MANILA –The Philippine News Agency website (www.pna.gov.ph) has breached the 2 million page views mark as it continued to expand its readership base, following a flurry of reforms instituted by Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar to revitalize the once-sagging government media outlet.
The 2-million mark was achieved last May -- when the PNA website garnered 2,189,341 page views -- much earlier than the December 2019 target for the milestone to be reached.
This is more than double the 1,065,884 page views the PNA portal garnered in December last year -- the first time it reached the 1-million mark -- and an increase of more than 500,000 page views from the 1,600,522 it garnered just last month.
The 2-million page views is a far cry from the 37,230 figure the PNA portal commanded a week after its new website design was launched in April 2017.
But the rapid increase in PNA readership would not have been possible without the much-needed attention and support provided by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to overhaul and modernize its operations.
Years of neglect
Launched as a teletype newswire service on March 1, 1973, the PNA has evolved into a web-based newswire service of the Philippine government under the supervision of the News and Information Bureau (NIB) of the PCOO.
Despite meager resources, PNA has consistently remained at the forefront of disseminating timely, reliable, and relevant news articles to community newspapers, national dailies, and local and international readers and subscribers.
PNA has also has been tapped in the substantive coverage of Presidential activities during major world events held in the Philippines such as the Pope visits; summit conferences of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); World Youth Day; and the Special Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting (SNAMM) on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development where it was awarded a Presidential citation in 2010.
PNA’s lofty standing, however, gradually faded due to years of neglect by the Aquino administration.
During the time, the PNA headquarters located on the 2nd floor of the PIA Building along Visayas Avenue, Quezon City, was in dire need of renovation, and necessary equipment was hard to come by.
Furthermore, the PNA has suffered lack of qualified staff due to a hiring and promotion moratorium imposed during previous administrations, a moratorium that was carried on by the Aquino administration despite urgent pleas from the PNA management.
The years of neglect came to the fore when PNA’s credibility gravely suffered from a spate of blunders in August and September in 2017.
These included using the logo of food firm Dole Philippines instead of that of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for a story about the latter’s pay rules for the 2018 holidays; using a Vietnam war photo in a story on the armed conflict in Marawi City; and the posting of what appeared to be unedited news stories on its official website and social media platforms, among others.
The series of blunders made the PNA the butt of jokes among mainstream media, which squarely, but erroneously, placed the blame on Andanar for running a seemingly inept organization.
This prompted the PCOO secretary to personally take the helm of the 46-year-old PNA and overhaul not only its antiquated organizational structure but also its physical and communication infrastructure.
Andanar personally picked Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco to oversee the reforms in the PNA.
Early in his investigation of the root cause of the errors, Egco was flabbergasted with what he called “abominable findings.”
“It seems to me that erroneous postings were habitual, averaging around 25 errors per month from January 2015 to June 2016 alone. A total of an unbelievable 460 online booboos,” he posted on his Facebook page in September 2017.
“So tell me, what did the past administration do to correct this humiliating bad habits? And why should our present leaders be at the receiving end of criticisms for inheriting a problem that was caused by their predecessors’ ineptness and neglect?” Egco said.
Nonetheless, he assured the public that “the flaws in the system” were being addressed “both in terms of manpower and technology.”
“We are determined to bring back that old journalistic fervor that once defined editors and reporters of the news agency in its ‘glory’ days. Please bear with us,” Egco said.
Since then, the PNA website has regained its reach with the upward trend of website visits due to the reforms instituted by its mother unit, the News and Information Bureau.
The use of fiber optic Internet connection and the launch of its new website design contributed much to the big upward trend in its readership.
The PNA main office was also renovated, providing its staff with a conducive working environment.
Following the 2017 editorial fiasco, the NIB Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay established three editorial layers in the processing of news prior to website posting.
The editorial staff was also reorganized for more effective and efficient processing of news materials submitted by field reporters.
PNA also stood on the frontline in providing substantive reports to key issues like the rehabilitation of Marawi City, Rehabinasyon, Train Law, the government’s campaign to end the local armed insurgency, among others.
The NIB, under the able leadership of Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay, also began the process of hiring highly qualified reporters, editors, and multi-media skilled staff to replace the personnel who have retired or resigned.
Multi-media skilled staff is needed for the PNA Newsroom, which was launched in October 2017 as part of its multi-media innovations.
The PNA Newsroom is a Monday to Friday webcast that gives a quick and comprehensive rundown of the day’s top stories.
The PNA Newsroom also launched the “Pros and Cons” talk show, which is also aired on PTV-4, and “Business Matters” which regularly airs on Friday.
From initially using equipment lent by other PCOO agencies, the PNA is now using a camera, teleprompter, and studio lights.
The PNA also got its own cameraman for newscast taping since April 1, 2019, and has tapped the services of two PNA editors as Newsroom anchors.
NIB also instituted measures to provide a continuing training program for PNA editors, writers, and technical staff to enhance their skills.
Among the recent trainings provided included the Journalism Training and the Multi-Media Concepts Training in Moscow, Russia in partnership with Sputnik News Agency; Diplomacy Training in Ankara, Turkey; the China-Philippines Young Journalists Exchange program in Fujian Province in China; and the War Correspondents Training in Istanbul, Turkey; and Seminar on Documentary Production and Promotion of ASEAN countries.
While more training for reporters and editors are in the offing to further enhance their journalism skills, the NIB is also working to provide them with training on video production to equip them with the basics of producing short video clips for the PNA Newsroom and the agency’s Facebook page.
The PNA is also expanding its worldwide reach by fostering news cooperation and exchange with its foreign counterparts.
Already a member of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA), the PNA recently joined the Belt and Road News Alliance -- and international news media organization composed of 65 founding members from 35 countries.
In the past two years, it also entered into a memorandum of agreements (MOA) with China Radio International (February 2017); Yonhap News Agency of South Korea (March 2018); and Hungarian News Agency (August 2018).
PNA also signed news cooperation agreements with Anadolu News Agency of Turkey on April 22, 2019, and Emirates News Agency on Feb. 12, 2019.
But one of the biggest and the most important innovation that Andanar brought to PNA is its social media presence.
“For the record, the PNA had no social media presence when we first came in,” he said.
“From zero social media presence in 2016, we have to establish a social media presence for the PNA,” Andanar said.
The establishment of a media presence has greatly raised the readership of the PNA website.
PNA’s Facebook page alone now has more than 100,000-lifetime page followers as of June 2019.
Bright future ahead
Despite its new-found vigor, the PNA is dead-set on sustaining its momentum by instituting more reforms to better improve its service.
With the Duterte administration focusing its resources to developing the countryside, the PNA is also making plans to boost the capabilities of its provincial bureaus in order to effectively and efficiently cover the developments.
Agtay said this includes undertaking much-needed renovations of the 19 PNA provincial bureaus.
“The NIB is also set to open plantilla positions for PNA provincial-based news reporters,” she said, adding that the move to hire staff with permanent positions is in line with President Duterte’s policy of ending contractualization.
Meanwhile, the news video production training for Mindanao bureaus is slated in mid-August of this year.
Like their Luzon and Visayas counterparts, those who will complete the training will be issued phones for their use.
Agtay said the continuing innovations, such as the use of Newsroom graphics and template, are also being undertaken to improve visual content.
From a lame-duck agency just two years ago, the PNA is truly now on its way to regaining the respect it once commanded, not only locally, but also internationally as well. (PNA)