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Sunday Observer 80th Anniversary: Sunday Feb 3 2008

Eighty years in print

by Ranga Chandrarathne

The Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka's English newspaper with the largest circulation will celebrate its 80th Anniversary, tomorrow. The Observer as it was known then was founded on 4th February 1928.

The paper started as the Sunday Observer and Commercial Advertiser on 4th February, 1834. Among the British who served as the Editors of The Observer were E. J. Darley who was in charge when the paper was launched, George Winter, Dr. Christopher Elliott, A. M. Ferguson (1859), John Ferguson (1867), R. H. Ferguson, Charles Tower, C. Drieberg (1923-1924), P. B. Marshall and J. D. Quirk.

When it was taken over by a generation of Sri Lankan Editors who were on par with their English predecessors, they carried on the legacy, inspiring and educating the generation of readers from all walks of life. One of the significant aspects of the English press was that it was read by the academia, artists, political elite, the members of the judiciary, business tycoons and the English educated civil servants and teachers.

The Sri Lankan Editors, H. A. J. Hulugalle (1930-1931), H. D. Jansz (1931-1952), Tarzi Vittachchi (1953-1961), Denzil Peiris (1961-1970), Ernest Corea (1970-1973), Lionel Fernando (1973-1977), Harold Peiris (1977-1988), Leslie Dahanayake (1988-1990), H. L. D. Mahindapala (1990-1994), Lakshman Gunasekara, Jayatilleke de Silva, Rajpal Abenayake also adhered to the highest standards of journalism and editorial integrity.

Although a host of rival publications emerged into the newspaper arena over the years, the Sunday Observer retains it undisputed position as the most widely read English weekly in Sri Lanka.

The readership is more than the circulation of printed papers given the large number of readers of the Sunday Observer web edition which has become an essential read among the expatriate Sri Lankan community.

We are 80 years today: - Sunday Observer - Feb 3 2008

Eight decades in the lead

Saturday Buzz in the News Room

Lionel Yodhasinghe - Senior Associate Editor

The News Desk is the pivot of any newspaper and the Sunday Observer is no exception. The News Editor has to be prepared with what goes on around him, be it political, social and so on.

He plays a key role in assigning reporters to cover various events or gathering more minute details for exclusive stories, interviews with a wide spectrum of people from the highest in the land to the beggar on the street.

The News Editor has to see that the stories are in keeping with the policy of the newspaper, sift the chaff from the grain and delete unnecessary cackle, guard against libel, defamation and see that the reports are published in a manner that satisfies the needs of the readers and enlightens the reading public on the day to day activities.

Left to right - (Seated): Sarath Maddumage, Jayampathi Jayasinghe, Ananth Palakidnar, Shanika Sriyananda, Ananda Kannangara, Samangie Wettimuni and S. Anandakumar (Standing): Nilma Dole, Ishara Mudugamuwa, Dhaneshi Yatawara, Panchamee Hewavissenti, Anushka Nanayakkara and Imantha Caldera .


The ground work starts with the Thursday morning meetings presided over by the Editor-in-Chief Dinesh Weerawansa and the Senior Associate Editor, Lionel Yodasinghe and in the process, at times the briefing develops into a fierce battle by Saturday morning. It continues until the Late City edition.

All are busy bees till that time. The small break would provide a little relief after the provincial edition rolls off the Press. Lionel takes over the News Desk on Saturdays to help the staff to ensure a smooth flow of news as all have to stick to the deadline.

Senior Chief Sub Editor Dudley Jansz is engrossed in brushing up stories which are passed on to his desk, and is seen in consultation with Lionel when it comes to some crucial issue on politics, culture or other sensitive matters.

Dudley crosschecks with some reporters to clarify certain points. This is a common scene in the editorial on Saturdays.

In the rush, it is a common sight at the News Desk on this day, when the staff indulge in their own sweet ways, with Deputy Editor, Ananth harmonising, Deputy Editor, Ananda humming; Deputy News Editor, Shanika storming, J.J. crime-busting, Dhaneshi breezing; Anushka pushing, Weda diagnosing, Panch punching, Nilma waltzing, Imantha keying and Ishara squirming all under the watchful eyes of Marina, supervising from the floor to the ceiling.

