Two decades ago, Mark Zuckerberg was just eight years old. Journalism as we knew it meant news delivered through milled paper, a crackling radio or a trusty TV set.

Today, Zuckerberg, 28, is a billionaire, and Facebook, the social network he created just eight years ago, has 900 million users. An audience this size, most media outlets only dream about.

But Facebook didn’t do it all on its own. It had an enabler: the Internet.

The Internet has been both a boon and a bane for journalism, for while it enables media outlets to reach a wider audience, it has also overseen a migration of readers and advertisers to the digital platform at the expense of traditional media with its promise of news available anytime, anywhere.

But for Jesus “Sonny” Garcia Jr., Sun.Star Publishing Inc. chairman of the board, the new media provides opportunities for producers of content.

“Content consumers now demand more of content producers,” Garcia said. “They demand real time instant information and insist on instant interactivity. The circulation of content is not just directly through mobile devices but also through social media.”

Fresh content

In response to this, Cebu journalists are grabbing every opportunity to produce fresher and more dynamic content. Updates in social networking sites have become essential in the daily operations of the newsrooms.

“But we are adjusting well and try to be in step with the times, at all times”: this is the common answer of The Freeman news editor Lucky Malicay and GMA 7 supervising producer Chelo Vallena in separate interviews.

All three English-language daily newspapers in Cebu, TV stations and AM/FM radio stations now have their own website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) maintains Sun.Star Online, the website of information and news fed from the Sun.Star publication affiliates nationwide.

The Freeman and its sister publications in the Star Group of Publications (Philippine Star, Pangmasa and Banat News) have their social media newsroom, a component of the group’s official website that serves as an online library of news feeds from the individual Twitter and Facebook accounts of all publications of the Star Group.

Like in Sun.Star Cebu, Cebu Daily News (CDN), radio dyLA and GMA 7, reporters in The Freeman are encouraged to capitalize on social networks to gather information, which, of course, goes through the basic journalistic exercise of verification, said Malicay.

Bigger audience

CDN publisher Eileen Mangubat said the Internet offers newspapers the opportunity to expand their readership.

To serve a wider online audience, she said CDN reinforced its website with the blog cebudailynews.wordpress, as well as with Facebook and Twitter for breaking stories, and video clips and images.

TURNING DIGITAL. Making newspaper content available in digital form allows it to be accessed on handheld devices, like tablets and smartphones, says Cebu Daily News publisher Eileen Mangubat.

CDN’s reporters are encouraged to take their own photos and video clips. As mobile journalists, they carry digital tools, like Samsung tablets, digital cameras and digital recorders. In mid-2012, it became easy for CDN’s employees to acquire Huawei tablets after they were offered salary deduction schemes.

To enhance the reader experience, CDN joined the digital newsstand of the Inquirer Group, allowing readers nostalgic for the look and feel of a classic newspaper to flip through entire CDN pages on desktops or handheld devices like tablets and smart phones.

Broadcasting worldwide

The new media has also helped traditional broadcast media.

Station manager Jun Tagalog said it has helped in marketing dyLA, enabling it to get bigger sales of its air time.

He said dyLA’s live streaming for the last three years has given the station a wider reach compared to what a typical radio transmitter provides.

“Practically, a radio station using live streaming can now claim that it is broadcasting worldwide,” he said.

Friends and angles

In the race to stay relevant, mainstream media has recognized that keeping up with the changing communication habits of audiences pays dividends.

Today, the demand is for instant communication and interactivity, in the style made popular by social networks.

Those that don’t interact are virtually shut out of the community conversation.

News editors find the interactivity of the audience in their websites an advantage.

For most newsrooms in Cebu, the social networking and government websites are good sources of news leads that they can follow up on.

BIGGER REACH, SALES. DyLA station manager Jun Tagalog says live streaming gives the station a wider reach and bigger airtime sales.

For dyLA, sometimes these leads give them a chance to get an exclusive story.

Tweets and Facebook posts also allow them to get feedback from their listeners and guide their reporters on what angles to pursue.

The Facebook account of dyLA-AM is making friends with everyone, from the listeners to the celebrities, officials and news sources.

“By so doing, you can get news out of their posts, tweets, comments and even on what they like or dislike.  There are times that their status can become intriguing and worthy to follow up on,” Tagalog said.

“To some extent, the chat on FB and Yahoo Messenger, plus the free texts of chikka.com and the free calls of Skype, have helped us, too, in our costs of communication,” he added.

Short and quick

As for The Freeman, it once got hold of a court decision by interacting with the news source through microblogging site Twitter. The court decision became the basis of a story that came out first in the paper.

GMA 7 features a special segment in its newscast that helps viewers air their concerns or complaints.

“With the interactivity, problems and concerns can easily be solved. That is very important, especially in the broadcast industry where fresh news is the name of the game,” Vallena said.

Ugly side

While most newsrooms capitalize on the advantages of the new media, they also take into account its drawbacks.

Tagalog said because of their accessibility and affordability, the new media are sometimes used as tools in sowing black propaganda.

These are even exploited to establish fake trending, and anyone could easily be a subject of a smear campaign online.

“That is why prudence should always be observed by any member of the media who regularly monitors events online,” Tagalog said.

As far as internal matters in the newsroom are concerned, Malicay said the downside of social networking sites is using them as a “soundboard” for individual negative sentiments on company-related issues.

“This is a practice that the newsroom believes abdicates responsibility, and thus, has been addressed by a corresponding policy,” he said.

Set the example

Malicay said journalists should use the new media for the good, and marshal this newfound engagement to the right path.

“One way for journalists to advocate responsible use of social media is to set the example—show users the kind of information that merits publication. If users of online media see the quality of blogs, tweets and texts of responsible journalists, they will move away from rumor mongers,” he added.

Experts suggest that an organization implement a policy on acceptable use of social networking.

Media organizations in the United States have come up with their guidelines for their staff in the use of social media. They say journalists need to be careful, responsible, respectful and truthful in writing their content in a way that meets the expectations of the online community.

Para-journalists

For Garcia, other dangers lurk in the emergence of “para-journalists.”

“Gathering and presenting content is no longer the monopoly of traditional media outlets,” said the Sun.Star chairman. “There are now i-reporters who share their eyewitness accounts of newsworthy events. There are citizen journalists who contribute to the reporting of news. There are bloggers who contribute comments and opinions on current events.”

Jesus Garcia Jr., Sun.Star Publishing Inc. chairman

Garcia said, however, that while para-journalists may be good sources of content for mainstream media, since they usually operate alone, they don’t have the benefit of an organization conducting a collective effort to discuss, check and counter-check facts before selecting materials for publication.

“We at Sun.Star believe that our role will be to serve as a reliable source of quality news and opinions and at the same time act as a responsible gatekeeper of which material or content goes into the different platforms suitable to different audiences. In other words, Sun.Star will be providing not only quality content but also responsible judgment,” Garcia said.

Community publishers, managers, and editors who direct the response to the rise of new media have different views on the nature and extent of the threat, or if it’s even a threat, and how they should meet it.

They don’t disagree though that it’s the changing readers and audiences that the mainstream press must cope with, or lose its market and, as crippling, its relevance.