Although I would have preferred to keep it quiet while the people in charge continue to work feverishly to come up with the ways, means and funds to save our beloved Visayan DAILY STAR, my maninay, mentor and mother figure Twinkling has already broken the sad news on her column. As a result of the challenges posed by the changing times and trends, and exacerbated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the Visayan DAILY STAR will have to press the reset button.
For 38 years, come hell, high water, dictatorships and even through petty boycotts, what is arguably the best community newspaper in the land has never stopped publishing the news. Tita Ninfa and her scrappy crew of idealistic journalists built the Visayan Daily Star into the formidable institution that it is today. At its peak it enjoyed a commanding leadership of the newspaper circulation figures and readership in the Island of Negros. If you come to think of it, even during these troubled times, we are still the leading newspaper on the island because COVID-19 has made it difficult for national newspapers to come in.
Dedication to their craft and unassailable credibility made the Visayan Daily Star a household name, and even if problems started manifesting in episodes of the “Delayed Star” and/or the inconsistent quality of front page photos that belied the aging of printing equipment, discerning Negrenses continued trusting Twinkling’s steadily growing project to deliver the news and opinions for our community.
But as most of us have experienced firsthand, times are tough these days. Businesses are closing left and right all over the planet as economies struggle to get going during these extraordinary times. This is the Philippines, not Vietnam, Thailand or New Zealand who are blessed with more competent governments so times are expected to be extraordinarily tough for a little bit longer.
A newspaper, no matter how “successful,” cannot run on credibility alone. It has to make payroll for both the editorial and production staff. Paper, ink and printing supplies are not getting cheaper and becoming harder to source. And although people scoff at the folks who cite Facebook as their primary source of news and opinions, more and more people are getting their news from the internet, often for the ridiculous price of free. The Visayan Daily Star website that used to be a value added service now gets more readers than the newspaper and still nobody pays a centavo for what has become our core product just because we’ve always given it away and it’s not printed on newsprint.
There is no shame in admitting that the Visayan DAILY STAR is in trouble. Several solutions are currently being considered and I am sure that whatever path management decides to take, our community’s newspaper will continue to serve the public with the same determination and credibility as it had for the past 38 years. Certain things may change but with the assurance that its leadership core and values remain intact, I am hopeful those who have seen the value in what we have been providing unceasingly should continue to appreciate that value as long as it is reasonably priced.
I was there when Tita Ninfa broke the news to the Visayan DAILY STAR staff. I delivered the message for her because she was afraid her emotions would get the best of her. I had no choice but to accept the challenge even if I initially thought my role was to be there for moral and technical support.
Although I was told I did a decent job of delivering the sobering news and answering their questions regarding the future of the company, the thing the left the deepest impression on me during that meeting was the love and loyalty of the staff to the person they lovingly referred to as “Miss L.” Even in the toughest times, they still trusted her and were concerned for her. Sensing them struggle to be selfish and prioritize themselves over their employer left me in awe and deepened my already profound respect for the Star’s Twinkling.
My role as the bearer of sad developments was made so much easier because the staff never doubted Twinkling’s love for them and the newspaper. They fully trusted her when I said that in making this monumental decision, their welfare was paramount. I could’ve been Harry Roque and they still would’ve believed me because I was speaking for someone they totally trusted.
In the end, our biggest strength was also our weakness: it was never about money. The Visayan DAILY STAR is a family of like-minded and like-hearted people who share the same set of values. These people stayed on despite the startup hiccups, as things got better, enjoyed the peak, and carried on stubbornly despite the snowballing revenue problems not because they were handsomely compensated but because they were part of the DAILY STAR family. Our people could’ve left for other newspapers or PR firms where they could make so much more but they inexplicably chose to stay, through thick and thin, until the bitter end, be that now or much later. Even those who recently joined the family had absorbed the culture that their editor-in-chief’s constant presence had lovingly propagated over the past 38 years.
As a participant and witness of that emotional meeting where we discussed the future of the Visayan DAILY STAR, I realized nobody could ever replicate the value Twinkling holds for the Visayan DAILY STAR and its family members. She is more than just a figurehead. She is the 80-plus year old who still pores over every issue every day and churns out a daily column on her typewriter. She remembers every birthday and would drop everything to be there if something happens to anyone she considers as family, whether you ask for her or not. The DAILY STAR will survive and thrive because she has not yet given up on her masterpiece and I am confident that those who can fight for her will continue fighting.
The STAR may go on pause but the people behind it are still working to make that respite as quick as a blink. A twinkle, you might say.
Times are tough. Today’s challenges seem insurmountable. Difficult decisions will have to be made. These are the times when leadership is put to the test. We have seen what the lack of trust, competence, credibility and love can do to a people. I’m hoping that the next few weeks spent saving the Visayan DAILY STAR will give my flagging faith in humanity a much-needed boost.
Don’t count us out yet. Keep us in your prayers. Wish us luck. Do your part. Subscribe to our newspaper and also the website once it is no longer free of charge.*