The Philippine Daily Inquirer
by David Valdes
The Early Years
It is 2001 and for more than a decade now, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has been the market leader in terms of newspaper readership and revenue. With The Inquirer’s strong lead in newspaper readership, the newspaper has been extremely profitable and the employees have been enjoying robust profit-sharing bonuses. Inquirer’s unique hard-hitting style of journalism has been building loyal readers and consistently winning journalism awards. As the accolades continue to roll in, it seems nothing could go wrong for t...
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The Philippine Daily Inquirer
by David Valdes
The Early Years
It is 2001 and for more than a decade now, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has been the market leader in terms of newspaper readership and revenue. With The Inquirer’s strong lead in newspaper readership, the newspaper has been extremely profitable and the employees have been enjoying robust profit-sharing bonuses. Inquirer’s unique hard-hitting style of journalism has been building loyal readers and consistently winning journalism awards. As the accolades continue to roll in, it seems nothing could go wrong for this newspaper.
The newspaper was first founded in 1985 in the midst of widespread unrest brought about by the public’s dissatisfaction with the authoritarian and dictatorial rule of the Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos. The newspaper largely opposed this dictatorship and reported on the abuses of the Marcos regime. In the beginning, the newspaper operated with a handful of employees (both journalists and business operations) working together in one large room in decrepit building in Manila. It was a time of political uncertainty and stress. You never knew when you could get secretly picked up by Marcos’s henchmen, locked up or killed with your family never knowing your fate. Despite this, many of the old-timers remember those times fondly; “We were like one family, united against an unjust regime. We knew we were fighting the good fight, for our kids and future generations,” recalled one pioneering editor. The Inquirer was among those that helped incite the population to finally overthrow the regime in 1986. Because of its important role in this revolution and its hard-hitting no-holds-barred approach to reporting, the newspaper is admired by most Filipinos.
Eventually, as the newspaper grew and became more and more successful, they moved into their very own brand-new building in Makati, a more modern business district in 1994. This gleaming, bright and spacious modern workplace has 3 main floors. More and more new employees came in and many of the pioneers could see the changes, some of them unwanted. “These new employees didn’t really experience what we experienced. They don’t know the meaning of sacrifice.”
The Warning Signs Despite Growth
With the economy in the ‘90s generally good, the newspaper’s advertising revenue grew leaps and bounds. No matter what its competitors tried to do, the Inquirer was comfortably entrenched at the top spot continuing to build on its lead. It wasn’t long before an attitude of complacency began to form, as employees and owners enjoyed the fruits of their success.
The first troubling signs that something was amiss appeared just at the turn of the millennium. The world was in love with the Internet and more and more people could access the news online when they wanted to, practically anywhere with a computer. Many of Inquirer’s editors felt the newspaper would never be threatened by this. After all, you couldn’t really bring in a desktop computer into a car, bus or train to read the news could you? The portability of a newspaper as a medium was simply unsurpassed. Letty, the Inquirer’s venerable, pioneering Editor-in-chief and well-loved leader, exclaimed, as long as you can’t bring your desktop computer to read the news in the toilet, then we will always have newspapers. But with computers becoming smaller, the advantage of newspaper portability was being challenged. As more and more mobile gadgets were being introduced that had the potential of accessing the Internet practically anywhere, some of Inquirer’s officers began to sit and take notice. No longer could you say, “You can’t take your computer to read in the toilet”.
The Inquirer had established its website version in 1997 so it was not exactly behind the times. However, the bulk of the revenue came from its newspaper business and the news website was nowhere near to becoming a profit-making venture. In fact, it was a large expense with little sign of revenue growth. While some officers within the Inquirer felt strongly about pouring more investment and effort into the web business, many conservative editors felt hesitant to embrace this new medium. Among the perceived issues was whether the Internet was in fact a competitor of the newspaper. If the Inquirer were to promote its news website which was accessible for free to anyone with a computer linked to the Internet, would that not reduce the readership of the Inquirer newspaper?
