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Newspaper editors can be an edgy lot. Especially when something big happens when they’ve already put their papers “to bed” and the presses are ready to roll. Pre-pandemic, that would delay the trip to their favorite hangout to unwind.
Like yesterday. As of TV news primetime, President Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA) was not yet over. The people at the news desks were still waiting for the verbal gems, or bombs, from the Chief Executive.
Then, at around 8:30 p.m., when most newspaper printers were doing last-minute checks prior to running the front pages, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz hoisted 127 kg — more than twice her listed body weight of 55 kg — to win the Philippines’ first gold medal at any Olympic Games and setting a new Games record to boot.
(Clarification: in 1988, Arianne Cerdeña won a gold at Seoul but because bowling was then a demonstration sport, her achievement was not included in the country’s medal count.)
“Binaklas” or dismantled, Dodo Catacutan quoted an unidentified editor in a sports-oriented website. Most others would say remat, newsroom slang for page reformat or recast. Whatever, it is something editors don’t relish doing after already having devoted so much time to arranging the page. But then again, winning a first Olympic gold justifies trumping a presidential speech. I can picture editors last night redoing page one with an expletive (not a presidential monopoly) but with detectable glee because Diaz nailed it.
I had always imagined that if a Filipino athlete won an Olympic bronze medal, the story would land on page one, but perhaps below the fold. It did. Above the fold if it was a silver. Boxer Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco enjoyed page-one coverage when he placed second in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as did Diaz herself in Rio 2016. But a first gold medal would merit an all-caps banner headline with a dominant photo.
This morning’s front-page roundup is a confirmation of sorts of that imagination.
ALL-CAPS BANNER HEADLINES
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The Manila Bulletin, normally of the staid, formal page one, is screaming GOLD! with the uncharacteristic exclamation point. So is the Manila Times. Technically their identical headlines are not banners but rarely will you see ALL CAPS headlines on page one of Manila’s so-called “broadsheets.” Today, five of them have all-capital letters in their headlines, but still in black ink. Three employ banners, headlines that run across the entire width of the page.
The BusinessMirror, which caters to a less excitable readership, has an all-caps banner — exclamation point included — and has Diaz’s winning photo above the masthead.
- Most of today’s newspapers in Manila are no longer broad. Except for the BusinessMirror, many in recent years have adopted the Berliner midi format, which is 315 millimeters (or 12.4 inches) wide. Traditionally broadsheets were 15 inches across, sometimes 23. Hence the term broadsheet today is a romantic expression in the Philippines to refer to the English-language newspapers catering to higher sections of society.
- Tabloids, measuring half of a broadsheet, are often relegated to the masses, using the vernacular for stories usually of crime and scandal. Noticeable on their front pages are ALL-CAPS HEADLINES IN RED.
Editors normally arrange page-one stories according to the perceived news value given to each one. While the front page is already prime real estate, one can still detect a hierarchy if a story:
- appears above the imaginary horizontal fold
- has the biggest headline treatment in terms of font size and width
- has a deck (subhead) or nut graf
- occupies more space than other stories, and/or
- has an accompanying photo.
Having all features would be the equivalent of a royal flush or a home run with loaded bases. In the case of Diaz’s gold, most “broadsheets” in Manila rolled out their red page-one carpets.
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There were exceptions, of course. The Manila Standard gave the top spot — banner headline, photo — to the president but conceded the skybox (the teaser at the top of the page) to Diaz. BusinessWorld devoted more than half of its page one, including a banner and a huge infographic, to the SONA but did not mention the Philippines’ Olympic landmark that one would think it did not merit the attention of the captains of industry. (A BusinessWorld editor confirmed that Diaz’s win came “too late” to change page one.)
Stop-the-presses situations are rare, and expensive. The 9/11 attacks almost 20 years ago occurred as New Yorkers were punching their office clocks; 13 time zones away in Manila, it was nearly bedtime and almost all newspapers had to change their page one. Today, many events are still scheduled so that they can conveniently fit printed newspapers’ deadlines.
In case other Filipino athletes are so inspired to win more gold medals in Tokyo — and we have excellent chances in boxing, rowing, the pole vault and gymnastics — expect these achievements to dominate page one in the next few days, barring a bigger story.
Gary A. Mariano is a retired De La Salle University assistant professor. Forty years ago, he was a sports stringer for the Philippines News Agency, before the Philippines dropped the “s.”