Media's Public

Cebu papers now equal — in size

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]

Newspapers, like many other things in the world, are not created equal. Juanito V. Jabat, whom I worked with for 17 years in “The Freeman,” used to say that. I would laugh, not over his wisdom-laced pronouncement but the pun that accompanied it.

Even Cebu’s three English-language dailies, called “tabloid” for their size, didn’t have the same measurements. Freeman and “SunStar” were taller and thus looked bigger than “Cebu Daily News.” That, after CDN some years ago slashed its height by about two inches, which it said would be the “fatal two inches.”

It hasn’t been shown yet how “fatal” the reduction would be and to which or to whom. But SunStar and Freeman this year followed CDN’s size: SunStar along with its re-design last Jan. 11 and Freeman a few days later.

Blessing, curse

The three papers all have the “tabloid” format or, more precisely, the tabloid size: originally, 17” by 10.5” or about half the size of a broadsheet.

Which has been a blessing and a curse.

The good thing about it is that a tabloid size provides savings in paper, the most expensive component in newspaper production (a lot more costly than its journalists who produce content). The 17”-by-10.5” dimensions then were standard cut of newsprint from dealers and would fit the letterpress equipment at the time. With the introduction of offset printing and web presses (which use rolled paper), the size remained for some time, not only in Cebu but in the rest of the country, for the same practical business reason.

The downside is that “tabloid” had a bad name, associated with lurid photos and over-sensationalized stories on crime, sex and scandal. We had to explain that we’re only tabloid in size but not in content: we carry the same features as a broadsheet.

Aborted ban

A relevant and interesting parenthesis to the confusion over the meaning of tabloid was when the Cebu Provincial Board in September 2011 attempted to ban tabloids in the province by giving town and city mayors the power to seize copies of the papers that they would find to be smut.

Local media — notably, Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) and Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla)– the lawyers groups, and even Malacañang cautioned the PB on the constitutionality of the proposed ban, which involved prior restraint, unequal protection of the law and limit on free press.

[“The Anti-Tabloid Ordinance and ‘Suntok sa Buwan,’” Media’s Public, Sept. 23, 2011,]

Why the assault on tabloids? A number of Cebu officials confused the term with sleaze and pornography and used the shotgun blast on all papers that are small.

Origin of ‘tabloid’

A column by Nito Jabat (“Have Bat, Will Strike, Aug. 2, 2010, The Freeman) traced the origin of “tabloid” to a drug registered in 1884 by a British company (Burroughs, Wellcome & Co.), a combination of the words “tablet” and “alkaloid.” The drug vanished but “tabloid” stayed to mean “anything small.” (Nito joked about a girl who dumped a boyfriend because his genitals were “tabloid.”)

Soon the word applied only to small newspapers. And eventually meant only papers that catered to “prurient tastes” by peddling crime, sex and scandal, publications hawked on the streets or in grocery stores and strip malls.

Definitely, not Cebu’s English-language dailies that, some years ago, Cebu province legislators tried to ban. The ban, had it not been aborted, would’ve been as “fatal” as the two-inch cut CDN talked about.

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