By Adrian Paul B. Conoza, Special Features Assistant Editor
THE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has brought big disruptions across industries. Priorities had to be changed as much as work modes have. Yet, amid the shifts, purposes and duties have largely remained the same.
This is very true of the media, as its duty to deliver truthful information has become more crucial at these critical times.
While having its own share of changes in covering stories and closing every issue, BusinessWorld remains resilient in its purpose as it continues to help the public — especially the business community — make sense of the daily local and global narratives of the pandemic and the “now normal.”
Wilfredo G. Reyes, BusinessWorld’s editor-in-chief (EIC), noted that the Editorial staff has been primed for disruption as they have worked largely in the field and at times have been in the midst of natural and man-made calamities like floods and coups d’etat.
“That enabled us to just focus on ensuring the safety of back-office and support staff who could not work from home, and that is just a fraction of our total manpower,” Mr. Reyes added.
Cathy Rose A. Garcia, managing editor of BusinessWorld, recalled that the Editorial team made preparations before the quarantines began to ensure that operations will not be affected.
“We implemented a system that would allow editors, reporters, researchers, and other staff to work from home,” Ms. Garcia said in an interview, adding that keeping communication lines always open was ensured to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
“In the past, new reporters would undergo one-month training under Research. Reporters also had more time to talk to their editors to discuss the story and how it was edited,” the managing editor also shared. “Since this was now impossible, we implemented online training modules for the new hires. We also had online briefings to prepare them for the tasks at hand.”
While there were inevitable growing pains, she observed, everyone was quick to adapt to the new system.
“I’m particularly grateful to the staff who continued to go to the office despite the challenges. Our operations will not run as smoothly without the people at the office,” Ms. Garcia added.
While many in the team have already been doing work remotely before the pandemic, the past months have seen more shifting to work-from-home (WFH). Alicia A. Herrera, one of BusinessWorld’s associate editors, noted such move.
“Editors are now working from home, which has been a major change for some of us who used to lay out our own pages, as has been the BWorld tradition from the start,” Ms. Herrera shared. “Now the layout artist does the layout, sending us PDF copies to check and approve.”
“It is difficult for me to have less control over my pages. I used to do my own layout, and now I rely on the work of the layout artist,” she added. “So, the adjustment was relaxing and ceding control to someone else.”
Joy D. Dagun, an art director of BusinessWorld, also observed the shift in the process. “Unlike the pre-pandemic days, communication is done by telephone, and file exchange is via the office local area network. Also, we have to stay in the office over time if it is required,” Ms. Dagun said.
The art director, who is hands-on in laying out the paper’s Special Features and Velocity sections, also noted that ready-to-print files are now sent to the printing plant coordinator, instead of submitting raw files to proofreaders, who then submit the proofread files to the printing coordinator.
ONE MAJOR CHALLENGE
Even with its perceived conveniences, remote work has been the main challenge for the staff who close BusinessWorld’s pages.
For Bettina Faye V. Roc, also an associate editor of the paper, the main adjustment she had to make is ensuring efficiency.
“That included finding a suitable daily work station and making sure my internet connection has a backup,” Ms. Roc said. “It was also important to establish a routine, since working from home also means more distractions. For me, I mainly stuck to how I went about my work days pre-pandemic, minus the commute to the office.”
Communicating with colleagues, in particular, has become quite complex.
“Issues that used to be resolved by simply walking to someone’s desk for a conversation that lasted less than a minute now entail a multitude of messages via e-mail or text or one of the messaging apps,” Ms. Herrera shared. “Again, I have had to develop more patience — and cut down on my coffee — to manage these.”
What appeared to be an experiment among workplaces before the pandemic is now becoming a fixed practice. Yet, before it became a trend at present, BusinessWorld has somehow pioneered telecommuting at the turn of the century, as the paper’s Mindanao Bureau Chief, Marifi S. Jara, shared.
“In the years just before 2000, there were already WFH editors and in the early 2000’s, BusinessWorld Online’s Mobile Media Project deployed teams around the Philippines to survey the country’s internet readiness by testing where and how it was possible to deliver stories and photos online, ideally in real time,” she recalled.
While the work-from-home veteran hardly had to make adjustments since the pandemic, Ms. Jara noted that the challenge was on the part of reporters, especially the new ones who could not physically go to their beats, personally interact with sources, and get an overall vibe of what they are covering.
“For editors, this meant more hand-holding was needed, and mentoring is not always a smooth ride,” she said. “For the older reporters, connectivity was and is not always easy, and it can be very stressful given the daily deadline that is part of the job.”
CHANGES IN COVERAGE
Among reporters, covering stories have definitely shifted further into online.
Arjay L. Balinbin, a senior reporter of BusinessWorld, shared that it has become challenging figuring out how to get a full picture of reality beyond phone or Zoom interviews and documents or data.
