Daily News turns100: A PATH-Breaking feat | Sunday Observer

Daily News turns100: A PATH-Breaking feat

However, as governments have come and gone,  the memory of  D.R Wijewardene lives on at the Daily News and Lake House
However, as governments have come and gone, the memory of D.R Wijewardene lives on at the Daily News and Lake House

Completing 100 years for any organization in today’s competitive times is a remarkable achievement. The achievement is more so for a traditional newspaper publication such as the Daily News, the sister publication of the Sunday Observer which celebrated its centenary this week under the auspices of the Minister of Media, Mangala Samaraweera.

Former editors and staff, stalwarts of the industry joined the current Chairman of the organization Krishantha Cooray, Editor Lalith Allahakkoon and current staffers of the newspaper for a simple event this week to mark the special day.

However, the day definitely should be celebrated as completing 100 years is an extraordinary feat for a newspaper.

As technology advances life has become fast-paced with one leisurely reading through a newspaper while sprawled on an armchair at the beginning of the day is long gone. With newspapers predicted to become obsolete in its traditional format while slumping ad sales and precipitous slumps in circulation has forced many local newspapers into bankruptcy, the Daily News among other publications of the famed Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. more popularly known as Lake House, thrives. Despite having been through ups and downs, the Daily News remains a popular newspaper in Sri Lanka today.

As a newspaper that is a 100 years old, the Daily News has witnessed social, economic and political change throughout the country’s history bearing witness to these events and bringing impartial and accurate information to its readers. Catering to all ages the Daily News has never compromised its quality while it can also boast that a large number of acclaimed journalists and editors have walked through its doors who have ensured its continued excellence in the media field.

The beginning of the newspaper’s journey dates back to 1917 when Don Richard Wijewardene is said to have taken over ‘The Ceylonese’ founded by P. Ramanathan while rechristening it as the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ and commenced printing on January 3, 1918. Entangled in the country’s political struggles since pre-independence times the Newspaper was nationalized in 1970 after Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s return to power. Bringing in the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (Special Provisions) Law No. 28 of 1973 at the time 75 percent of the institution was nationalized which brought it under strict government control.

However, as governments have come and gone, the memory of D.R Wijewardene lives on at the Daily News and Lake House. As Deputy Editor of the Daily News, Samangi Wettimuny wrote in the special supplement published in honour of the paper’s centenary ‘D.R Wijewardene still rules at the Lake House’. Rarely seen at other institutions it is common to see staffers pay their respects to the statue of its founder while coming into work bringing in that sense of gratitude and giving their best to the organization. This is perhaps one factor which has ensured the success of the publication throughout the years.

But, as time would tell the editors and reporters of the Daily News have endured many trials and tribulations during the time, from death threats, enforced bans on circulation and takeovers. But, as former Senior Associate Editor of the Daily News, P. Balasingham points out, the sense of comradeship always reigned within the editorial where staffers supported each other in the worst of times. “Despite the situation, the staff always supported each other and the printing of the paper was never delayed” he recalled, adding that the staff were always ready to report to work when called, even at night if needed. He also recalled the staffers of the Sunday Observer who pitched in at the Daily News if and when required, this was the dedication and comradeship of all reporters at the time. “All the staff involved were of high calibre, competency with a command of the English language and had an impeccable work ethic,” he said.

But as stalwarts of the institution would relate the editorial was vastly different from what it is today. Far from the quiet and reserved editorial desks of today where people softly type on their computers or laptops while running off to the corridors to speak to their contacts on personal mobile phones, the Daily News editorial was vibrant and full of character back in the day. Smoking and having a ‘shot’ at work was commonplace and accepted while colourful language exchanged between staffers only to be forgotten, the next day. Noisy and chaotic, the newsroom at Daily News accommodated all sorts of characters. But as one former staffer, Gaston De Rosayro recalled despite all the shenanigans and eccentricities the work never suffered from all working together for a common end.

According to one of the longest-serving Editors of the Daily News Manik De Silva, the staff’s competency never suffered. “At my time serving sub-editor Chandra Silva was one of the most competent sub-editors” he points out adding that Associate editor P. Balasingham was a remarkable organizer.

But as the editorial has become quieter and toned down, the dedication for work has remained with the Daily News editorial with its staffers utilizing the media freedom now in place to provide accurate and good stories to its readers. Despite the times its circulation remains substantial and continues in its growth.

