This story is part of a series. You can read other stories from Some Personal News here.
When Marchel Espina received the note instructing her to return to the Visayan Daily Star’s newsroom for a meeting last July, she knew it was going to be bad news. The entire staff up until that point had been working remotely due to the pandemic.
She was right. Managers there informed the staff that the Daily Star, one of the oldest and most widely read newspapers in Negros Island, Philippines, would shut down after 38 years. Roughly 30 people would lose their jobs in a week.
The room was silent. As Espina processed the announcement, she glanced around at her colleagues, some of whom had been there for 10, 20, even 30 years. If the news was bad for her — a relatively new reporter who had joined the paper the previous year — it had to be worse for them.
She wanted to reach out to her colleagues, to hug them, to cry into their shoulders. But the pandemic meant she had to absorb the news alone at her desk.
“My world just crashed,” Espina said. “It was the darkest moment of my life as a journalist.”
The pandemic has hit Philippine news outlets hard, drying up their revenue streams. Lockdowns have forced newsstands to close, and businesses have stopped buying advertisements. At least 11 publications temporarily stopped printing, according to the Philippine Press Institute.
Espina could see signs of the industry’s decline in Bacolod City. Before the July announcement, The Daily Star cut its pages from 15 to eight. Media network ABS-CBN shut down its local stations. When Espina tried looking for journalism jobs, she found none.
At that point, Espina hit “rock bottom” and started seeing a counselor. It wasn’t the job she didn’t want to say goodbye to, but “the life” — she wasn’t ready to give up being a journalist. Plus she had other, more practical concerns. As a business and economics reporter, Espina had interviewed many people who had lost their jobs and agonized over whether they would be able to feed their families. Now she had the same worries.
After the July meeting, the Daily Star’s staff asked management for another month to give them more time to job hunt. Managers had told them the paper would shut down by Aug. 31, and the official termination notices were due to arrive any day.
Sometimes Espina wondered whether there was any point in going to work since the paper would be closing soon. But she went anyway, knowing that people relied on the Daily Star for news.
“You have to set aside what you’re feeling and just work because the community needs us. They need information.” Espina said.
August passed, yet the termination letter never appeared. Some staff thought that the paper might stay open after all. But in mid-September, management sent out the letters, notifying everyone that their last day would be Oct. 16.
“When I finally received the letter, it’s the feeling of, ‘This is it. We have to move on. There’s no use fighting it,’” Espina said. “I don’t remember feeling anything more because I’m already moving on.”
Just a few days earlier, Espina had received a call from some former ABS-CBN Bacolod journalists. They had started their own news outlet, Digicast Negros, on Facebook after their station shut down, and they wanted Espina to join their team. “Planless” at the time, she said yes.
Espina’s first task was to build the outlet an official website. She had never built one from scratch before, but with the help of Google and some YouTube videos, she got it up and running.
Next, she had to fill the website. Digicast’s Facebook newscast is conducted in the local dialect, Hiligaynon, but the website needed English articles to attract a broader audience. So Espina started to translate, write and edit stories for Digicast. Her former editor from the Daily Star also joined the team, and together the two started a newsletter.
“I think people said at first it’s not going to work out because we have very diverse backgrounds. But the broadcast people, they do their thing. Us, we do our thing. There’s that respect there,” Espina said.
In addition to regular reporting for the website, the eight-person team produces a daily newscast, a weekly lifestyle show and a daily newsletter. They are constantly multitasking, but it helps that they are workaholics who love their jobs, Espina said. They’ve received messages from community members grateful that Digicast has helped fill the void left by ABS-CBN Bacolod and the Daily Star.
Late last year, the Daily Star resumed operations. A few of Espina’s former colleagues returned, but she is committed to her work at Digicast. The broadcast reporters who founded the outlet were not ready to say goodbye to “the life,” and she is grateful she hasn’t had to give it up yet either.
Journalists, Espina said, often face “a lot of labor issues.” But they stick with the industry because their work has meaning.
“We stayed in the job not because of the meager earnings, not because of the brutal hours. We stayed in the job because this is what we want to do. We want to be the voice of the voiceless and the hope of the hopeless and make an impact in the community one story at a time,” Espina said. “That is the life we want.”