12 March 2007

Catanduanes Tribune

WHAT IS it that brings local newspapers to, or prevents them from invading, cyberspace? This question bugged me last week after following with great interest a link to the Catanduanes Tribune from our Planet Naga blog aggregator, and just to assure myself launched searches for Bikolano newspapers with online presence both through Google and Yahoo.

Alas, in addition to Bicol Mail and the Bikol Reporter -- both of which failed to update their respective websites last week -- only Catanduanes Tribune has online presence, and a respectable archive that reaches as far back as November 2004.

Is it geography? Definitely not. Catanduanes, after all, is an island province that is peripheral, both to national and regional government agencies (the latter mostly found in Legazpi and some in Naga).

Is it the presence of educational institutions? Probably, because Naga has them. But then again, Legazpi also has the biggest state university in the region (my alma mater Bicol University) plus two other privately owned universities; yet its local papers still remain woefully analog and therefore inaccessible to Bikolano communities abroad. And again, you have Catanduanes which only has the Catanduanes State College in Virac, and probably a handful of IT education outfits.

You can go and and on about other factors -- like trading, tourism and services -- and the result would be the same paradox: how do you explain this remarkable phenomenon that is the Catanduanes Tribune?

I will hazard several four factors:

(1) A proud journalism tradition. The current Tribune issue is its first for its 27th volume; that's four years more than Bicol Mail's 23. Bicol Reporter, on the other hand, is on its 14th.

Furthermore, consider the following paragraphs from the Tribune's most recent editorial:

Although this community newspaper’s beginnings cannot be exactly described as ideal for one which has become part of Catanduanes’ history, the Tribune has changed for the better, particularly in the depth of its coverage and its readership, building on the foundation laid by its late founder, Fredeswindo T. Gianan, Sr.

Since the present management established the Tribune website on the Internet in December 2000, its readership has now grown by leaps and bounds far beyond the shores of this rocky island. And this has served the island-bound public even better.
I do not personally know the late Fred Gianan, but he was an institution in the Catandunganon media. When I still proofread Vox Bikol at the old Balalong Printing Press along Blumentritt, I would sometimes meet his staff preparing to bring their weekly issue to Virac by way of Partido. And I got to read issues of the Tribune for free.

(2) An IT-savvy management. The editorial shows a new management is on board and made the key decision to bring the Tribune to cyberspace. It tells us something about its top brass who early on saw the potential of going online, which you cannot say the same about the other weeklies in the region, particularly in the Albay area.

(3) A decent IT infrastructure. Their political differences notwithstanding, government officials of Catanduanes have made sure their province will not be left behind insofar as internet access and technologies are concerned. I heard Gov. Leandro Verceles, Jr. is into IT; so is Rep. Joseph Santiago, a former NTC commissioner.

(4) Competent workforce. Finally, I don't know how the Tribune does it (inhouse or outsourced), but maintaining an online presence requires some competent IT staff. Computer schools in Virac ties in neatly with this scenario.

Come to think of it, the value of the Tribune's continuing online presence is even more magnified by the inherent limitations it had to overcome. If only Bikol's other weeklies are as entrepreneurial and forward-looking. Perhaps this is an area that liberal, development oriented foundations -- like Friedrich Naumann -- might want to look at, tying in its advocacy for blogging with the need to bring local newsweeklies into the 21st century. Do I already see Yuga grinning?:)