History of Online Journalism in the Philippines
by: Jamal Ashley Abbas, M.A. Media Studies
At the end of authoritarian rule in the Philippines, the first public access BBS (bulletin board system) based in the country – named the First- Fil RBBS – went online in 1986. Later, a network to connect several BBSes in Metro Manila was formed – The Philippine FidoNet exchange.(1)
By 1991, the Internet had come to the Philippines. Transnational companies like Intel, Motorola, and Texas Instruments as well as local companies like PLDT, had data network gateways where they exchanged emails and documents.
The development of two browsers – Mosaic in 1992 and Netscape in 1994 – revolutionized the Web. Suddenly, navigating the Web became very easy. These were immediately followed by Opera and Internet Explorer browsers. The Web had become global.
In 1993, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Industrial Research Foundation created the Philnet project (now called PHNET). Engineers and scientists from UP-Diliman, UP Los Banos, Ateneo de Manila, Xavier University, and St. Louis University were tapped to help the project. The aim was to connect the Philippines to the Internet via a gateway in the US. (2)
In 1994, using a Cisco 7000 router, Philnet connected to the Internet through NASA Ames Center in Silicon Valley, California. Thus, the Philippines “officially” arrived in cyberspace. It had its very own gateway to the Internet and the Web.
In the US and Europe, electronic dissemination of texts and graphics started in the 1970s with teletext and videotext. In the US, the foremost online service provider from the 1970s to the mid 1990s was CompuServe. In cooperation with Associated Press (AP), Compuserve published videotext versions of about a dozen newspapers. In 1980s and early 90s, many newspapers disseminated their online versions through Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), online service providers like America Online (AOL), Prodigy and Compuserve.
But it was the invention of Web browsers Mosaic in 1992, Netscape in 1994 and Internet Explorer in 1995 that opened up the Internet to the world in general, and to news organizations in particular, through the World Wide Web.
Boczkowski (2002, p. 273) noted that:
“(The year) 1995 saw newspapers settling on the web as their electronic publishing environment of choice… A count by the Newspaper Association of America showed more than 175 US dailies publishing on the web at the end of that year, a number that grew to over 750 three years later.” 
According to Boczkowski (2002), the World Wide Web was the “online venue of choice of newspapers” because of the “(1) availability of a large number of readers worldwide… (2) ease of publishing … and (3) superior graphical presentation.” (p.273)
The American Press Institute, in their website, defines Journalism as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.”
In this chapter, Online Journalism is defined as journalism based in the World Wide Web and features “a unique convergence of text, audio, video, photo, infographics, slides, flash, timeline, and others in telling a news story on the Web. Online journalism also features unlimited news display, faster news reporting, instant news aggregation, real time news updates, and cross-time-and-space dissemination of news around the world.” (Xu:2013, p.1)
There were many newspapers and magazines published “online” or in the Internet using online service providers like Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy since the 1980s. But in the World Wide Web, the first newspapers came out only in 1994.
In 1993, the University of Florida uploaded the first website on journalism. In January 1994, the Palo Alto Weekly of California, USA was published on the Web followed by Halifax Daily News of Nova Scotia, Canada in June. In November 1994, the Electronic Telegraph, the online version of UK’s The Telegraph, was published. The Irish Times of Dublin, Ireland was also published online in 1994. 
By 1995, there were 150 newspapers on the World Wide Web. . By December 1995, Asia already had several newspapers online like The China Daily, Utusan Malaysia, Kompas of Indonesia, Asahi Shimbun of Japan and Singapore’s New Straits Times and Business Times. 
In the Philippines, the Manila Times, the oldest existing newspaper in the country, reportedly went online in 1995, followed by Business World Online a month later. However, the websites or even Wikipedia articles of these two newspapers do not mention such pioneering achievement as being the first online newspapers in the Philippines. But the Philippine Daily Inquirer claims to be the first Philippine broadsheet to go online in 1997.
In 1996, Sun.Star Cebu, a community paper, created its online version. Sun.Star claims that their papers are “tabloid in format but broadsheet in content”. Sun.Star publishes several editions for the following cities: Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, Dumaguete, General Santos, Iloilo City, Tacloban and Zamboanga City as well as for the provinces of Pangasinan and Pampanga. Sun.Star Cebu is its flagship edition, catering to the Metro Cebu populace. Other community papers also went online like The Freeman Online (Cebu) and The Bohol Times Online.
