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Sentinel Times, a local newspaper in the middle of a pandemic COVID 19

By Nimfa Estrellado
Straight Talk, Special Edition
June 24, 2020

Sentinel Times, a local newspaper in the middle of a pandemic COVID 19
Sentinel Times Quezon Province Regional Weekly Newspaper printed version.

I am Nimfa Estrellado, the publisher of Sentinel Times Quezon Province Regional Weekly Newspaper, a local newspaper covering the province of Quezon and the neighboring provinces of the Region IV-A. I've been a journalist for 20 years. I am a jill of all trades, I do most of all my work, I interview people over the phone and face-to-face, I write news stories and columns, I research story ideas, I approve newspaper ideas and articles, I create and post a weekly e-newsletter, I take photos and make video content for Facebook, I'm updating social media and websites, I'm managing time and timelines, I'm managing the editorial team, I'm publishing a weekly newspaper, I have rotating weekend work, I'm volunteering at events, and I'm attending a press conference. I really love my job, my team, and the company that I own and work for.

Sadly, life was perfect until Coronavirus 2019 (COVID 19) emerged. Everything's fine until it isn't.

The local news had witnessed a mass extinction incident. Will people in the province live without their local newspapers? Worst of all, will the local newspapers survive? Here I'll tell you what the local newspaper has been like in the last few months.

When Lucena City, lost its local newspapers, some residents asked a very simple journalistic question: "How will we know what's going on?

Because of COVID 19, I do not issue printed versions of the Sentinel Times newspaper. For some local newspaper publishers, the pandemic was just the last straw.

The Sentinel Times is just one of about thousands of community and regional newspapers across the country that, due to the pandemic, suspended printing. Since overcoming the loss of classifieds and switching to Facebook and Google, they are now facing their biggest challenge yet in COVID 19.

I am very concerned about these closures. I want to have proper reporting of local council meetings, local court cases, local business dealings so that someone watches, corruption can be exposed, and the community is better informed.

Regional newspapers play a vital role in regional and suburban communities as the nationwide printing presses are silenced, and democracy is becoming evident.

As a regional newspaper serving a town of more than 1,000 people, Sentinel TImes could tell the kind of intimate, personal stories that would never be heard in the national news cycle of COVID 19 or the latest rumblings in far-off municipalities.

But, more importantly, the highs and lows of individuals and their families are things that don't survive on Facebook. Newspapers, I think, have our history, but it also has daily stories about our people and our personalities.

The situation happens in other areas of the Philippines, too. The local newspaper is vitally important because nobody else cares about what's happening locally. Mainstream media doesn't care about it. Commercial radio is doing it with lip service. They just don't cover so much of the local news.

People had to go online now to get the information. But not all of them can. For many locals, especially older readers who are less comfortable with online news, getting to Sentinel TImes or other local newspapers was a life-long ritual.

The older people used to walk in the morning to pick up a newspaper. They had a chat at the newsagent with someone, along the way, there was a social connection. We have done it for so long, it's part of their lives that's gone now.

Without a physical newspaper, so much of the social foundation of the town would be lost.

For news organizations going dark across the world, journalists and locals have been battling to fill the void. Will the saving of regional media serve better?

Everyone agrees in principle that the regional and community media are relevant.

We've had a lot of feedback about the readers missing getting the local newspaper and the need for it in a country community, but they've also embraced the online newspaper of Sentinel Times.

While the newspaper was in recess, online journalists have expanded their skills, using video and social media to engage the audience as well. But I will still continue to develop our online presence even with the return of print.

The worst magical thinking, I think, is the assumption that there will be a return to normal in less than a decade. There will be no magic bullet that will make everything all right again; just a very hard slog of incremental improvements until COVID 19 is medically manageable.

Sentinel Times started printing again, although the money off ad revenue is the problem here. We’re all a little desperate, but we’re all in this together. Thank you to our readers. Please support us and other local news media outlets. Junk fake news media outlet.


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