However, as the paper now completes its centenary at a time where new technology has brought news to the reader’s fingertips experts claim that newspapers such as the Daily News needs to adapt to the changes.

But, according to Manik De Silva 100 years for a newspaper is no small achievement. “The internet has caused circulations of papers to drop in recent times,” he said. However, he says he believes a particular kind of readership will remain in the foreseeable future.

“Old fogeys like me still read newspapers as a habit and therefore newspapers will have a readership,” he said.

As one of the former Editors of the Daily News, Nihal Ratnaike put it, the Daily News was one of the first newspapers to take note of the constant social changes and as for its lengthy and successful survival he says, “To have survived for 100 years the Daily News must be a good paper, it is simple as that”.

Reminiscing bittersweet memories

By Manjula Fernando

It wouldn’t be easy to turn into words the bittersweet reminiscences of my decade and a half long career at the Daily News, the place where I learned to be a scribe, starting from the good old Coroners Courts.

As I joined the place in September 1995, there were young and old faces at the editorial and it was before the digital boom swept the newsroom. The senior journos had the noisy, mechanical typewriters while, us trainees had a stack of news-prints and a pen at hand.

As I recall the sombre newsroom at the time, there was a giant subs’ desk at the centre, an ancient wooden table that stood imposingly outside Editor Manik De Silva’s room, from where he used to observe the subs at work through the glass paneled door - a door even the Chairmen of Lake House would stand in waiting, to be called in.

There is pin-drop silence in the usually raucous newsroom whenever Manik walks out to pass an instruction or two to the subs or the reporters, which was somewhat rare. Usually we were summoned.

Mr.P.Balasinghan the Chief Subeditor was seated on a smaller table right outside the Editor’s room, with B.N.L.Fernando, the loyal secretary of Manik seated on his left.

Among those who sat around the grand sub’s desk were, the audacious prankster Haigler, soft spoken Ashley, Mrs.Visakha Cook and smiling Buddy Guneratne and the Page one subeditor R.Saudranayagam.Dudley Jansz who became a senior Associate Editor at the Sunday Observer later, was then with the Business Desk.

The News Editor N.R.J.Aaron was a taller than life figure, who didn’t miss a chance at any given moment to crack a joke with his colleagues from the Dinamina Editorial on the other side of the hall. Come rain or sunshine, you would neither see his chair vacant, nor the enormous typewriter on his table or the phone without a job, on any given working day which happened to be six and not five. Benevolent Perumal was his personal assistant.

But the junior reporters like me, mostly dealt with the then Deputy News Editor A.S.Fernando whom we fondly called Mr.A.S. It was he who we turned to for our every need, be it journalistic or otherwise. He would lend a willing ear to our troubles and was always ready with an answer. We did not think twice in penning down bold stories, stretching as far as possible our limits in the state media, knowing very well that he would be there to shield us from any untoward eventuality. And not once, but on many occasions he had proven that we were right.

The senior hands at the News Desk were T. Sabharatnam, Sarath Malalasekera, Richard de Silva, Gilbert Dias, Edward Arambewela, A.B.Mendis, Rodney Martinesz, Lionel Yodhasinghe, Chitra Weeraratne, Afreeha Jawad, Florence Wickremage, Kumar Wettasinghe and Norton Weersinghe. D.P. Wickremasinghe (Wickie)the senior translator, was also entrusted with weaning the trainee scribes.

The junior reporters were Tharika Goonetilleke, Yehani Wedatilleke, Madhubhashini Dayabandara, Nicola Perera and Harshini Perera.

The features desk was occupied by Willie De Silva, Lalitha Withanachchi, Nedra Vittachchi, Nemsiri Muthukumarana, Lynn Ockersz who later went on to become the Editor of Daily News. George Mason was the Legal Adviser and Rohana Ariyaratne, the foreign news editor .

The Sports desk was manned by tender hearted but sharp-witted Marianne Decker who had a spell over her colleagues, Saadi Thawfeeq, Dinesh Weerawansa with Elmo Rodrigopulle at the helm. Marianne’s untimely death was one of the saddest memories.

The good old peons at the time were Gnanadasa and Piyasena. Piyasena who tendered to Manik’s need knew exactly when he was in a good mood to have an official chit chat.