The whole heap (after whetting) is then fed in for computerisation, for weaning by a group commanded by Sandy (Day Watch), Mel (Night Watch), with accompaniment from Dehi, Uday, Ratne, Fahiri, Osha, Gaya, Ira, Lak and Dunesha.

Copy transfers are handled by Ari, 'bolstered' by Stanley, Nalin, Shantha, Prasanna, Munasinghe and last but not the least, Sumathi.

In the melee, Dinesh breezes in and out, say, umpteen number of times!

News stories and the Defence column pile on Chief Sub Editor, Anandakumar's table and it is a common sight to see him on his toes plying between the production and editorial departments to ensure that everything goes on smoothly.

Selecting the lead story is another daunting task. Lionel intervenes at this point and plays a decisive role and by that time Dudley is ready with his list of stories to lay out Page One with Graphics Editor Rajitha Udawatte.

By that time, the Editor too rushes from his room to the layout section and within minutes Page One is ready to be 'locked up'.

Other news pages are ready by that time and brought in by Sub Editors Lalin, Samangie, and Sarath, well laid out by Dhammi, Chin, Roshi and Navi. Mahil with graphics and Punchi with political cartoons chip in, ready for scanning, and that is the last stage in the editorial. Then the pages are sent to the Production Department for the plates and the paper 'goes to bed'.

The Reporting staff breathe a sigh of relief after the first edition goes to press. Lalin then awaits a call from the Rotary Press to pass the first edition.

The city and late city editions are recast with the latest news and go to press at midnight. Anandakumar is the last to saunter out of the building after a gruelling day and 'graveyard shift', with good old Ari in toe.


Business Desk caters to wide spectrum

Surekha Galagoda,
Deputy Editor (Business)

Today the Sunday Observer financial news desk is vibrant and caters to a wide cross section of people be they CEOs of companies, small entrepreneurs or students sitting for various professional examinations.

It is also a platform to discuss and debate on various financial issues.

As we celebrate 80 years it is appropriate to trace the history of the Business Desk and give a glimpse of the functions that go with it.

The open economic policy adopted by the UNP government who took office in 1977 saw rapid changes in every sphere-economy, education, infrastructure development, foreign policy, health and advertising.

Prior to 1978 there were only vacancy and other advertisements but never product advertisements as there was no competition. The open economy brought opportunities and with it competition.

Therefore business establishments went on a voyage of advertising and sought coverage for their products. This was the birth of the Sunday Observer business pages way back in 1989.

Amila Chandrasiri, Dudley Jansz, Surekha Galagoda, Lalin Fernandopulle and Gamini Warushamana.

Over the years every journalist and sub editor who worked in the section under the guidance of the Business Editor worked tirelessly to bring it to what it is today.

At present some journalists begin the week on Monday while for others it is Tuesday. But everybody is at his or her seat early morning scanning the daily newspapers. We find exclusive stories by talking to our sources, surfing the net and reading. At times it is necessary to report from the spot be it in Sri Lanka or abroad.

One reporter writes on Technology while another is busy on a travel story. There are many press conferences to attend and the journalist must give a different angle so that the story would hold until Sunday.

By Wednesday the technology and travel stories have to be finalised with pictures for the pages which are done on Thursday. Once the copies are keyed, the computer printouts are approved by the Business editor, the sub editor finecombs it for accuracy and it is sent to the Visual Display Terminal operators for the corrections to be duly effected. The camera section scans the pictures which have to go with the stories.

By Wednesday evening the Advertising Department apprises us of the number of pages we have to handle.

On Thursday morning the Senior Chief Sub Editor draws up the dummies of the pages he has to handle on that day, so that the production staff who does the pages will follow it minutely.

He also supervises the pages along with the technical operator to ensure that nothing is amiss.

Everything is scanned several times to ensure accuracy. By Thursday evening everybody is virtually on their toes giving the final touches to their stories.

It is also necessary to decide on the main picture, will it be a self contained caption story, or a graph connected to the main story?.

If it is an important event we extend our deadlines to accommodate the stories to give our readers the latest news, be it in the government or the private sector.

