A giant leap, online | Daily News


A giant leap, online

Exactly 25 years ago this day, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, publisher of the Daily News, took a revolutionary step that would have far reaching implications on how news is consumed in this country. The newspaper you are reading now, the Daily News, launched its web edition on this day, becoming the first-ever newspaper published locally and indeed South Asia, to reach this technological milestone. It was launched by a small team of journalists and technicians, including the present editor of this newspaper. The World Wide Web itself was only three-four years old around this time and even newspapers in advanced economies such as the UK had not yet entered the Web. The Sunday Observer, the flagship weekly of ANCL, followed suit over that weekend.

The Daily News, now in its 102nd year, has always been ahead of its time in terms of technology and innovation. It was always a step ahead as far as printing technology was concerned, be it off-set or colour. It was therefore only natural for the Daily News to break free of its physical limitations and embrace the infinite possibilities of cyberspace long before others even thought of taking that course. Back in 1995, it was an instant success as Sri Lankan expats living all over the world flocked to the site to read the latest news from back home. Today, the Daily News and its sister newspaper the Sunday Observer continue to be the trailblazers in e-journalism, with up to date content available free of charge not just on the web (www.dailynews.lk, www.sundayobserver.lk) but also on e-paper (a digital facsimile of the printed newspaper), Apple and Android Smartphone apps, Facebook, Twitter and a variety of other digital platforms. And 25 years later, practically all the vernacular and English publications of ANCL are also available on the web.

It was this affinity for digital platforms that saw the Daily News and the Sunday Observer adapt very rapidly to the lockdown conditions imposed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. With a strict curfew shutting down the printing presses and transport links, it was no longer possible to produce physical editions of the newspapers. The ANCL shifted virtually overnight to an all-e-paper model, that saw editors, reporters, photographers and the technical staff all working from home virtually 24/7 to produce digital versions of the newspapers. Granted, there were some hiccups at the beginning, but these were quickly addressed out and the ANCL newspapers became the number one source of news and views for Sri Lankans here and abroad. These e-papers continue to thrive in the age of the New Normal, with even many traditional print advertisers too scrambling to get on board the e-editions.

The pandemic period gave us a tantalizing, yet somewhat ominous, glimpse of a world without the physically printed word. There is a raging debate on this issue. One cannot gloss over the fact that the print newspaper is at the receiving end of new developments in the world of media. With everyone having a smartphone or two, there is constant access to the latest newsfeeds from around the world as well from your friends and relatives. It is no secret that many people now depend on Facebook and other social media to get their news fix. All media are now converging on the smartphone and tablet, at the expense of traditional mainstream media including newspapers. Worldwide, many newspapers and magazines have had to downsize or even cease publication altogether as readers and advertisers move over to new media. In fact, the printed newspaper has been the hardest hit by this trend, as advertisers spend more dollars on the web and to some extent on the electronic media.

Herein lies the challenge for traditional media including the newspaper. Social/new media and the electronic media offer only a fleeting glimpse of developing events. And because anyone can post virtually anything to social media, they are replete with fake news, alternative facts, post-truths and even deepfake videos where people apparently say things which they have never even said. In this age of misinformation, conspiracy theories and outright lies (as seen from the social media posts on the pandemic itself), the printed newspaper and their Web versions have a major role to play to separate the fact from fiction, the truth from lies.

Thus people still look to the printed newspapers to analyse local and global issues in-depth. Moreover, in this age of depressing news flashes, readers also look to good news and lifestyle news that can lift their spirits. Indeed, there is ample room and scope for high quality reportage and journalism regardless of whether a newspaper is print or digital. A newspaper that gets this formula right can thrive on the Web and on the presses. As we look ahead to the next 25 years in print and online, the Daily News will pledge to stay true to the fundamental tenets of good journalism in a rapidly changing media landscape.

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