“Covering events physically offers details you can’t get from online press briefings or phone interviews. You can’t see how politicians’ hands move or shake when they talk, or how press relations officers guide their bosses when answering sensitive questions. You don’t get a complete sense of their paralanguage, which is important when detecting lies and deceptions,” Mr. Balinbin shared.
For Michael Angelo S. Murillo, BusinessWorld’s senior reporter covering sports, nothing beats being at game venues. “Being at the moment as things, even history, unfold and being able to talk to your sources face-to-face — I prefer that kind of dynamics, and I miss those things,” he said.
Given the limitations in covering sporting events due to COVID-19, different ways to find stories must be sought. “These days, social media platforms are very important to get leads for stories apart from, of course, your regular sources,” Mr. Murillo said.
Jenina P. Ibañez, meanwhile, finds that as coverages have gone online reporters have to exert more effort in reaching sources.
“We don’t bump into potential sources at events now, so we definitely have to be more active in reaching out to people,” BusinessWorld’s trade and foreign investment reporter said.
In spite of the challenges, opportunities have emerged.
For Associate Editor Timothy Roy C. Medina, the crisis opened an opportunity to educate reporters about the history of economic crises, as well as gear them up for what to expect when the economy rebounds, through monthly webinars.
“I was determined to make sure that the writing staff was well-briefed on topics like the stimulus, the vaccine rollout, social policy and vaccination, booms, busts and bubbles, and industries that have been badly affected by the crisis,” Mr. Medina shared.
Moreover, the past months have further opened the opportunity for reporters to transcend from putting stories to print and get involved in BusinessWorld’s digital platforms.
“I’m proud that I belong to a news organization that’s agile and innovative. When change is necessary and the organization is actively working on it, there is no reason not to support it,” Mr. Balinbin, who has moderated several BusinessWorld Insights fora and Economic Forum sessions, shared.
“I’m used to facilitating discussions because I’m an educator by profession; but speaking before an audience I can’t see when I’m on screen was hard to imagine,” he continued. “I gave it a shot anyway, and it just felt like I was in a classroom again. It’s fascinating to see how some untapped skills can be put to use on a new task.”
Ms. Ibañez, meanwhile, enjoys getting to talk to sources in a more in-depth manner through BusinessWorld’s online fora and the B-Side podcast. “It’s a chance to ask them to explain in more detail or tell stories to concretize what they’re talking about,” she said.
Mr. Murillo, meanwhile, is among the first reporters to be a part of the B-Side podcast when it has just launched before the pandemic.
“I consider myself ‘old school’, not technology-inclined in large part, so you could just imagine my apprehension at the start in doing podcasts. But, again, you psych yourself in doing things like that considering the prevailing conditions with the pandemic,” he shared, adding that he sees the platform’s value as another channel to communicate stories now and moving forward.
In spite of the current challenges, BusinessWorld continues to excel in economic journalism as its people continue to be driven by the values it upholds, as well as the purpose it has been fulfilling since its first issue 34 years ago.
Mr. Balinbin, who has been with BusinessWorld for four years, regards it as another privilege to cover stories for a well-trusted newspaper that is read by policy makers who make decisions, businessmen who fuel industries, and academics who shape minds.
“I am inspired by the fact that in some ways we make an impact, especially in this time of crisis, by helping our readers make informed decisions,” he said.
Mr. Murillo, now with the paper for more than two decades, remains eager to do his share as a sportswriter in a media company that continues to evolve amid disruptions.
“I’ve seen it evolve and hurdle many challenges throughout the years. What we have now is another one, albeit this one with the pandemic is unprecedented. But I’m confident that the company can survive this and forge ahead,” he said.
Noting the purpose the paper continues to fulfill, Misses Dagun and Herrera noted the particular roles they still fulfill.
“BusinessWorld has been a big part of my career life. This has been my longest stay in a company,” Ms. Dagun said. “Though there are struggles, as many others are facing nowadays, staying is one way of giving back to the company that helped me improved my craft.”
“[I]t is the feeling of being useful through all this,” Ms. Herrera shared. “In the midst of an incredible explosion of what some people insist on calling ‘fake news’… I find satisfaction in that I am working in an organization that counters the lies with the truth, with news, with facts that are, hopefully, helpful to our readers as they try to understand the world we are in right now.”
Besides, at BusinessWorld’s core is its firm belief that “A Newspaper is A Public Trust.”
“In today’s media environment, there’s news 24/7 from Twitter, Facebook, websites, and other social media channels. There is still a need for objective, contextualized, and deep business reporting, and that’s where BusinessWorld comes in,” Ms. Garcia said.
Mr. Reyes, who has been with the publication for nearly 30 years, pointed out that the paper’s firm belief has served as its guiding principle on responding to specific situations, even trying periods; and so this even makes the job simpler.
“Some people think that is passe and corny. Try lasting in this job without that conviction to hold on to,” the EIC said.