A timeless commitment to journalism | Sunday Observer

A timeless commitment to journalism

2 February, 2020

The Sunday Observer turns 92 this week, with just eight more years to go until it reaches 100. This will be an exciting milestone for Lake House, which has two other newspapers that are already over 100 years old – the Dinamina and the Daily News. The Sunday Observer and indeed Lake House itself, owes its existence and enrichment to the trailblazer and doyen of the local publishing industry, the late D.R. Wijewardene, who was in the vanguard of the Independence Movement. It is perhaps no coincidence that both Independence Day and the anniversary of the Sunday Observer’s inception fall on the same day.

But the roots of the Sunday Observer go back much further – all the way to February 4, 1834, when two Colombo-based British traders G. Ackland and E.J. Darley founded The Observer and Commercial Advertiser, published bi-weekly. It was co-edited by Darley and George Winter. Its next editor, Christopher Elliot, changed the name to Colombo Observer in 1835 and the paper became a daily in 1873. It was in fact, the first English Daily in Ceylon.

D.R. Wijewardene purchased the Colombo Observer in 1923 and changed the name to Ceylon Observer, a title that would persist for decades to come until the country became a Republic. The Sunday Observer was established in 1928, with the legendary H.A.J. Hulugalle becoming its first Sri Lankan editor in 1930. Both the Sunday Observer and Daily Observer were published concurrently, the latter as an evening newspaper, though changing reading patterns and economic imperatives forced its closure in the early 2000s.

The first task of the Sunday Observer was to support the struggle for Independence, which Wijewardene saw as the core mission for his newspaper empire that included publications in all three languages. He hired the finest editors and journalists of the day for this mission and this relentless campaign is credited as a factor for the imperialist powers giving up their hold on this land. Wijewardene expected his newspapers to uphold the timeless journalistic values of truth, fairness, accuracy, objectivity and ethics at all times.

To this day, these are the core values that have shaped the Sunday Observer, week after week. Helmed at times by legends such as Tarzie Vittachchi, Denzil Peiris, Ernest Corea, Harold Peiris and Ajith Samaranayake, the newspaper never wavered from its avowed commitment to the finest standards of journalism. Even after the Government takeover of Lake House (the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited) in 1973, the Editors made a valiant attempt to give the complete picture to the reader, keeping those values in mind.

The Sunday Observer would indeed be poorer without its readers. No newspaper can thrive without loyal readers and the Sunday Observer is no exception. We take this opportunity to pay a tribute to our readers who have been with us through thick and thin, some making that trek to the newspaper stall every Sunday morning to get their hands on the latest on news and features from the Sunday Observer. It is with them in mind that we are relaunching this newspaper today, with a totally new look and a new feel. But one thing that will not change is our commitment to high-quality journalism. We invite our readers to give their feedback on the changes and interact with us even more. Keep sending in your letters, articles and comments while participating in our new competitions and other events. Give us your news tips and we will do our best to follow through. You can, of course, interact with us on social media, a far cry from the days of 1928 when only the printed paper was available.

Indeed, we are aware that some of you may never even have seen this newspaper in printed form. We anticipated this future 25 years ago, when we became the first newspaper in South Asia to go online at www.sundayobserver.lk. While most other newspapers have hidden their content behind paywalls, our content remains free for everyone around the world. After all, you cannot put a price on good journalism. Today, we have gone beyond that simple webpage to embrace smartphone apps (downloadable at the Apple Store and Play Store) and social media (Facebook, Twitter) which has brought us closer to the readers.

There is indeed a genuine fear and concern that printed newspapers may go the way of the Dodo within this century, but whatever happens, the Sunday Observer will continue its mission. It is the message that matters, not the method of delivery. Good journalism - and good newspapers - will thrive regardless of the medium.

It is no coincidence that this newspaper had its origins as a Commercial Advertiser. There are many advertisers who have been with us for the past nine decades. We thank them profusely and hope to have their patronage for the next 90 years too. Yes, the advertising landscape is changing, with many preferring to take the online and electronic media route but at the end of the day, one cannot still doubt the cost effectiveness of print advertising.

The entire media landscape is changing rapidly, with convergence being the keyword. Today, we find QR codes on many newspapers which turn into videos on one’s smartphone. Likewise, many newspaper websites feature plenty of audio and video content and TV and radio stations now have plenty of written stories on their websites and apps. There are multiple ways of getting your news fix. And you can rest assured that the Sunday Observer will stay abreast of all these trends to bring you the news that matters.