By Basti M. Vertudez

Last April, the Department of Education (DepEd) released a memorandum enforcing the face-to-face comeback of the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC), which was halted for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Photo Courtesy to NSPC Facebook page/DepEd

As noted in DepEd Memo No. 024, s. 2023, Cagayan De Oro hosted this year’s NSPC from July 17 to 21 with the theme “From Campus Journalism to Real-World Journalism: Shaping Minds from Schools to Societies.”
For many years, the NSPC has been dubbed for being the “Olympics of Campus Journalism in the Philippines” as it gathers the best of the best campus journalists from all over the country. But was it still the same prestigious contest despite its recent changes?

Tightened fight

In the memo, it was announced that only the first placers for each medium in the individual categories in the Regional Schools Press Conference (RPSC) shall qualify for the 2023 NSPC, further leading to the decrease of contenders in the national stage.
This is a huge change from the usual three participants for each individual category, which was still practiced during the last physical NSPC in 2020 held in Tuguegarao.
Similarly, the members for the group categories were reduced from seven members to only five with the new guideline.
For the school paper category, each region only sent its top five best school papers for each medium and section, which was reduced from the original number of 10 entries per region. 
This new policy drew flak from campus journalists, and even from school paper advisers.
For Kate Barretto, a campus journalist from Quezon who has been participating in various press conferences for years, this guideline only wastes the opportunity that could have been shared with more student journalists.
“It's quite upsetting because it is really hindering opportunities for more young journalists to step up on the next level of the competition without realizing that those runners-up could also have a better chance to win at the national level,” she expressed. 
The same sentiment was echoed by Ian Benedict Roxas, one of the school paper advisers of Quezon National High School (QNHS) and a trainer of a radio broadcasting team.
“Regarding sa group contests na five members lang, I guess we just have to deal with that. Medyo mahirap kasi for a very long time, seven talaga. So, we really have to compress the roles,” Roxas said.  

‘Seemingly rushed’

When the announcement was made by the DepEd only three months left before the 2023 NSPC, some Schools Division Offices (SDOs) and Regional Offices (ROs) were rattled in preparation for the Division Schools Press Conference (DSPC) and RSPC, which are prerequisites to NSPC.
It was made even more challenging due to the “no school paper, no student contestant” policy, which required the submission of school papers in digital format, and the time-on-task policy which prohibited training students during class hours.
These conditions made campus journalists and school paper advisers cripple just to produce a high-quality school paper with the hopes of advancing to the next level. 
“Given the time limitations we faced, it was difficult to achieve the level of thorough preparation we aspired to,” shared Miguel Lacandola, another campus journalist who had recently participated in the 2023 RSPC CALABARZON.
“The constraints imposed by the tight timeline undoubtedly posed a considerable challenge, making it challenging to devote the desired amount of time and attention to each element of the press from planning to training,” the Quezonian campus journalist added.
Similarly, RSPC contenders for the group categories in some SDOs like Quezon were only formed through the assignment of the management team to the schools with track records and existing organized teams — not through the usual DSPC because of the restricted time given.
For Roxas, it was a great way of saving time to prepare for the RSPC since its conduct was also announced late.
“Kung sa division, magko-conduct pa rin ng group contests, it will take time pa. Kailangan pang i-train ang bata given the short period of time,” the school paper adviser said.

Slashed budget

As regions from all across the country geared up for the 2023 NSPC, it was also noted by the DepEd that before the conduct of the event, ₱14.02 million was given to the host region, experiencing a big-time cut from last NSPC’s ₱26.4 million budget.
It also read that “travel expenses of student contestants will be subsidized by CO (Central Office) and charged against the Development and Promotion of Campus Journalism (DPCJ).”
While this aimed to save campus journalists and school paper advisers from spending their own money, it still did not guarantee their pockets.
“Is there a problem with the expenses needed in the contest? Yes, a lot. The ticket alone for the NSPC is ₱20,000 although it will be reimbursed naman,” Roxas stressed regarding their spending for the said contest.
“Yung paglalabas pa lang ng pera ay medyo mahirap siya talaga. Plus, we have one kid, so we have to really secure the budget for the delegate,” he added.
To resolve issues like this, schools like QNHS have established projects aiming to raise funds for its campus journalists, which will shoulder the expenses needed whenever they compete in journalism contests outside the school.
This ensures that despite the lack of budget posed by the bare financial support, student journalists will still be able to exercise their journalistic skills freely. 

Going beyond presscons

Although faced with different aforementioned issues on the conduct of this year’s NSPC, campus journalists still lived up to the true essence of any other press conference — to foster social consciousness and promote responsible journalism.
Miguel Lacandola, who has been a campus journalist for almost six years, believes that journalism contests are far more than just for recognition.
“These press conferences foster the development of critical thinking skills, which are essential for responsible journalism and active citizenship,” he said.

When asked about his reaction to the result of this year’s NSPC, especially with the nine-peat championship of CALABARZON, Lacandola said that it shows the dedication of students not just from the region, but also from different parts of the country, toward campus journalism.

“It is a testament of perseverance, passion, and excellence not just to those who competed in the recently held NSPC but to the many campus journalists in the region who have ignited the fire of true press freedom in the Philippines.”

In the same light, Roxas also shared that as a school paper adviser, he sees the NSPC as a huge platform for student journalists to exercise their freedom of expression through various journalistic mediums.
“School presscons are actually very important and they play a vital role in society. Through presscons, we train students to be vanguards of truth; we train them to deliver factual information; we train them to be critical thinkers,” the school paper adviser affirmed.
He added that digital campus journalism must also be embraced, especially at a time like today when the advancements in technology immensely capture the lives of people.
At present, school publications continuously adapt to the digital world as they establish social media pages on different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for publishing content and faster information dissemination not only within their campus but also within the community they belong in.
Also announced in the same memo was the addition of mobile journalism as a category in the following years of press conferences. It was introduced and tackled in a concurrent session of NSPC 2023 last July 19 with the theme “Mobile First: From School to Society.”
“With the advent of technology, we have to swim with the tides na hindi na tayo pwedeng mag-stick lang on traditional campus journalism like the usual. The writing is still the same; it’s just ‘yung medium lang talaga ‘yung naiba,” Roxas underscored.
“The good thing is through social media, through digital campus journalism, we are able to reach a greater audience. We have to accept technology as part of our lives.”
As this year marked the comeback of face-to-face NSPC after its two-year break, it also serves as a celebration of a milestone that the field of campus journalism achieved — going farther to achieve its goal to defend the truth and demonstrate the real essence of journalism despite the ever-changing challenges brought by the times.