By Romy Marquez
Toronto – Some may have resisted the change to digital, not knowing what will come next. But for some newspapers, it’s become a boon, like this Filipino community paper called Balita.
TORONTO – The Filipino community here is perhaps one of the most informed about the developments in the Philippines, thanks to local newspapers which serve as an effective conduit of information from Manila, the capital about 13,000 kilometers away.
Fifteen monthlies and bi-weeklies cater to an estimated 230,000 community members.
One of the oldest, at 33 years old, is Balita, a tabloid in English that started out as an anti-Marcos paper in the early 70s. President Ferdinand Marcos had imposed martial law in 1972 and deposed in 1986 in the popular “People Power” revolution. He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.
Like most community papers, Balita (or News) continues to be a labor of love, as it has been during the stewardship of its founder, Ruben J. Cusipag, a hard-hitting journalist jailed by Marcos for his political advocacies.
Cusipag is still the editor-in-chief, a position that’s more symbolic than practical since he figured in an accident, and then a stroke a few years ago, which made him wheel-chair bound.
His wife, businesswoman Teresita “Tess” Cusipag, calls the shots now as the managing editor. She began her journalism journey just as the newspaper industry was turning digital.
Balita was among those impacted by the new technology. “I had to study Pagemaker and then InDesign to cope with the changes,” says Tess in an interview at her home office in Markham.
The paper had abandoned an office in downtown Toronto to accommodate the special needs of Ruben who had to be nursed, a job Tess does on her own.
While Ruben was at the helm, Balita was subsisting on “cut-and-paste”, a pre-press process that relied mainly on manual labor.
“I was hesitant to do it,” Tess explains, “but I gave in when the printer sent in a technical person who patiently tutored me about the advantages of going digital”.
Balita had actually no choice. The printer itself was already shifting to digital, as most of the printers in Toronto. That meant nobody was going to print Balita in the old form.
The transition turned out to be smooth. The paper acquired some new computers and printing machines and pretty soon, Balita’s coming of digital age was quite notable in the physical appearance and feel of the paper.
The improvements were a boon, according to Tess. From a 60-pager, the paper attracted more advertisers, forcing her to increase the number of pages to 80. It has been that way in the last five years, Tess said.
Balita is one of the most-widely read tabloids in the Filipino community. Its stories are a combination of entertainment, social and political commentaries from a wide spectrum of contributing writers from the Philippines, the United States and Canada.
The shift to digital was as much a harbinger of change as it is of self-sufficiency. In recent months, it’s making a headway in the bigger Asian market, a fact illustrated by the phenomenal growth of its non-Filipino advertisers.