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Dios Mabalos, Nilo P. Aureus!

The uncertainties of post-martial law, the recession, and the global Pandemic are a curse for community newspapers and print journalism. Worldwide, the high cost of production, overhead expenses, and the onset of social media and digital technology pose significant threats to print media’s survival. Constantly overcoming these challenges can be a tough job. According to the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), 13 community newspapers or half of its members have ceased printing since 2020.

Salamat Nilo P. Aureus! Bicol Mail persisted. Thank you for bravely navigating through these challenges of ensuring copies of the Bicol Mail reach the newsstands and their subscribers. As the publisher of Bicol Mail, Nilo stood tall among the greats in Bicol. Hurdling the technical requirements—financing, workforce, equipment—and workforce to handle the process of editing, typesetting, proofreading, printing, and distribution—can be very tough at these times.

As businessman owner of Gold Print Publishing House and the publisher of Bicol Mail, the only and oldest regional newspaper in the region, Nilo Portus Aureus was a beacon of inspiration for the men and women workforce, as well as the patronizing public that community newspapers continue to struggle against when funds go low from advertising, subscriptions or retail sales to survive. Community newspapers in the Philippines continue to face the more significant problems of declining readership and revenues. More and more people prefer social media to source information and current events. Despite this, Bicol Mail has received awards and accolades for being a community newspaper, with its principal mandate to defend press freedom and promote ethical standards for the professional development of local journalists.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank Nilo P. Aureus for inviting me to join the league of distinguished opinion writers in Bicol Mail. Tabang Bikol Movement had been a regular feature in Bicol Mail for its development advocacy and community-based programs. Now that he has passed on to life beyond, this should be the opportune time to express my gratitude again.

Forever grateful

But I have done so several times already. When he broke the news that Bicol Mail was closing on July 26, 2022, I was numbed momentarily. “We will have our last issue this week,” he said in a text message, without a trace of sadness, or so I thought. I had just sent in my column on the new president’s first SONA. So, the paper will close after 19 years!

This was part of my narrative in my column. Going by the record, the weekly regional newspaper, founded in 1953, closed for the second time on August 23. The first time it shut down was during martial law when “only state-sponsored media” thrived. That was during the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. I suddenly had a strange feeling of déjà vu - Bicol Mail closing again during the presidency of the son and namesake, Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos! I then assured Nilo that the closing of Bicol Mail may just be temporary.

On September 1, just less than a month, Bicol Mail resumed publication. I thanked him profusely for heeding the public clamor to reopen. Salamat, Nilo P. Aureus! Salamat sa mga manggagawa at istap ng Bicol Mail sa pagpapatuloy na mailabas ang dyaryo linggo linggo. As the publisher of Bicolandia’s only regional newspaper, you made us proud with this timely decision. Indeed, one can never put a good paper down.

Still, community newspapers need help to survive terrible losses due to the drop in advertisements like judicial notices, while overhead expenses for electricity, fuel, communications, and payroll for workers and editorial staff. What can the public do in return for this invaluable public service? Bicol has more than a dozen community newspapers. In Albay alone, there are five weekly newspapers with a combined circulation of at least 1,000. I can imagine their revenue losses. The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) once launched a partnership with Bicol Mail and other local newspapers in the country through a shared digital platform that readers can access online. That project was a suitable intervention. Another project may come from the private sector to advertise or help sell copies by being outlets or subscribers. For its 50th foundation anniversary, Mariners Naga bought a whole spread of the center page advertisement. Advertisements are a life of the community newspapers.

Bicol Mail was founded in 1953 by Leon Sa. Aureus, a journalist and the first Mayor of Naga City, was a guerrilla who led the Tangkong Vaca Guerilla Unit in 1942, who fought and repelled the Japanese Imperial forces from Naga City and many parts of Camarines Sur. My late father, the founder of the Mariners schools in Bicol, Jaime Chavez Jimenez, fought alongside him in the TVGU founded in Libmanan, where they both came from.

Bicol Mail has earned recognition for its “outstanding journalistic craftsmanship.” In 1960, it received an award as “the best edited provincial newspaper of the Philippines.” After closing in 1972, when martial law was declared, it reopened in 2003, with businessman and civic leader Nilo Portus Aureus, who founded Gold Print Publishing, at the helm. Since then, Bicol Mail has served a distinguished stable of writers, columnists, graphic/layout artists, and editors.

He wrote 30 last April 3, 2024, at age 70. Dios Mabalos, Nilo P. Aureus!


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