In 1999, the Philippine Press Institute initiated the Globicom (Globalization of Island Community Newspapers) project, in cooperation with the Business World Online, and under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project’s goal was to bring the country’s community newspapers online by creating a web portal for them so they could put their news stories online. Through Globicon, several community papers went online. But due to lack of support from the stakeholders, the project did not last long.
One of the causes of the failure of Globicon was that it was in competition with other community papers already online like the Sun.Star network. In May 2000, sunstar.com.ph became, according to its website, “the home to the only network of community newspapers in the country”.
In the post-Marcos era, three newspapers dominate the industry– The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star and the Manila Bulletin. The Inquirer was formed in December 1985 by Eugenia Apostol and other veteran journalists in order to have a newspaper that would fight the Marcos dictatorship.
Five months after the EDSA People Power Revolution, Betty Go-Belmonte, Max Soliven and Art Borjal left the Inquirer and put up their own newspaper, The Philippine Star. The two newspapers remain the most reputable and leading broadsheets in the country.
The Marcos-era Bulletin Today reverted to its original name, The Manila Bulletin after the EDSA revolution. It maintained its hold on the Classified Ads industry. Unlike Inquirer and Star, Bulletin prefer to have a non-political stand on issues.
The leading national newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer joined the news online bandwagon in 1997 as inquirer.net.
The Philippine Star did not launch its website, philstar.com until the year 2000. Manila Bulletin preferred to stay away from the online business until much later.
BROADCAST NEWS ONLINE
The Lopezes were the only owners who got back their TV network after Mr. Marcos left the country, although they only got one channel (Channel 2) back instead of the two TV channels they previously owned. Other TV networks — ABC 5 belonged to the Roces family; RBS 7 (now GMA) was owned by Robert B. Stewart; MBC 11 was owned by the Elizaldes; IBC 13 was owned by Andres Soriano – were not given back to the pre-Martial Law owners.
ABS-CBN slowly regained its dominance of the Philippine TV industry. In 1997, ABS-CBN news division, abs-cbnnews launched its website ABS-CBNnews.com. It joined forces with The Philippine Star, which provided the content, along with ABS-CBN News.
In 2001, the rivals of Philippine Star and ABS-CBN, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and GMA-7 respectively, joined forces to create INQ7 Interactive, which was “intended to integrate print, TV, radio and other media with the Web to deliver content to consumers anytime, anywhere.” But the joint venture was short-lived. It ended in 2007. The online Inquirer went back to its original domain name – inquirer.net.
PURELY DIGITAL NEWS
Online News was started by newspapers as a means of advertising their printed publications. Some but not all of their stories were uploaded in the online versions. Some asked for subscription fees to view the whole contents of the paper. The TV networks followed suit. A part of their online presence was allocated to the news sector.
But there are publications that went straight to digital news. Philnews.com is a web portal that publishes news about the Philippines, whether it is from their own writers or from other publications. According to its web site, “PHILNEWS.COM is a news portal launched in 1996 and based both in California, USA and Metro Manila, Philippines.”
After EDSA Two which saw the removal from office of President Estrada in 2001, Bulatlat.com was established. This news website has no corresponding print or TV versions. In its website, it says it seeks “to reflect the people’s views and stand on issues that affect their lives and their future – human rights and civil liberties, national patrimony, workers and peasant rights and interests, migrant rights and welfare, the rights and status of women, indigenous people’s rights, the environment, among others”.
One digital news website that has become very popular and controversial is Rappler. A brainchild of former Manila and Jakarta CNN Bureau Chief and former Head of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Division Maria Ressa, Rappler was launched as a full-blown news website on January 1, 2012.
Rappler is under attack from the Duterte administration. In January 2018, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused it of being partly owned by foreigners, which is against the Philippine Constitution. SEC thus revoked its right to operate as a media organization. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) filed various charges against Rappler.
(update: There are at least seven cases pending in the courts against Ressa and Rappler for tax evasion and other charges. On June 15, 2020, Maria Ressa was found guilty of cyber libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 for a Rappler article published at least four months before the law came into effect.)
Another significant online news oufit is the non-profit VERA Files. Created in 2008 by a group of veteran journalists, it focuses on investigative reports. According to its website, VERA Files’ “expertise lies in the production of research-intensive and in-depth reports in multiple formats, and the training and mentoring of journalists, students and civil society organizations, especially those whose opportunities for capacity building are scarce.” Part of its revenues comes from selling its stories to online sites and newspapers.
In 2017, Poynter Institute included Vera Files and Rappler in its International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). In 2018, Facebook chose both organizations as its fact-checkers.
