As COVID-19 recedes, an old world of the methods of campus journalism is dying. Supplanted by a news cycle mobilized by social media and the changing demographics of UP Diliman, campus publications direly need to keep up the pace, especially as crisis after crisis lands on their laps, demanding to be covered.
But amid all these changes, some problems remain constant. They face the complications of returning from a pandemic and immemorial attacks on their funding and security, all while keeping close to students in the struggle for their rapt attention.
Neglected and Suppressed
The pandemic sent campus publications to war with a new host of obstacles. However, the problems that existed even before COVID-19 did not suddenly vanish—they continue to haunt newsrooms today. “Mahirap i-regularize ang [publication] work ulit sa office … You can’t really replace face-to-face journalism, sharpening each other in the newsroom,” said SINAG Editor-in-Chief Justin Daduya.
For one, SINAG has been unable to access external funding since 2019. “Lahat ng gastos namin ay out-of-pocket muna,” said Daduya. Neither does the publication receive honorarium, he added. As state universities and colleges continue to suffer budget cuts, funding for student services and activities, including the campus press, stands to be slashed as well. Next year, the UP System is set to suffer a budget cut of P564 million.
Other than funding, College of Mass Communication’s Tinig ng Plaridel (TNP) also struggles to be recognized as an official student publication. No recognition means none of the rights and funding authority can accord. “Medyo natatagalan kasi alam mo naman yung BOR [Board of Regents], medyo bureaucratic sila gumalaw,” said Kyle Angelo Cristy, editor-in-chief of TNP, referring to the publication undertaking recognition directly from the BOR in the hopes of easing TNP’s finances, which is now only buoyed mostly by alumni donations.
But for press advocates and artists of the pen, the threats go beyond campus walls. As of September 2023, UP Solidaridad has recorded 14 instances of harassment of its member publications. Recently, last November 6, radio commentator Juan Jumalon was killed on-air, becoming the fourth journalist to be murdered under the Marcos administration.
There is a clear pattern of intimidation to these attacks, and even in the warzones or foreign countries, journalists often live in fear of being the next victim of bombs or masked gunmen.
Relevance Under Pressure
As crises surface everywhere, from student leadership problems in Diliman to the genocide of Palestinian people halfway around the world, student publications must step into the breach to report and write the most relevant analyses to guide their readers.
History shows the critical role publications played in opposing Marcos Sr.'s dictatorship by unearthing truth amid the fabrications of state-sponsored press—a tradition continued by the alternative media today. The same truth-telling role remains albeit premised on different conditions, but the aftermath of the pandemic is challenging it anew. Campus outlets grapple with the problem of relevance—social media is being saturated with information and propaganda, and their readers are becoming fatigued with the flurry of news. In this line, student publications are challenged to change their ways once again.
For reviving campus outlets that went inactive before or during COVID, they face this problem in starker fashion: Without interested applicants, there is simply no publication.
“May communication gap … even doon sa mga freshie, especially, na medyo intimidated pa rin to join,” said Patricia Facundo, College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) council member in charge of the revival of Kolektibo, CSWCD’s student publication.
While no one discrete solution leaps out at student publications, laden with their different audiences and format needs, the demands of relevance require innovation.
It is precisely due to this transitional stage, when the campus press is looking to reestablish itself, that campus publications should strive for relevance. Else, they risk the very existence of the publication they are trying to rebuild.
Taking the Lead
Despite the dangers that beset them, campus publications help students realize the connections between their own lives and the wider struggle outside their classrooms.
Andre Justin Javier, person-in-charge of the revival of School of Economics publication SIDHI, noted the need to address issues closest not only to their colleges, but to the sectors they must serve. “These numbers [need contextualization] so that the normal, everyday person would understand, ‘This is why it’s relevant to me,’” said Javier.
Echoing those sentiments, Daduya emphasized the mutually supportive relationship between the relevance of a publication’s stories and students’ interests. “Kailangan na ng intervention in terms of rebuilding publications, reviving publications that are dormant,” he added, punctuating the need for external, network-based help between publications in capacity-building before they each step into the fray themselves.
The university’s publications stand in the middle of whirling crossroads. After a pandemic shuttered doors, stories are beginning to crowd the newsstands and the campus press will once again drop into a headlong rush.
It must be a thoughtful rush, however. As repression by the state couples with the herculean task of overcoming deficits in interest and support, UP Diliman’s campus publications must foster closer relationships between themselves and with the masses they aim to serve. ●
First published in the November 13, 2023 print edition of the Collegian.
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