The sky isn’t falling

(Here’s my closing remarks at the Online Campus Journalism Seminar and Workshop held by Smart for campus journalists in Cebu.)

Twelve years ago, a group of journalists, writers and artists in Cebu decided to form a cooperative and publish a different type of community newspaper. The Independent Post was a paper that was to be owned by its readers, who were to have a big influence on how the paper was run.

We set on in that quixotic enterprise with a couple of millions, big dreams and a lot of hard work.

But, it was the height of the Asian economic crisis. We burned through whatever funding we had but still tried to hold on to that grand dream of blazing a journalism trail, working hard for little or no pay.

In two years, the paper folded. Big dreams, instant noodles and hard, hard, hard work were not enough.

Today, reading journalism trade publications or websites feels like browsing the obituary, which itself used to be a print gold mine. Bankruptcies here, closures there, job cuts here, pay cuts there. Magazine and newspaper circulations are dwindling. Advertising bookings are going down. Earnings are plunging.

And with all these come, as a blogger puts it, journicide—the steady decline of employment opportunities for professional journalists.

It’s bad out there.

I’m not trying to scare you away from the course that you’ve decided to take. But you have to admit it is a bit scary to be a journalism student or a student journalist in what might be the end of times for the newspaper as we know it today. It is likely that we’ll read and watch online the last print runs of newspapers in our lifetime. Gloomy, isn’t it? Depressing?

But here’s a secret.

The sky isn’t falling. Not for us, anyway. All the fog, the mist that we see around us? It’s because we’ve gone up to “the cloud.”

In late April, I started running and have never stopped since then. As with any of my passions, I decided to start a website about it.

More than two months ago, I built (I have since closed it)  using various free and open source software packages and free online services. The content management system I used is the same system powering a large number of the top independent media sites and blogs in the Internet today. The free Google Analytics service that I use is the same service in place in most big media website properties.

The site is plugged into Facebook, the biggest social networking community in the world. If you’re logged into Facebook, you can log into It’s a feature made possible by yet another piece of free software.

All those things are at the disposal of someone like me, a struggling journalist working for a community newspaper in a third world country.

Two months ago, a veteran runner and newspaper columnist approached me with a proposition. He said he had long been planning to start a quarterly newsletter in Cebu on running but had never gone around to publishing it for lack of funds and other wherewithal. I told him I already had a site.

I’m not sure whether that newsletter would ever be published. But today, about 80 people visit daily. More than 100 do when I write about and carry pictures of Donna Cruz-Larrazabal, who, being fast, beautiful and rich, is living proof that the world isn’t fair.

From the point of view of corporate media, those numbers are inconsequential, even laughable. But for me, it is astonishing—this idea of being able to get readers—and not just any reader but the very people in the market demographic I am targeting–in the first two months of a publication started for less than P500 but with big dreams and a lot of hard work.

Up in the cloud, as author Thomas Friedman would say, the world is flat.

Today, writers like you and I have access to tools we’ve never had access to before. You want to start your own publication? You can run it using the same content management system running such media websites as ABS-CBN News, Sun.Star Network, New York Observer, The Onion.

The system you will be using in this Smart project is the same system powering parts of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

You want to earn money? You can sign up with ad networks and have the chance—that’s the operative word—of earning money to fund your publication.

Today, if you know how to do it, you can have as much chance being read as any of the mainstream media company through the primary entry point of people to the Internet—search engines.

You will have vastly different career options than the journalists before you. Where before the only options were Sun.Star, Freeman, CDN, Superbalita or Banat now you can do it on your own or write for a web-only publication based in any part of the world. Or you can get a high-paying job in another industry to support yourself while you start your own independent publication with the goal of eventually going full time to run it.

Or you can still choose to work for a print newsroom to get the needed writing training that will be a lot of help when you do decide to be your own online publisher.

The things that were taught to you in the past two days will help ensure that when this fog of war has settled, when we’d have a clearer idea of the way forward in this new media landscape, you’d have an edge.

And for that, we thank Smart Communications for this very laudable project and the presenters for sharing their time and knowledge.

But at the end of the conference, what matters is what you do with that knowledge. This isn’t the journalism of yesteryear. The past two days weren’t the journalism seminar of yesteryear. You do not have to wait to be in a media company to practice what had been taught to you these past days.

Start your own publication. Build your own website from scratch.

Because here’s another secret. It’s easy to fail.

I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s so tough out there that you’re likely to fail. I mean that in the sense that you can afford to fail. You can afford to stumble, learn from your failure and start all over again.

Because in the current media landscape, big dreams and hard work are apparently enough to bring you success.

Good day and good luck!

Support this blog and independent reporting on Cebu

One response

  1. Hi Max,

    great article. however, as a businessman, its not whether you can afford to fail. Its whether the chances of success, and the payback of success makes it worthwhile. Because it is so easy, it makes success that much more difficult….

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