The Stock Focus is provided by an outside contributor. He gives a summary of how the market fared during the week while the final figures are given over the telephone after the bourse closes on Friday afternoon. Once the pages are completed on Thursday and Friday the Editor in Chief of the Sunday Observer approves the final proofs.

Thereafter the Production Department takes over and it goes through the final stages before the section is put to bed. It is no doubt a wonderful team effort!

Veteran journalist G. M. Wickremesinghe handled the business pages initially while Tony Wanduragala contributed and Ms Ruvini Jayasinghe took over from him and increased the number of pages. Thereafter S. Anandakumar handled the section.

Subsequently Winston de Valliere and Sugeeswara Senadheera were in charge of the section.Again it was given to S. Anandakumar before Gamini Abeywardena took over in 1995.

Subsequently Rohan Gunasekera, Paneetha Amarasekera and Indunil Thenuwara worked as the head of the section.

Today the team comprises Surekha Galagoda, Dudley Jansz, Gamini Warushamana and Lalin Fernandopulle while Jayampathi Jayasinghe is ever willing to help us with our assignments. Today enterprising Imantha Caldera also contributes articles. Amila Chandrasiri assists everybody at the desk beaming a smile. He is a good cameraman as well.

The photographers who assist us are Chinthaka Kumarasinghe, Priyantha Hettige, Kavindra Perera and Vipula Amarasinghe.


Popularity unparalleled: The much sought after newspaper

Features Desk - Memories are made of this...:

Rosanne Koelmeyer Anderson
Associate Editor (Features)

Maryanne Perera
- Junior Observer Editor

Celebrating its eightieth year of excellence in print media, we, the staff of the Features Desk of the Sunday Observer take great pride in all our endeavours which have contributed immensely towards our newspapers' popularity over the years gone by. Our comradeship and cohesion have proved our steel: a success story that has brought us thus far amidst taut competition.

Although understaffed most of the time, I together with my staff have kept the flag flying high and the Features Desk has grown from strength to strength with the expertise of a small but dynamic team; the fairer sex outnumbering the sterner sex.

In a lighter vein, from anecdotes and human interest stories to book reviews and assisting with the feature pages is Aditha Dissanayake, the Features Editor who means business when it comes to deadlines.

Aditha Dissanayake - Features Editor

Always eager to advise another on topics close to the heart; romance, love, marital affairs and astrology is our soft-hearted Deputy Features Editor, Lakmal Welabada, 'a friend in deed.'

Always brisk, with incomparable and indelible impressions on the local arts and cultural scenario, reviewed with exuberance and finesse is our critique Ranga Chandrarathne, a journalist with many credentials who has proved 'the best of the rest' with laudable contributions from his buddy, burly Indeewara Thilakarathne, cool as a cucumber who also creates an impact in the 'Impact' with indepth features on socio-economic issues.

With entertainment unlimited from the main paper to the TV Plus is our very own veteran of the music scene, Mahes Perera with the entertainment updates, a silent hand behind the scene ever so willing to help out with the pages and Shanika Sriyananda, who compiles the Health Page for us weekly.

Contributing to the 'Spectrum', 'Impact' and 'So Plus' are our 'Youthful' team with 'Dedications and Love Lines' from Anushka Nanayakkara, 'Passionate Pen' from Sajitha Prematunge, with 'Vitamins for your Soul' from Panchamee Hawavissenti and general features from Nilma Dole and Umangi De Mel, not forgetting our two tabloids; the Junior Observer and Maryanne Perera, the Editor, Indunil Thenuwara, Deputy, and Janani Amerasekera whose contributions are much appreciated and crazy Prasad Abu Bakr, who spearheads the Observer Magazine and keeps the Features Desk cheerful.

From left to right (seated): J. K. G. Punchihewa, Mahes Perera, Indunil Thenuwara, Rosanne Koelmeyer Anderson, Aditha Dissanayake and Lakmal Welabada. (Standing): Prasad Abu Bakr, Janani Amarasekera, Umangi de Mel, Indeewara Thilakarathne, Ranga Chandrarathne, Sajitha Prematunge and Marina Herath.

