Sunday Observer - Daily News Online editions, a resounding success | Sunday Observer
Flashback

Sunday Observer - Daily News Online editions, a resounding success

Twenty-five years ago, the Internet facility was confined only to a few. Even then, the number of notebook computers was limited.

Even the laptop computers were very basic and simple which could be connected to the internet through a PCMCIA card on dial up network.

I could well remember my first laptop – an IBM ThinkPad with a ‘luxury’ 3GB hard disc in late 90s. The dial up PCMCIA card cost Rs. 24,000 25 years ago.

It was during that somewhat ‘uncomfortable’ period that the Daily News and the Sunday Observer became Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s first two newspapers to go online.

Initially, we did not file online 24x7 stories as done now but gave news highlights and selected stories on news, features, business and sports.

Going online was a tough task and a challenge to the handful of those who were selected to follow this specialised task under Panduka Senanayake, a go-getter in the Sunday Observer.

In an article to our sister paper, Daily News on its online anniversary, he described his new role under trying conditions as follows: “Having been forced onetime, under threat of withholding salary increments, to abandon an old, rusty and robust ‘Olympia’ typewriter for a computer, I still struggle to understand how the editorship of Sri Lanka’s first online newspaper was thrust upon me”.

Under the guidance of Chairman Lakshman Jayawardena and then Production Manager and present General Manager, Abhaya Amaradasa, Panduka Senanayake was chosen to be the Online Editor with a handful of staffers.

Even though Pramod de Silva, the current Chief Editor of Daily News, was chosen to support news was on an official overseas tour at the beginning, we started marching towards an ‘unknown destination’.

Several new words were added to our jargon overnight but when we started, it seemed exciting.

As Panduka recalled, WWW or the World Wide Web, http (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), html and other new terminology seemed out of this world to everyone. “With one week of training before its launch in 1995, my diffidence dissolved under the guidance of technicians such as D.N. Wijesinghe and T.A.L. Ratnayake.

They put me through the paces and burnt the midnight oil assisting in the search for a reader- friendly format for the new addition to the Lake House flagship,” he recalled in his article.

Apart from the basic sections for Business, Features, Editorial, Security, Politics, World, Letters, Sports, Archives and Obituaries, the all-important ‘In Brief’ section would cover the gamut of the newspaper’s contents.

The task of compiling ‘Sports in Brief’ was entrusted to me, a sports journalist in the Daily News Sports Desk headed by Elmo Rodrigopulle.

Following the memorable launch at the Galle Face Hotel, the so-called Internet Edition of Lake House journalists and technicians were in a tiny room on the top floor of Lake House, overlooking the railway track leading to and from the Fort Railway Station to the South.

All pages of the print edition would be accessed to select the best for the Internet edition. Stories will be updated and edited to suit the web edition which was altogether a new experience to everybody. Pramod de Silva and yours truly, who are now the Chief Editors of the Daily News and the Sunday Observer, were among the first young journalists selected to the team. Another young journalist then, Riza Rawdin of the Daily News joined the team later.


Assistant Manager (Digital), Jagath Dharmaratne who is still doing a praiseworthy job at internet room

Then Chief Innovations Officer (CIO) Anura Tissera, now domiciled in the United States, played a decisive role with his extraordinary IT knowledge. Technicians Ratnayake, Jagath Dharmaratne, Nalaka de Silva, Gerald Nadesan and journalist Vernon Perera from the Sunday Observer did their best to ensure the online publication maintain its deadlines. The slow but confident start showed positive results as our online editions bagged a couple of awards right from the first three months.

Staff of the Visual Display Terminal (VDT) and Production Department gave their fullest support as Abhaya Amaradasa kept a close eye to coordinate with the editorial team. In fact, Amaradasa was awarded the ICTA award in 2015 for the Daily News and the Sunday Observer venturing in first to the worldwide web 25 years ago.

The simple start exactly 25 years ago laid the foundation for the resounding success our online editions that we enjoy today. Following the success story of the Daily News and the Sunday Observer online editions, four other main newspapers – Dinamina, Silumina, Thinakaran and Vaaramanjaree began their online journey. Today, there are a number of other weekly papers too going digital, including the Sarasaviya, Tharuni and Mihira.

The Central Bank bomb explosion by LTTE terrorists on January 31, 1996 was the first major online coverage by the Lake House online editions, barely four months old. However, the Daily News and the Sunday Observer rose to the occasion and covered the horrifying acts of the Tigers by uploading the photographs through our then service provider Lanka Internet Services. Prof. Prabath Samaratunga, Prof Saman Amarasinghe, Hemantha Jayawardena and Channa de Silva, the current General Manager of Lanka Clear, helped ANCL in many ways.

It’s encouraging to note that the humble beginnings given by Panduka and his team has blossomed out to become today’s vast operation that encompasses everything from the e-paper to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

We are overjoyed to be a part of that success story of South Asia’s first online newspapers which was launched 25 years ago!

Comments

Dear Dinesh, Thank you, Sir for publishing my picture in your Newspaper in appreciation of the hard work we did as a team (Projects, Production & Editoria Depts.) Thank you for all the work you & the others keep doing to keep the Lake House flag flying. God Bless you all ! warm regards Anura don't tell anyone ... it took more than 35 years to get my picture published in the nespaper ha! ha!