By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features Writer
BusinessWorld, from its roots when it was founded as ‘Business Day’ in 1967, was Southeast Asia’s first business daily. It was founded on the promise of providing “competent and responsible reporting of the news” under Raul L. Locsin, who served as its first president and editor-in-chief.
Through the years, Business Day has garnered a stellar reputation among Filipino businessmen, becoming a standard of professional economic journalism in the country and creating a tradition of excellence it still holds to this day.
As it celebrates the 35th year since its reformation under its new name in July 1987, BusinessWorld now represents more than five decades of commitment to that vision, guided by Mr. Locsin’s ever-enduring belief that a newspaper is a public trust.
Even as modern journalism struggles to find its place amid disruptions to the landscape, whether due to the continued evolution and growth of digital media, or the ever-changing behavior of Filipino readers, BusinessWorld holds fast to its ideals.
Reacting to a recent Reuters report that found that more people are avoiding the news nowadays due to a perceived oversaturation of “negativity” and “political influence,” Miguel G. Belmonte, president & chief executive officer (CEO) of BusinessWorld, could only chuckle.
“This isn’t even the worst report I’ve seen,” he said in an interview. Mr. Belmonte recalled reading a study once that found that as much as 50% of people nowadays do not want to look at traditional media, preferring instead to acquire their news through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The Digital News Report of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that while the majority of people surveyed consume news regularly, 38% said they often or sometimes avoid the news — up from 29% in 2017. Around 36% — particularly those under 35 — say that the news lowers their mood.
Trust in news is also declining, with only 42% of people said they trust most news most of the time. That figure has fallen in almost half the countries in the report and risen in seven.
“The concept of people not wanting to read bad news is nothing new to us. Just a few years ago at the PhilSTAR, we made an effort to include good news in the front page, which no other newspaper was doing at the time,” Mr. Belmonte said.
“My feeling is that BusinessWorld is not that affected, because its content is not that concerned about bad news. Businessmen are not like regular readers, who are avoiding the news because it lowers their mood or some other reason. Businessmen want to hear the truth.”
It only makes sense. Businessmen need unbiased, verifiable facts for them to make the correct decisions regarding their daily operations. There is money involved, Mr. Belmonte noted, and no proper businessman will risk their operations by entertaining filtered but easier-to-swallow narratives as opposed to the direct, hard-hitting truths.
Moreover, BusinessWorld had overcome challenges of similar gravity in the past. The reason for the change in its name, for instance, was because the organization had to close down due to labor problems following the Martial Law period.
The non-striking workers got together barely a month later to form BusinessWorld Publishing Corp., ushering in the paper’s rebirth under the new name. This rebirth also saw the full computerization of its production process.
When Mr. Locsin passed away in May 2003, the paper underwent significant changes. His wife, Leticia Locsin, who was the executive editor and chief operating officer of the newspaper at that time, took over as president, publisher, and chairperson of the company until she passed away in August 2005.
The year after Mrs. Locsin’s death, telecommunications giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) acquired a minority stake in BusinessWorld through its beneficial trust fund unit, MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. This eventually led to the group assuming control of the paper with its subsidiary Hastings Holdings, Inc. in September 2013, after it increased its stake from 30% to 76.67% and infusing P100 million into the company over a 12-month period. Ray C. Espinosa was appointed as BusinessWorld chairman.
That was when the board of directors of BusinessWorld elected Mr. Belmonte as head of the company. He had also been leading The Philippine STAR at the time as its president & CEO. In July that year, Philippine Star Printing Company, Inc. (PhilSTAR) acquired 76.63% of BusinessWorld Publishing Corp. from Hastings Holdings, Inc. in a move meant to “strengthen the distribution and operations” of the country’s premier business daily.
Guided by a timeless purpose
The fact that BusinessWorld has managed to succeed thus far in maintaining a core audience of decision-makers and leaders is a testament to the paper’s enduring quality.
“For me, BusinessWorld exists in the first place and why it still exists is because of a responsibility and a duty to report the news as accurately and fairly as we can. The fact that we’re still around and that the paper still maintains its influence in Philippine society proves that we’re still relevant,” Mr. Belmonte said.
However, he said that it was not a reason for them to rest easy on their laurels. “We also have to look where we can innovate, so as not to be left behind. Things are changing at a very fast pace. We have to keep up with the times, and that’s part of the challenge,” he said.
Wilfredo G. Reyes, editor-in-chief of BusinessWorld, echoed the sentiment. “I think that every challenge we face is an opportunity to up our game and alerts us to even the slightest change in the market we serve. How such challenges will affect the way we do things is something all of us in the company will have to discern and agree on as we beat the path ahead. There will always be a need for verified, accurate information, especially during emergencies and crises — more so for BusinessWorld’s public — but the question is in the form and mode of delivery.”
Mr. Reyes further pointed out that people have been claiming that “print is dead” for more than two decades now, and yet it still maintains its place in society. “I think that every medium has its use and it is up to us to find out what that is amid changing needs and preferences, and how to maximize each platform,” he said.
“It is just our ‘luck’ that the current crisis since 2020 opened a door for us to monetize digital initiatives,” Mr. Reyes said. “Digital initiatives have been accounting for more of our products and revenues, that I now always refer to BusinessWorld more generally as a publication, rather than just a newspaper.”
“If anything, this crisis has shown that, more than specific actions, we have the right mindset (to begin with) and processes to promptly tap emerging opportunities when and however they come,” he added.
Much like Mr. Belmonte, Mr. Reyes believes that guided by the timeless purpose BusinessWorld was founded on, it can continue to exist and be relevant to the Philippine business community.
“By going back to our core values, best described by the overall principle that what we do here is a public trust. That informs all of our initiatives and efforts, and everything else flows from that conviction. One can think of a whole list of initiatives we can explore — of which there are many, to be sure — but forget that foundation and you are lost,” Mr. Reyes said.
What’s more, it is because the opinions of the reading public have become jaded and influenced by other media, Lucien C. Dy Tioco, executive vice-president of BusinessWorld who also heads its sales and marketing, pointed out, that the role of newspapers and publications like BusinessWorld are more important than ever.
BusinessWorld’s current office located in New Manila, Quezon City
“It’s really important to underline the role of the newspaper in providing credible and factual news. That’s what people need to realize,” he said.
“For me, this is just a temporary thing. Given the times, it’s a sign for people now to assess what’s going on. To disengage is not an option for us because eventually, more or less, you have to face the reality of things.”
“For newspapers, it’s important to fight for our role in this space, especially since there’s a need for us to level things in providing accurate and truthful information. With BusinessWorld, it’s more important to provide confidence to the business community, giving them information on what is going on with the economy and what are the developments happening around the globe,” Mr. Dy Tioco added.
It is part of BusinessWorld’s service to the public and the country to continue as it has done before, Mr. Belmonte noted. “We must continue to report the news as we have been always doing it. We maintain our integrity, credibility, accuracy, and unbiased reporting,” he said.
“That’s part of our service to our reading public, and our service to our country. To provide information that is useful for the decision-makers both in the public and private sector. It’s challenging but so far so good. We’re still here so we must be doing something right.”