RAPID INCREASE OF INTERNET USERS
In 1996, two years after the Philippine government connected to the Internet, there were already some 40,000 people in the Philippines using the Internet or World Wide Web. By the year 2000, there were already some 2,000,000 Internet users. While the Philippine Long Distance Terlephone Co. (PLDT) held a monopoly of Internet access, there was a rapid increase of Internet Service Providers which greatly lowered the costs of Internet access. Also, new telephone companies were given franchises while there was a decrease in prices of computers and an increase in computer literacy. By 2007, Internet users in the country reached 7,820,000.
To fully appreciate the impact of online journalism, let us note what was going on in the World Wide Web in the decade after the creation of Web browsers, which truly opened the Web to the public. At first, news organizations merely uploaded their print articles onto their news websites. But the Web was continually changing:
In 1994, Yahoo was launched.
In 1995, while there were already 18 million Americans online, there were only about half a million who used the World Wide Web. But that was about to change when in that year, the browser Netscape was launched. It made navigating the World Wide Web easy. People flocked to the Web. Then came Internet Explorer which was bundled with Microsoft 95. And Geocities free webhosting was launched.
(Manila Times and Business World reportedly went online in 1995)
In 1996, Nokia launched Nokia 9000i, the first cellphone with Internet capabilities. And Hotmail, the webmail service was released, giving stiff competition to traditional oniline email services.
(Sun.Star Cebu was launched)
In 1997, Google.com entered the scene. BBC Online started its full service, which included BBC News and BBC Sports.
(Inquirer.net went online)
(ABS-CBNnews.com was launched)
In 1999, Napster, which allowed freedownloading of mp3 music, burst into the Web, creating havoc in the music industry. And the world witnessed the first mega merger in the dotcom industry – Yahoo bought Geocities for US$3.6 Billion.
In 2000, most people were shocked when relative newbie America Online (AOL) bought the very tradional Time Warner (Time Magazine and Warner Brothers) for a whopping $165 Billion.
(Philstar.com went online)
In 2001, wikipedia was established.
(INQ7 Interactive was launched)
(Bulatlat.com went online)
In 2002, Friendster, the first social media networking site (SNS) was launched.
(Manila Standard went online)
The year 2003 saw important Web launches like Apple’s iTune’s Music Store, Skype, LinkedIn, MySpace, and the WordPress blogging system.
In 2004, Facebook was created, but only for Harvard students.
In 2005, Rupert Murdoch (News Corp) bought MySpace for $580 Million. But the news of the year was the launch of YOUTUBE. COM
In 2006, Google bought Youtube for $1.65 Billion while Twitter joined the Cyberspace. And the rest of the world was allowed to use Facebook.
It was Facebook that changed the Internet landscape in the Philippines. By 2006, the existence of Social Media had been developed through blogs and social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook.
In 2009, Internet users in the Philippines numbered around 8.3 million people. But in 2010, the number of Internet users jumped to 23.4 million people. (See chart below) This huge jump was caused by the huge increase of facebook users in the Philippines. According to a Yahoo!-Nielsen Net Index survey, only 4% of Filipinos visiting SNS visited Facebook in 2009. But in 2010, 83% of Filipinos– some 14,600,300 people – who used SNS also used Facebook.
TOP PHILIPPINE NEWS SITES and SOCIAL MEDIA
The Philippines is one of the world’s top Facebook users. According to UK consultancy firm We Are Social’s Digital Report 2018, there are 67 million internet users in the Philippines and the same number holds Facebook accounts. Some ten million have Facebook-owned Instagram accounts. Of course, many people, especially trolls, have multiple accounts.
As usual, figures vary. According to the statistics portal Statista.com, the expected number of FB users in the Philippines in 2018 is just around 36.2 million; while some 41.2 million people in the Philippines are social network users.
Web traffic and ranking sites Alexa and Similarweb put Inquirer.net as the number two local media organization website in the country. But it is the number one news site in the Philippines, topping ABS-CBNnews.com
The Philippine Daily Inquirer is the leading newspaper in the country. On Oct. 27, 1997, it became one the first news sites on the Web. Inquirer’s FB page has 4.4 million “likes” while its Twitter account has 2.8 million followers.
Bailyn & Bailyn (2011) says that the more sites linking to one’s site, the more credibility it has and the higher it ranks in Alexa, Google and other ranking sites. There are 21,396 sites linking to inquirer.net, which makes it the top news site in the Philippines.
