Aurora Magazine

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“The content from our print publications has to be ‘translated’"

Published in May-Jun 2016
In conversation with Barbie Atienza, Head of External Affairs, Manila Bulletin.
Photo: Rico Cruz and Camille Ante, Manila Bulletin.
Photo: Rico Cruz and Camille Ante, Manila Bulletin.

MAMUN M. ADIL: When was Manila Bulletin established?
BARBIE ATIENZA: In 1900 which makes us 116 years old and the second oldest newspaper in the Philippines. We have the highest circulation in the country, averaging about 350,000 copies a day, with a pass-on readership of about six to seven. Manila Bulletin is owned by the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation, which also publishes two tabloids, one in English (Tempo) and one in the local vernacular Tagalo (Balita), as well as about nine magazine titles covering different areas of interest including lifestyles, sport and agriculture.

MMA: How does the readership of the newspapers vary?
BA: Manila Bulletin’s readership transcends economic and age brackets; Tempo caters to SECs C and D, in addition to people on the go, while Balita caters to SECs D and E.

MMA: At Publish Asia 2016, you said that print in the Philippines has reached a plateau and to increase readership you are implementing new ways of engaging young people. How are you doing this?
BA: A major way is through events that are relevant to them. For example, because elections in the Philippines are due in May, we have come up with activities aimed at encouraging them to vote, as nearly 48% of the electorate belongs to them. This is a two-pronged approach; we are going to campuses to meet young people and we are sponsoring forums and talks that centre on why and how they should participate in the elections. We also organise events and CSR activities to promote reading as a habit, such as reading parties and campaigns. What is encouraging is that although there may be a decline in [print] readership in favour of online, when young people read serious stuff such as the news, or even novels, there is still a preference for a hard copy. If we can ensure this segment grows, the sustainably of print is assured. Luckily for us, internet penetration in the Philippines is relatively low (20 to 25%) due to a lack of infrastructure, and this helps us.

MMA: What investments has Manila Bulletin made to cater to young people’s preferences for digital?
BA: We have invested in an online broadcast team to supplement the newspaper’s coverage on our website, established a social media team and integrated our newsrooms in order to leverage all our content and deliver it in different formats. In our opinion, the content from our print publications has to be ‘translated’ in a completely different way to be effective online. We are guided by the principle that “how things are said is more important that what is being said.”


The content from our print publications has to be ‘translated’ in a completely different way to be effective online. We are guided by the principle that “how things are said is more important that what is being said.”


MMA: Is the revenue coming from your online presence significant?
BA: No, we are still ‘traditional’ in the sense that we rely on our three publications for revenue; the big bulk (75-80%) of our revenue comes from advertising and the rest from circulation.

MMA: What differentiates Manila Bulletin from its competitors?
BA: Credibility. We believe in responsible journalism and we don’t compromise on that irrespective of the medium; we are aiming to blend creativity and change with the stability of value and tradition. Young people want information instantly and the problem here is that sometimes you tend to compromise on accuracy and credibility, and that is why you have Justin Bieber dying almost every week, or people getting married without knowing it.

MMA: How has Manila Bulletin’s content evolved?
BA: The way we deliver content has changed. We have shorter stories that are more focused. At one point, the front page would carry 12 to 14 stories with pictures the size of stamps, now this is history; we have more colour photos and fewer stories. Similarly, the options we provide our advertisers have changed; we provide them with creative solutions including fold-ups and pop-ups; we have been pioneers in 3D printing and QR Codes and we are in the midst of experimenting with some apps that can be of benefit to our advertisers.

Mamun M. Adil is Manager, Business Development and Research, DAWN. mamun.adil@gmail.com

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