“Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.” Thomas Jefferson
By Alex P. Vidal
Even if we were not good in marketing, we have been soliciting newspaper advertisements since we began writing for a community newspaper in late 80’s.
The job of employees in editorial department is different from the job of those in the newspaper’s marketing department, but we were required by the publisher to solicit advertisements especially during special issues like anniversary and Christmas.
Advertisements are the life-blood of any newspaper. Without them, publishers are hard-pressed to sustain a regular payroll, much less defray the expenses for production or printing costs. For special issues like anniversary, even editors, lay-out artists and delivery boys are dispatched to look for money. Everyone must chip in; everyone must eat and bring foods on the table.
Newspapers outside Metro Manila don’t pay well because they don’t really earn much revenue. Community journalists are among the lowest paid professionals in the Philippines. This was the response I made to the consul in the US Embassy who asked if I have much money after he found out that aside from being a newspaperman, I also dabbled in professional boxing as ring official where I was paid in dollars. “Community-based journalists live below the poverty level,” I told the consul. “I don’t even have money in the bank.”
There is a gray area in the journalists’ code of ethics when members of the editorial board — editors, staff writers and reporters — are seen soliciting ads in private companies, offices of politicians and government establishments. The dual tasks will definitely compromise the journalist’s job to write objectively. There will always be conflict of interests. A journalist’s credibility will be put to acid test.
But this has become a traditional and long-accepted practice among provincial-based journalists. Otherwise we starve. Publishers–and even some network owners–are forced to treat journalism heavily from the commercial point of view in order to survive. Many newspapers have closed shop because they could not sustain the spiraling printing costs and other related expenses. It’s not a walk in the park for publishers to maintain a daily newspaper in areas with limited advertisers. When business in certain city or province is good, it doesn’t guarantee that business in newspaper is also good. Many business establishments don’t place advertisements in the newspapers–except if they are under fire for labor violations, among other infractions. They put advertisements only to cushion the impact of negative publicity. In other words, they are not there for keeps.
This brought to our attention the case of Manila broadcasters Erwin Tulfo and Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang who are recently in the headlines after their names were implicated in the “pork barrel” controversy after receiving payments from the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), an agency under the Department of Agriculture that was used as conduit for the release of Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) money that went into ghost projects.
Tulfo claimed the transaction with Nabcor was legitimate as it was a payment for a radio blocktime advertisement. Nabcor issued him a check in the amount of P245,535 drawn from the agency’s account at United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB), Tektite Branch PSE Center, Ortigas, Pasig City on March 10, 2009.
Magdurulang known as Melo del Prado, who hosts a radio show in GMA7’s DZBB, got three checks issued dated April 27, May 14, and July 6 totaling P245,535.
“Is it ethical for a journalist to also solicit ads?”asked Manila-based columnist Ellen Tordesillas who hails from Antique.
Tordesillas wrote in her blog: “I’m more concerned about the ethical aspect of the what it seems has become a standard media practice: journalists doubling as advertising solicitors. Erwin said there’s even one broadcast practice called AOB (Air on Board) , where anchors read the press release of advertisers for a fee. He said he does not do that.
“It is a fact that advertisements are the lifeblood of media. But the advertising department is separate from the editorial department.
“Independence is a basic journalism value. For journalists to be credible and effective in their role of society’s watchdog, they have to be independent and that includes from the influence of the publication or network’s advertisers. A journalist reports something he discovered that would be of interest to and benefit the people and not because someone paid him to do it or it’s a requirement from advertisers.”