Thursday, August 22, 2019

And the countdown begins…

May 28. 2019
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By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

1,227 Viewed

The above headline has nothing to do with political developments  coming to a head as this column went to print. Rather, it concerns everyone who has ever contributed to the making of this newspaper. As many of you must know by now, the print edition of The Nation will cease to exist at the end of next month, bringing an end to 48 years of publication.

After that, readers will find us online. And don’t forget to get your hands on our last print edition. I have a feeling that it will be very much sought-after. The Nation will then enter a new era with a bang while cherishing its memorable past.

I was only eight years old when the very first edition hit the newsstands. At the time (and for many years afterwards) I could not tell democracy from dictatorship, let alone bad democracy from good democracy. As a teenager, ads promoting the first “Thai-owned” English-language newspaper caught my eye. But what held it was the face of the founder, also a journalist: he looked damn serious – probably the most serious man I had ever seen.

Let that man talk about the founding days, the ideology behind it, and the momentous struggles he encountered. Arrangements are being made, I suppose, for him to lead us all on a trip down memory lane in his own words.

For me, it’s been an honour to be part of what was accurately called a “prestigious and independent newspaper”. The label has weathered major storms over the years, with Thailand’s political divide only adding to the onslaught. However, there’s one thing every Nation staffer can look you in the eye and say with utmost certainty: Every report, every analysis and every opinion piece in these pages was presented to the public with unwavering professional commitment. There is no other agenda, except to report what we think is true, and to express honest opinions, whether readers or colleagues agreed with them or not.

We were taught to double-check everything we heard. We were told to decline any and all gifts offered in exchange for our reporting. We learned to keep “sources” at arm’s length to prevent improper influence on our work. We respected other people’s opinions, even when they made our blood boil.

The Nation newsroom was always a hotbed of competing ideologies. Editors merely corrected the grammar and made sure stories did not attract lawsuits. Writers’ reports and analysis were otherwise left untouched. Debate is in The Nation’s DNA. I recall once watching tempers flare so high as senior reporters debated our stand on refugees, that I wondered whether there would be a paper the next day. 

Yet for five decades, all the “isms” somehow managed to work together towards a common goal. Idealism, pragmatism, conservatism, nationalism, you name it. They argued a lot, of course, but their willingness to sit side by side, eating lunch at the same table, even singing and dancing together at the same parties, was The Nation’s biggest strength, I believe.

Then the internet came along and brought the digital revolution. You can’t keep spending cash on paper, printing machines, their maintenance and newspaper delivery, when people can read you anywhere, any time and for free. Refusal to compromise on journalistic standards made life extremely difficult amid the harsh commercial realities of the 24-hour  digital news cycle.

In the end, something had to give. In our case, it’s the actual “paper”. The writing had been on the wall for many years, but we tried to hang in there. Now, proof that newspapers cannot compete with the 24-hour news cycle arrives daily. Striking evidence that newspapers are doomed came last year when dailies were still reporting on the search for boys missing in a Chiang Rai cave when news of their rescue had been online for hours. 

Plans and preparations have been made for the transformation, however, so we hope the transition will be smooth.

Last but not least, I think I speak for all Nation people when I say we owe our readers and subscribers a great deal. Many of you have been here since the very early days, when fax machines were still the future and my main passion was pretending to be Kenny Dalglish in the school playground. 

This is by no means a goodbye, though. The Nation DNA, cultivated over the years, is too strong to disappear along with the print edition. We will still meet online. The commitment, the tolerance and the professionalism will still be there. Let’s start the countdown to the beginning of something new, while bidding a respectful farewell to a memorable past that has laid the foundations for our future.

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