Saipan — Twenty-five years ago, there were at least six newspapers on island: Marianas Variety, Marianas Review, Saipan Tribune (then owned by the late Larry Hillblom), Saipan-Guam Balita (News), Pacific Chronicle and Pacific Star. Guam’s PDN had a weekly pullout devoted entirely to NMI news.
There were two cable TV stations — Hillblom’s KMCV and Saipan Cable TV, which liked to congratulate itself for being the island’s only cable TV station whose newscasts were not “controlled” by Hillblom. There were also two radio stations that broadcast the news, Monday to Friday: KSAI-AM and KZMI-FM. And at least two local lifestyle magazines.
I was hired by a local businessman to open a new weekly newspaper, The Marianas Observer. (I named it after the left-leaning British newspaper published on Sunday.) The following year, a new weekly newspaper was born, Voices, owned by a garment manufacturer. Among the local newspapers, Variety alone published Monday to Friday.
In those days, no one else but the media reported the news. No one else but the editorial writers had public opinions about the burning issues of the day. If you wanted to “react” to the news, you had to call the media outfit or write a letter to the editor. One of the few publishable phrases that a reporter would usually hear from government officials, prominent businesspeople, other island celebrities and/or their lawyers was, “I’ll sue you.”
Today, on social media, everyone’s a news reporter, an opinion writer, a videographer and a photographer. Today, you usually read the news online, not to be informed, but mainly to post your outrage, preferably anonymously, and read similar expressions of indignation from other anonymous persons.
In 1998, following the Asian currency crisis, the local economy went into freefall. Many businesses shut down, including local media outfits. Eventually, only two newspapers were left: Variety, still locally owned, and Tribune, one of Tan Holdings’ many businesses around the world. Saipan Cable TV was sold to MCV which owned KMCV which is now known as KSPN. (MCV was acquired by NTT Docomo in 2013.)
The internet as we know it became the new big thing on island starting in 1995, but it wasn’t until only recently that people finally noticed how cyberspace has altered Saipan’s media landscape. Today on island, not a lot of people watch the news on a TV set. And those who still read the news prefer the online version — specifically, Variety’s — mainly because of the online comments.
And they don’t stop there. They will also post links to news stories, their or other people’s comments, on their Facebook pages which will then generate more links and more comments. The comments usually do not involve much thought, if at all. Sometimes they are hysterical reactions to something that, we will learn later, did not happen at all or in the way that we thought it did.
Back in the day, the favorite rhetorical piñata of concerned citizens and politicians were Japanese investors and/or the Yakuza, and Willie Tan and other garment manufacturers. Today, it is Imperial Pacific International, the now struggling Saipan casino investor which, last month, found itself, once again, thwacked online, this time for having construction workers who wanted to be paid before payday. Imperial Pacific said it is hoping that the community (i.e., online/social media commentators) will not freak out every time IPI is charged with involvement in devil-worship, human sacrifice, or whatever it is that the company will be accused of in the future.
Good luck with that. Many online commentators have already written IPI’s obituary even before it opened its temporary casino at T Galleria in 2015. They are heavily invested in IPI’s unfolding demise which they have repeatedly “predicted.”
There is, it seems, no stopping online mobocracy.
Today, on social media, everyone is a news reporter, an opinion writer, a videographer and a photographer. Today, you usually read the news online, not to be informed, but mainly to post your outrage, preferably anonymously, and read similar expressions of indignation from other anonymous persons.
It is like falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater, and getting “likes” for the panic you create.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of Marianas Variety, the NMI’s oldest newspaper. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.