at the plenary sessions of the three-day 65th World Newspaper Congress, which closed Wednesday. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra addressed the group on Tuesday.
Romualdez was one of the four speakers during Session 8 of the conference at the Bangkok Convention Center attended by some 1,500 newspaper publishers, editors, advertisers and other media staff from 70 countries to talk about challenges to press freedom and digital innovations.
The other panelists for Session 8 (Focus on Asian media) were Azrul Ananda of Jawa POS (Indonesia), Jeongdo Hong of JoongAng Media Network (South Korea) and Supakorn Vejjajiva of Post Publishing (Thailand).
The panel discussion and subsequent question-and-answer portion were moderated by Robin Hu of South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).
Romualdez said the challenge for newspapers in the 21st century was to respond quickly to changing times and adapt accordingly.
“Ensure that as you multitask, as you go multiplatform, you have to be able to do this in a very managed way. Second, what we’re learning now is you have to be able to learn quickly and adapt quickly,” she said, referring to the paper’s aggressive shift to providing news and advertising content via a multiplatform channel.
Protecting the brand
She also highlighted the need to “protect” the mother paper.
“To be able to grow in the print space is to be able to have the budgeting and planning by itself and not part of a group,” she said.
The print platform “is something that we protect because it’s the one that carries the brand the most,” so the paper’s “budgeting is by itself, it’s independent of the (Inquirer) group.”
On how the Inquirer was tapping into the benefits of social media—and overcoming its pitfalls—she mentioned three key areas of concern: channel (online presence), readers’ feedback and diversification (but without sacrificing accuracy of) content.
She started her speech by saying that “things in the Philippines were picking up” amid record-breaking economic growth and positive upgrades by ratings’ firms.
“We can see that the backdrop of media consumption in the Philippines is up,” Romualdez said, pointing to figures in her PowerPoint presentation projected onto giant screens that served as a stage backdrop.
She noted that TV and radio still dominated the industry although there was an increasing usage of Internet and smartphones.
Romualdez said that Filipinos had the highest usage of video content posted on YouTube, and that the country remained the “top texting capital of the world,” with many spending Internet time on social networking and microblogging, e-mailing and usage of media content, and online gaming.
“Unfortunately, that has slightly affected newspaper consumption in the Philippines. But we feel that it’s still manageable with broadsheet, tabloids and regional papers,” she said.
“We’re looking at ourselves rather than generalists, it is really more specialists,” Romualdez said, explaining that “there is a difference between the audience that picks it (media content) up online and those who pick it up through traditional means (like newspapers).”
She also pointed to age disparity in mass media consumption: Traditional newspaper readers were mostly 30 and above while online users were 20-29 years old.
“So that’s something that newspapers in the Philippines are quickly seeing,” she said, referring to the newspaper’s newfound “niche in being able to engage with different audiences.”
“When you start engaging with audiences in different platforms, your reach increases exponentially,” she said. “The availability of technology is helping newspapers do that.”
But she talked of the lines becoming “blurry” as some websites were already competing with traditional media.
There’s also the case of nonmedia players such as Globe Telecoms investing in media by striking a partnership with ABS-CBN, and Smart-PLDT buying TV5 and interests in newspapers, she said.
Remembering ad boycott
Romualdez was repeatedly asked about the advertising boycott in 1999, when the paper had a run-in with then President Joseph Estrada.
She admitted that it was “very difficult” for the Inquirer management and staff, but the newspaper weathered the storm by working as one and reaching out to readership.
Without naming Estrada, she said: “He decided that he didn’t like the way we’re writing about his government and decided to ask all his friends to pull out their advertising from my paper. That’s a difficult time for our paper, but it’s something that we’re able to come out of, stronger.”
She recalled the dialogue with Estrada six months later, when the then President and Inquirer officials agreed “we were able to achieve a lot.”
“He saw that adversarial role was not the way to go,” she said.