ABS-CBNnews.com is the second top news website in the country. It is the “news arm” of abs-cbn.com, the country’s biggest radio and TV network. Alexa, Similarweb and other ranking sites actually rank abs-cbn.com as the top local media (not just news) website in the country. It is also the country’s top Facebook publisher.
With the phenomenal rise of social media users in the country, local news sites are invariably connected to social media sites. As of November 2018, the FB page of ABS-CBNnews has 15.7 million followers while its Twitter account has some 5.9 million followers. There are 12,905 sites linking to it.
(update: On July 10, 2020, the Congressional Committee on Legislative Franchises denied the renewal of ABS-CBN’s radio-TV franchise. While the biggest share of ABS-CBN’s business comes from the broadcast industry, ABS CBN still maintains a very lucrative cable TV business, which could continue its free TV and some radio programs. Its online business will continue to be strong and may even grow stronger as it can migrate some of its radio and TV programs online. It will also probably put more resources in its online businesses.)
Both Alexa and Similarweb rank gmanetwork.com as the third local media site in the Philippines. GMAnetwork.com is the online full service of the radio and television network, GMA Network, Inc. It has 47 VHF and 41 UHF TV stations, as well as 25 radio stations. The website includes its news arm, the GMA News Online. But, the criteria used by Alexa puts the GMA News Online way down the list. 
Perhaps it is because of its url – http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/. It uses a mere subdomain; i.e., the GMA News Online is just a part of the mother site GMAnetwork.com. It does not have its own dotcom site (for example, gmanews.com). The GMA Network FB page has around 17.1 million followers while the GMA News FB page has 12.6 million “likes”. GMA News Twitte account has 5.4 million followers.
Rappler.com is a purely Web-based media organization. It is not linked to any TV, radio or newspaper. It is ranked as the 11th top website for all categories in the Philippines, behind Lazada and ahead of Blogspot.com.
Rappler advocates citizen journalism and opens its site to citizen journalists. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, Rappler trained some 17 citizen journalists on covering the elections. Rappler’s FB page has 3.7 million “likes” and its Twitter account has some 3 million followers. There are 9764 sites linked to it.
The Philippine Star launched its online version – philstar.com in 2000. But from a mere online version of its newspaper, the website has grown to include its sister publications – the Filipino langauge Pilipino STAR Ngayon, Cebu’s oldest English language newspaper The Freeman, a Cebuano language tabloid Banat and People Asia magazine. It’s FB page has 1.4 million “likes” while its Twitter page has 372 thousand followers. There are 6,333 sites linking to it.
Its website says that it was awarded as Best Website (newspaper category) in the 4th Digital Filipino Web Awards given in Manila in 2010 and as Best Website (corporate category) in the Catholic Mass Media Awards of 2009.
Alexa’s ratings as of Nov. 2018 puts Sunstar.com.ph as the fifth top media organization, behind Philstar.com and ahead of the country’s oldest newspapers Manila Bulletin and Manila Times. Like its print version, whch has several provincial editions, Sunstar has several FB pages. Its Sunstar Philippines FB page has more than 299,000 followers, Sunstar Cebu FB page has 326 thousand followers and Sunstar Davao FB has 183 thousand “likes”. Sunstar Philippines has some 203 thousand Twitter followers. Some 4,029 sites are linked to Sunstar.com.ph.
THE FUTURE OF ONLINE JOURNALISM
The British WIRED magazine in 2014 asked a few writers and editors what the future of Online Journalism holds. Jason Seiken, Editor-in-chief of The Telegraph said:
“Pessimists worry that we are descending into a world dominated by emptiness, but the news business has always had its equivalent of the listicle. Tabloid journalism historically outsells quality journalism. Clickbait sells, and that’s fine. Serious journalists will get better at harnessing new reporting technologies — from data-mining tools to drones equipped with pollution-monitoring sensors — and coming up with exciting ways to present news and information. Whether your taste is serious or irreverent, we are entering a golden age of journalism.”
But with the internet becoming a collaborative platform, news sites need to be convergent with various social media platforms (FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) to disseminate their content. With rapid technological advances like Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven apps and Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) gadgets, online journalism needs to keep up with technology.
Nic Newman (2018, p.46), of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and lead author of the Digital News Project 2018 concludes:
“News organisations need to rethink their role in a world where people increasingly do not seek out media but are instead immersed in it (Beckett and Deuze, 2017). Changing journalistic culture will be a critical part of that along with selecting the right strategies. While AI, voice, AR/VR, messaging, and the shift to subscription are amongst the key trends ahead, the timing and precise form of these opportunities remain uncertain. Choices will still need to be made about what is most important for any particular organisation at a particular time.”
