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Sunday, 7 February 2010

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82 years of the Sunday Observer ! :

Epitome of Sri Lankan journalism


As a budding journalist clutching my application papers, I was not only awed by trying to get a journalist position, but also stepping for the first time into the magnificent Lake House building that was erected in 1926. Imagine the secrets we would discover if these walls could talk, and of course, how interesting it would be to know the various scandals and gossip over the years.

Sri Lanka’s weekly English newspaper with the largest circulation, the renowned Sunday Observer celebrated its 82nd anniversary on February 4, 2010. Starting on February 4, 1928, not knowing that this milestone date would be our Independence Day subsequently in 1948, the Sunday Observer started its journey. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) was the brainchild of D.R. Wijewardene.

He made his debut on the local scene as an entrepreneur and business magnate. With the dynamism he displayed, it was not surprising that he decided to plunge almost immediately into the world of newspapers. He became convinced that one of the most powerful instruments in a freedom struggle was the potent force of the press, and created a newspaper empire.

The Sunday Observer has been an epitome of Sri Lankan journalism where the best of our country’s journalists cut their teeth. The determination of getting your hands on a story that only you could break, the privilege of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous and the joy of discovering the positive aspect that your piece brings is life on the newspaper.

The Observer and Commercial Advertiser, which it was previously known as, was initiated on February 4, 1834. Distinguished British editors manned operations at the Observer including E.J. Darley, George Winter, Dr. Christopher Elliott, A.M. Ferguson (1859), John Ferguson (1867), R.H. Ferguson, Charles Tower, C. Drieberg (1923-1924), P. B. Marshall and J.D. Quirk.

After the colonial era came to an end, it was eventually steered forward by a class of Sri Lankan editors that could rival their English predecessors in the perfect art of language. Braving many a storm and adhering to deadlines, they sailed smoothly to rise against the tide of first-come first-served basis journalism.

The English press had renowned employees encompassing academia, artistes, and political elite, members of the judiciary, business tycoons and the English educated civil members.

The Sri Lankan Editors H.A.J. Hulugalle (1930-1931), H.D. Jansz (1931-1952), Tarzie Vittachchi (1953-1961), Denzil Peiris (1961-1970), Ernest Corea (1970-1973), Lionel Fernando (1973-1977), Harold Peiris (1977-1988), Leslie Dahanayake (1988-1990), H.L.D. Mahindapala (1990-1994), Ajith Samaranayake, Lakshman Gunasekara, Jayatilleke de Silva and Rajpal Abeynayake also proved that the Sunday Observer was a newspaper of first-class journalism.

The great Ajith, the ‘Sunday Essay’ columnist was an idol and a ‘listening shoulder for many who needed advice on tackling the reporting trade.

His demise was an irreplaceable loss to English journalism and his name will forever be engraved in the hearts of those who knew him not only as a friend but also as a writer with wit.

Tarzie Vittachi’s ‘Fly by Night’ was well-received and he subsequently went on to be a famous name at Newsweek. Reggie Siriwardena, Karel Roberts Ratnaweera, R.S. Karunaratne, Afreeha Jawad, Rajpal Abeynayake and Lynn Ockersz were superstars in their own right. Outstanding contributions in sports writing were made by the likes of Elmo Rodrigopulle, A.C. de Silva and the present Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Observer, Dinesh Weerawansa.

Reggie Siriwardena, notable writer and academic was an inspiration of intellectual creation. In addition the present Daily News Editor-in-Chief Jayatilleke de Silva also made a significant contribution to the Sunday Observer during his time by helping journalists get the better of a story and ensured that readers’ comments were taken seriously. He also perfected English literature by writing many books and continues to inspire and be a role model for young journalists.

Today, if a fly was to settle on a wall at the Sunday Observer editorial, the things it would witness! Printing a newspaper even on a Sunday is no easy task like we can see on a typical Saturday evening when anything from newspaper articles to patience can flit about. Our ‘youthful’ editor Dinesh Weerawansa always helps journalists and his associate editors with impressive speed with the need to get the newspaper on time to meet the deadline.

At the forefront of the Observer News desk, Pramod de Silva takes his seat as Senior Associate Editor while the lovable Deputy Editor S. Anandakumar and Senior Chief Sub Editor Dudley Jansz, ably assisted by Chief Sub Editor Indunil Thenuwara streamline what’s important for the pages while Ananth Palakidnar is the News Editor.

Journalists and sub-editors who grace the News Desk of the Sunday Observer are Asst. News Editor Shanika Sriyananda, Jayampathy Jayasinghe, P. Krishnaswamy, Jaliya Wijeyakoon, Buddy Gunaratne, Michael Kittampahuwa, Mohammed Naalir, Dhaneshi Yatawara, L.S.A. Wedarachchi, Ananda Kannangara, Ranil Wijayapala, Uditha Kumarasinghe, Manjula Fernando, Shirajiv Sirimane and Rohana Jayalal.

Features Editor Samangie Wettimuny somehow gets her feature articles on time with the help of Deputy Editor R.S. Karunaratne and Sarath Madumma while journalists Ranga Chandraratne, Indeewara Thilakerathne, Sajitha Prematunge, Mahes Perera, cartoonist Punchihewa and yours truly help out.

The Business Desk comprising Deputy Editor Surekha Galagoda, Lasantha Abeywardene, Lalin Fernandopulle and Gamini Warusamanna and Sports Desk comprising Deputy Editor A.C. de Silva, Leslie Fernando and Ranjan Anandappa are integral parts of the Sunday Observer.

The Junior Observer is handled by Maryanne Perera.

Vipula Amerasinghe, Kavindra Perera, Chinthaka Kumarasinghe and Tilak Perera belong to the breed who believes that “Pictures speak a thousand words”.

The layout department sees Graphics Editor Rajitha Udawatte helping to piece the newspaper puzzle with Chinthaka Balasuriya, Navindra Merinnage, Roshini Ranaweera, Mahil Wijesinghe and Dhammika Mendis.

The VDT Department comprises Melpitiya, Udaya, Sandra, Dehini, Fahriya, Iranthie, Lakmini, Oshani, Gaya and Kodagoda who ensure that articles are keyed on time.

On the administration and clerical side, the editor’s secretary Marina Herath together with the office assistants, Ravindra, Munesinghe, Amila, Sampath, Nalin,Sarath and the quick-witted Stanley make sure they are at the editor’s beck and call for urgent duties.

The highly famed Observer was already 90 years old when D.R. Wijewardene acquired it and today, its Sunday edition is nearing its 90-year mark! This would make the Sunday Observer the oldest English weekly newspaper in Sri Lanka.

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