The Old vs The New
Consider the differences in operations; traditional newspapers have news deadlines. News, features and advertising content are sent in at around 5pm of that day for it to be processed, consolidated and laid out on the newspaper page and then sent to the printing press. The machines work throughout the night to print the newspapers so that by 4am the next day, the delivery trucks can head out to distribute the newspaper around the country.
But for a true news website, there is no such deadline. News has to be processed as it comes and published on the Internet as soon as possible if it was to compete in the modern world. News was beginning to be available “on-demand” from anywhere with access to the Internet and if a newspaper fails to deliver, the public can easily turn to other news sources on the Internet. For editors, competing in this never ending process was a difficult concept to grasp. The only way the Inquirer could compete among news websites was to change the traditional editorial process to accommodate a 24 hour news cycle. For the editors, the possibility of having to work longer hours under a 24 hour cycle was daunting. Hiring more editorial staff would still mean more supervision work for them and the risk of losing control over the quality of the news content.
The Heart and Soul of the Newspaper
To make matters worse, Letty, the editor-in-chief, was a slave to the traditional newspaper process. Time and time again Letty had shown admirable courage to publish what she felt was right despite the pressure from powerful politicians adversely affected by highly critical news coverage. She was the main driving force of the newspaper’s fearless brand of journalism. However, Letty would often arrive late at the editorial office, often times at 5pm, and the newspaper process would often grind to a halt waiting for her input. She would then proceed to overrule much of the editorial decisions made earlier by the junior editorial staff, which would cause immense delay in the process. A very hands-on editor and manager, nothing went on the front page without Letty’s scrutiny and guidance. The other editors who reported to her were generally very competent journalists but because of Letty’s micro-management leadership style, the editors always deferred to her judgement and instructions. Delays in the newspaper process would cause a chain reaction down the newspaper production process, delaying the distribution of the newspaper and enabling competitors, especially those on the Internet, to deliver the news to the reading public much earlier.
With the Inquirer’s website treated more as a support for the newspaper rather than an independent product competing in the Internet news market place, it was often not updated until after midnight so as not to unduly affect newspaper sales the next morning. Some of the more visionary editors were worried that the situation needed to change but such was the respect they had for Letty that they were reluctant to bring this up during meetings. Besides, while Letty herself would often express how important it was to adapt to the 24 hour news cycle of the Internet world, her actions did not really reflect her words as she continued to come in late to work.
A number of forward-thinking editors had the potential of turning the ship around toward a more modern strategy. However, they are mostly young junior editors that had little clout and respect in the newsroom. For many of the senior editors, if you were not among those who worked and lived through the dangerous Marcos dictatorship, then you hadn’t really “earned your stripes.”
Management’s move to bolster its web business by forming an independent web-focused group was met with suspicion. New employees hired for the new group were seen by the old-time editors as their rivals and cooperation was difficult. But this cooperation was crucial for the success of the new website and the future of the Inquirer. The cooperation between web and newspaper editors and the sharing of news content between the website and the newspaper was a critical factor in gaining cost savings and creating a unified Inquirer brand.
The Challenge of the Future
The newspaper owners are concerned, they have to deal with idealistic editors and journalists while considering that the advertising business is the lifeblood of the company and they need to ensure the company changes with the times to ensure continued success. Globally, newspaper readership was on the decline while Internet usage was rising dramatically. Fewer readers mean fewer eyeballs to view the newspaper advertisements. This would eventually mean a serious threat to the long term prospects of the business.
Sandy, the Inquirer’s CEO, knows she has a challenging task ahead of her. She has to navigate rough waters caused by the clash of sub-cultures within the newspaper. On one hand she had a successful newspaper but on the other, she knew she had to influence change in order for the company to be ready for the future. She has to deal with a company that needs to change direction, contentious and suspicious editors, and a complacent organisational culture.
Discussion Guide Questions for Analysis:
How would you describe the organisational culture and sub-cultures within the Inquirer?
Why is there resistance to change within the Inquirer?
Discuss the level of centralisation within the Editorial Group and explain its effects.
How is the current departmentalisation approach contributing to the problem?
At what team development stage would you consider the Editorial Group to be? Why?
How does Letty’s leadership style and behaviour affect Inquirer’s change process?
What can Sandy do to change the organisational culture to become more adaptive to the environment?
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