And adding more colour to the Sunday Observer are our Graphics Department colleagues who enjoy working behind 'closed doors': Rajitha Udawatte and his team, Chinthaka Balasuriya, Navindra Merinnage, Dammika Mendis and Roshini Ranaweera and our very talented graphic artists Mahil Wijesinghe and J.K.G. Punchihewa who do all the caricatures, graphics and scanning for us and our dedicated team of photographers Chinthaka Kumarasinghe, Kavindra Perera, Priyantha Hettige and Vipula Amerasinghe who contribute to add finesse to every story displayed.

The VDT Department comprising Melpitiya, Udaya, Dehini, Ratnasiri, Sandra, Fahiriya, Iranthie, Lakmini, Oshani, Duniesha, Gaya and clerk Nalin is another arm of the operation of the newspaper which keys and drops corrections without fuss on all copies that appear on print weekly.

To help out at the Features Desk are our two clerks, Yasapala and Aiyal and our dynamic Secretary, Marina Herath who leaves no clerical work undone.

The work done for us by the Reading Dept, Production Department and the Press to get the Sunday Observer out on time is also much appreciated; without whom the functioning of the paper would not be complete.

So, it is the incessant team spirit that makes our Sunday Observer that superior and unique weekly special and the most sought after newspaper from time immemorial.

Rosanne Koelmeyer Anderson


Sports Desk - Where the action is!

Lal Gunesekera,
Sports Editor

A. C. De Silva,
Deputy Editor (Sports)

The Sunday Observer celebrates 80 years and experienced journalists man the sports desk of the newspaper. Although it's only a Sunday publication, we are involved throughout the week to bring out the best and the latest sports news to our readers over the years.

A. C. de Silva with nearly four decades with the Sunday Observer (Daily Observer too before it ceased to be published) is the Deputy Editor - Sports.

He joined the staff on February 1, 1969 though starting as a "stringer" in 1966 and covering many sports including cricket, swimming, rugby, netball, swimming and track and field. He used to travel to India regularly for Indo-Ceylon Swimming meets and also covered the Asian Games in Delhi, India, Japan and China.

Lal Gunesekera is the Sports Editor having "crossed over" to the Observer from the Daily News which he joined as a "stringer" in 1968 and staff in 1973.

He continues with his active coverages in rugby, tennis, badminton and golf and on overseas assignments in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Bangladesh and also at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England in 2002.

He had a "stint" with the Telegraph in London under the famous E. W. Swanton and also at Reuters in 1973.

Ranjeeva Seneviratne is the Deputy Sports Editor, who has been attached to the Daily News from December 7, 1995 having worked in the Island as Sports Editor from 1990 to 1995.

He has been covering club rugby, for the Daily News from 1996 and many overseas assignments including Singapore Sevens (1998), Dubai Sevens (2001 and 2003), Sri Lanka-Chinese Taipei match in Bangkok (1998) and Asian Athletic Meet in Bangkok in 2003.

Ranjan Anandappa joined the staff in 1989 and continues his coverages of cricket at school, club and national level. He has toured quite a few countries including Malaysia, Sharjah, Pakistan, South Africa and even Youth World Cup in 2002.

He is presently in Australia to cover the tri-Nation series involving Australia, India and Sri Lanka.

We then have the services of that ever willing worker Leslie Fernando of Municipality fame. He has made 50 overseas trips on various assignments, including swimming, football and also South Asian Games.

We also have the dependable Stanley Jayaweera (clerk) who had over 25 years of experience.


VDT Staff- from left: Ananda Melpitiya, Sandra Thalgahagoda, Lakmini Chandrasena, Iranthi Padmashantha, Oshani Ranasinghe, Gaya Deegodage and Dunesha de Silva.

Graphic department - From left to right: Rajitha Udawatte, Mahil Wijesinghe, Navin Merinnage, Dhammika Mendis, Roshini Ranaweera.

Photographers Chinthaka Kumarasinghe, Kavindra Perera and Vipula

Ofice assistants - (Seated): B. A. Ariyadasa, H. Sumathipala, (Standing): C. Munasinghe, Nalin Surendra, A. G. M. Prasanna, