Mainstream print media in the Philippines, as in other parts of the world, is challenged by declining readership and finds itself hybridising by investing into online and mobile platforms.
Based on the latest available data on media consumption, only 22 percent of Filipino respondents get their news from newspapers, as majority (55 percent) said they ‘prefer to watch news online rather than read’ (Newman et al., 2020, p.15). This finding suggests that trends as early as 2013 are continuing: As early as seven years ago, barely one in 10 Filipinos read newspapers everyday (Philippine Statistics Authority, 2013). The figure for magazine readership is only slightly higher. Print media lags far behind television, radio, and internet (particularly social media) when it comes to people’s ‘exposure’ level (the respondent is considered ‘exposed’ to a medium if he or she accessed it everyday or at least once a week or seldom in the last 12 months preceding the survey). Given this data, the Media Ownership Monitor or MOM (2017) concluded that ‘newspapers [are losing] their relevance as a source of information’.
According to the 2020 Digital News Report on global news consumption patterns (which covers 40 countries including the Philippines), ‘people with lower levels of education are more likely to want to watch online news compared with the better educated’ (Newman et al., 2020, p.15). Therefore, in the case of the Philippines, one of the influential factors could be ‘educational deprivation’ – the strong preference for online news over print news be explained by the fact that majority of Filipino families lack even basic education, according to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (BusinessMirror, 2018).
Philippines newspapers come in broadsheet and tabloid formats, with the latter significantly outnumbering the former in terms of number and copies sold. There are roughly 40 national dailies (both broadsheets and tabloids), around 60 regional and community newspapers, and 14 newspapers in the foreign language other than English (mostly Chinese). According to a survey conducted by The Nielsen Co. in 2017, the list of top 10 most read newspapers is dominated by the tabloids, which could be because tabloids are smaller, hence more convenient, and cheaper. Only three broadsheets made it in the list. It should be noted that some broadsheets also have tabloid counterparts, such as the broadsheet The Philippine Star and the Filipino tabloid daily Pilipino Star Ngayon.
The content of Philippine tabloids, most of which in the native language, is marked by an emphasis on crime, sex, and entertainment stories (Tandoc and Skoric, 2010), and the broadsheet content by its focus on politics and governance. The dominance of tabloids in newspaper circulation and readership provides a glimpse on the demographics of Filipino newspaper readers, most of which, based on general tabloid content, seem to prefer sensationalized content, mostly the bizarre and appalling (such as heinous crime and ‘show business’ or ‘showbiz’ stories). However, this assumption has yet to be tested by well-developed empirical research. Interestingly, the trend of putting up active websites among broadsheets cannot be observed to be in the same extent for the tabloids (most of the pornographic tabloids do not have a website).
When it comes to ownership, the four biggest newspaper companies have a readership of 21.5 percent of the sample, with each company having a readership of roughly five percent each, as noted by the MOM in 2017. Hence, according to MOM, there is ‘not much concentration’ in the print market. However, there have been criticisms on the precedence of commercial and political imperatives over public service among Philippine newspapers.
There is not much data on the circulation or readership of regional and community newspapers, which are mostly published in the local language (There are about 170 languages and dialects in the country). Interestingly, however, there is a growth in community newspapering in terms of the number (Opiniano, Arcalas, Mallari, and Tuazon, 2015). Community newspapers and chains continue to thrive as some expand their reach, such as the Mindanao Gold Star Daily, which now publishes in 24 provinces. New community newspapers are emerging as Metro Manila-based dailies buy majority shares of existing community newspapers or establish new ones.
According to a study by Opiniano et al. (2015), the primary source of revenue for the community press remains to be community-level advertising, but ‘the amount of revenues then depends on the level of economic growth in local communities, the presence of local enterprises and the aggressiveness of community newspapers’ advertising and marketing personnel to reach a part of the market’ (p.33). Hence, the community press in the richest regions is more ‘fortunate’ in terms of local advertising as a revenue source (p.33), while those in other communities bank more on ‘community-level participatory interest’ (p.31), longevity, and standing as source of information. As internet penetration rate continues to lag in countryside and impoverished communities, the community newspapers in these areas have yet to explore the possibilities in using the internet in newswork and content distribution.
Several authors, meanwhile, noted the persistence of media corruption and poor reportage as an outcome of economic conditions among the community press (Chua, 2013; Opiniano, 2015; Tuazon, 2013). The culture of impunity also threatens the community press, as the Philippines sits as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Reuters, 2014) and in the bottom third of the World Press Freedom Index (2018). There are documented cases of journalist harassment and even killings among print newsmakers, particularly those functioning in regional or community outlets. This is ironic given the fact that the Philippines is considered as a partly free media system (with journalism having a largely watchdog orientation) as opposed to its neighbors in Southeast Asia.
The print medium has also been used by insurgent and belligerent forces as a way to communicate with various audiences. The Communist Party of the Philippines, for example, publishes Ang Bayan in limited copies to disseminate content in different parts of the country.