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Commentary

When the Philippine Daily Inquirer went to press

/ 05:12 AM December 08, 2018

Thirty-three years ago, the first issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer was put to bed the night of Dec. 8, 1985. Readers found its first banner story the next morning, Dec. 9, 1985—“OPPOSITION SPLITS: Cory rebuffs Doy demands.” A new daily broadsheet was born and, as the cliché goes, the rest is history.

The daily Inquirer was the successor to the weekly Inquirer that Mr&Ms published to cover the hearings of the Agrava Commission, which adjudicated the killing of ex-Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. When the proceedings ended with the conviction of soldiers but the acquittal of their officers, the raison d’etre for the weekly ended, too.

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Eugenia D. Apostol and Betty Go-Belmonte, cochairs in the first Inquirer organization, then decided that the weekly Inquirer could have a new life if Marcos called a snap election, as international pressure—aka US intervention under President Ronald Reagan—was getting to bear on Marcos, with his legitimacy in question.

A “snap election” Marcos did call in November 1985, for Feb. 7, 1986. The daily Inquirer then came to being.

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The initial print run was 30,000 copies. The days following were very trying. Circulation agents returned copies in big volumes. Subsequent print runs went below 15,000 copies.

Then the break came in early January 1986. The banner “SISTER OF GEN FIDEL RAMOS, FM kin backs Cory” turned around the order for copies. The agents began asking for more every day: 5,000 to 10,000 to over 15,000 copies more daily, until the print run reached over 200,000 copies by the snap election date, or just 61 days from first issue.

By the time of the Edsa People Power Revolt on Feb. 25, 1986, circulation had breached the 300,000 mark, 79 days from the paper’s launch. No doubt, that was a phenomenal run, perhaps one great run that will never be replicated as print media gasps its last breath amid the comprehensive cyberplatform that now services the global 24/7 news and views cycle. The digital tsunami is drowning print.

Thirty-three years is a long time; a score and 13 years; time for the X/Y generation and the millennials to be born and to grow up. Yet it’s a brief time measured against the Inquirer’s daily work, which is to report on the contemporary history of Philippine society and its participation in the global village.

The countdown to the paper’s 33rd anniversary says “the company will celebrate not only milestones through the years, but also the contributions of men and women who have been with PDI on its journey to make the Inquirer part of the Filipinos’ daily life.”

Yes, there were many unsung heroes who made the Inquirer survive the trying years, when it was starting out without the required resources needed for the size it would reach as a national daily broadsheet on its first year. The printing technology in use that time was primitive compared to what it is today. Copies were printed on paper for paste-up artists to work on and then photographed, and the negatives superimposed on plates to be rolled in the huge web-offset printing machines.

The Inquirer did not have its own printing machines during the first three months. It was into outsourcing much earlier than when this option became a practical business track. There was a time the Inquirer was being printed in five printing shops in different parts of Metro Manila. It was an overwhelming daily logistical challenge.

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There were no commercial mobile phones and tablets then. No e-mailing yet. Beepers were just starting to be used. Today, in 2018, it is amazing to think how radical the change has become from how the printed news was delivered 33 years ago.

Many who were in the Inquirer during its early days may have retired, or may no longer be around. But the experience they had was unique and special. Their Inquirer story is about people being brought together by circumstances to create a medium where they could contribute in shaping the times they lived in.

The Inquirer in 1985 was an ordinary newspaper set against an extraordinary turning point in Philippine history, with the Filipino people confronting real risks to life and limb. It is a great privilege for those of us who were there to have had the chance to participate in such a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking.

Danilo S. Venida (danilosvenida@gmail.com) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.

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