My mentor at the time was senior courts reporter M.J.M. Zarook who took me, a somewhat reluctant reporter, under his wing to be nurtured as a budding jurno. I was assigned to cover the Special Malpractices Commission set up as soon as the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga government came to power, a few months after my arrival.

While my permanent beat was the Coroner’s Courts, I covered the Commission proceedings, fully monitored and supervised by “Zorro”, my mentor. On one occasion we were summoned to the chamber of the Chairman of the SPC Priyantha Perera, PC to be offered tea and refer to a reporting blunder, which was committed by yours truly, with a smile on his face. In contrast, the other scribes used to get a good bashing before the day’s proceedings began. That was the clout Zorro enjoyed with the legal fraternity.

Earning my first by-line was something that will never leave my memory. For two months I was writing about suicides and sudden deaths which transpired at the coronor’s courts, without any by-line given. One day, I gathered up the courage to confront the Editor. All I got was a good earful. Riza Rawdin who became the Chief sub editor much later and Ramya Amarasinghe a junior reporter consoled me. But come next day, I see my by-line flashing on Page 1.

It was a report on an over enthusiastic cricket fan who collapsed and died of a heart attack after watching a nail biting finish where Sri Lanka’s team got defeated in an international limited over match. Despite the tragedy, the feeling of seeing your own by-line was ecstatic.

The Daily News is where I got to know and worked as colleagues, with Daily FT Editor Nisthar Cassim, Ceylon Today Editor Jayantha Sri Nissanka, former Information Director Ranga Kalansooriya, former DN Editor Pramod De Silva, Cinnamon Grand Sustainability Manager Tharika Goonetilleke, Sunday Observer Associate Editor Ruwan Godage, current Sunday Observer Editor Chandani Jayatilleke and Ravi Ladduwahetti, who is one of the senior desk-heads at the Ceylon Today.

I was fortunate to work under a host of senior editors at the Daily News , some of whom are still standing tall in leading newsrooms in the domestic scene, beginning with Manik De silva, S.Pathiravithana, Nihal Ratnaike, Geoff Wijesinghe, Arjuna Ranawana and Pramod De silva,

It was where I earned a Sri Lanka Press Institute award for a story on the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the prestigious ‘Scoop of the Year’ award in 2015. And where I met life long friends including Pramod de Silva, the late Ranil Wijayapala, Uditha Kumarasinghe and Nadira Goonetilleke.

I joined the paper at a time the newsrooms transited from noisy mechanical type writers to the quiet digital age. But the scribbling scribes were the order of the day.

The drunks and the smoking were on the wane....but I still remember the walking chimneys in the good old days, in the Daily News.

Thank you... dear Daily News for all those memories that I will cherish forever.

Decade long stint at CDN: A rare opportunity

By Uditha Kumarasinghe

My longstanding journalistic career in the Daily News goes back to as early as February, 1997, when I first joined its news desk as a junior cub reporter. Under the guidance of the then Editor Nihal Ratnaike, I had the rare opportunity of improving my journalistic skills with the help of superiors such as A.S. Fernando, N.R.J. Aaron, Rodney Martinesz, T. Sabaratnam, P.Balasingham and Nemsiri Muthkumara. The experience I gained working with these veterans paved the way for me to graduate as a senior reporter and later reach the position of Deputy News Editor of the Daily News. The guidance and training I acquired from veteran parliamentary reporters such as, A.B. Mendis, Rodney Martinesz and Edward Arambawela also helped me a great deal to become a Daily News full time Parliament correspondent and further expand my journalistic career.

During my long sojourn of 12 years in the Daily News until I joined its sister paper, the Sunday Observer in 2009, I had accumulated a vast knowledge under greats such as, Nihal Ratnaike, Geoff Wijesinghe, Arjuna Ranawana, Pramod de Silva, Jayatilleke de Silva and Bandula Jayasekara. Their advice and that of other desk heads immensely helped my reporting on socio, economic and political spheres. Other colleagues, Deputy Editor Gary Garnier and senior journalist Nadira Gunatilleke are my contemporaries. The Daily News was the springboard to emerging journalists like us to harness our potential when we worked as one team.

I was also fortunate to gain a lot of foreign exposure by taking part in several international training courses and covering international events as assigned to me by my editors.

Having worked for over two decades in the country’s flagship newspaper organization, the Lake House, I am happy to see the Daily News which made me a career journalist celebrating its centenary and further expanding its perimeters and reaching dizzy heights.