Once again, journalism is at a crossroads. One path could lead to a new golden age of journalism. But the path is riddled with technological innovations. Another path could lead to ruin with the proliferation of Fake News in a post-Truth world. But one thing is certain: the future of journalism lies with Online or Digital Journalism.
3. Kahn, Robert E. and Vinton G. Cerf What Is The Internet (And What Makes It Work) – December 1999 retrieved from http://www.policyscience.net/cerf.pdf
4. Boczkowski, P. (2002). The development and use of online newspapers: What research tells us and what we might want to know. in L. Lievrouw & S. Livingstone (Eds.), The handbook of new media (pp. 270-286). London: Sage.
6. Xu, Xiaoge (2013) Online Journalism, The University of Nottingham, China Campus Retreved from https://www.academia.edu/1830348/Online_Journalism. Also published in C. Karen, E. Ashley & K. Randy (Eds.). The Internet in China: An Encyclopedia Handbook of Online Business, Information Distribution, and Social Connectivity. Great Barrington, MA, USA: Berkshire Publishing.
7. Shedden, David (2004) New Media Timeline (1994) retrieved from https://www.poynter.org/news/new-media-timeline-1994
8. Noci, Javier Diaz (2013) A HISTORY OF JOURNALISM ON THE INTERNET: A state of the art and some methodological trends Revista internacional de Historia de la Comunicación, Nº1, Vol.1, año 2013, pp. 253-272
9. Carlson, D. (2005). The online timeline. Retrieved from http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/carlson/timeline.shtml
10. Contreras, Manuelita Dela Torre and Crispin C. Maslog (2006) Philippine Online Journalism: Promise And Perils Retrieved from https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/7348159/philippine-online-journalism-amic
11. Labog-Javellana, Juliet (2016, Jan. 7) From print to multimedia organization: The Inquirer story The Philippine Daily Inquirer
12. Contreras, Manuelita Dela Torre and Crispin C. Maslog (2006), op. cit.
13. Guioguio , Reyaldo (2016, March 22) An Overview of the Mass Media Situation in the Philippines Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/overview-mass-media-situation-philippines-rene-guioguio
14. Olandres, Abe (2010, June 8) Yahoo!-Nielsen Net Index 2010 Retrieved from https://www.yugatech.com/the-internet/yahoo-nielsen-net-index-2010/#8xT7IqHjhR637LhK.99
15. Camus, Miguel R (2018, Feb. 15) PH is world leader in social media usage Philippine Daily Inquirer Retrieved from https://business.inquirer.net/246015/ph-world-leader-social-media-usage#ixzz5WSH2EPO4
16. Number of Facebook users in the Philippines from 2015 to 2022 (in millions) Statista:The Statistic Portal Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/490455/number-of-philippines-facebook-users/
17. Bailyn, Evan & Bailyn, Bradley (2011) Outsmarting Google: SEO Secrets to Winning New Business : Indianapolis: Que Publishing
18. For Alexa rankings for Topsites in the Philippines, go to: https://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/PH
19. Lambert, Harry (2014, July 3) The Big Question: What is the future of online journalism? WIRED Retrieved from https://www.wired.co.uk/article/big-question-2
20. Listicle is an article that contains a list of something like “10 Things Most People Hate To Do”.
21. Newman, Nic (2018) DIGITAL NEWS PROJECT 2018: Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions Reuters Institute & Oxford University. Retrieved from https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2018-01/RISJ%20Trends%20and%20Predictions%202018%20NN.pdf
Jamal Ashley Abbas is the first Filipino graduate of the M.A. in Media Studies program of the UP College of Mass Communication. He has been teaching Communication and Media Studies courses in various universities, at one time or another, since 2004. He is a freelance writer since 1998, former columnist and Managing Editor of Mr. & Ms. Magazine, and awardee of the Manila Rotary Club Journalism Awards in 2001. He is a social media manager, taking care of several websites and blogs since 1996 and FB pages including his “flagship” blog, Postprandial Musings, 2.0 @ jamalashley.com. He was Editor in Chief of the blog of Astrology Friends Philippines and maintained the blog of the Freelance Writers Guild of the Philippines (FWGP). He currently manages the social media – website, FB pages and blogs of the Bangsa Moro Federal Business Council, of which he is the VP for Media & Communication, and the Journalism Studies Association of the Philippines.
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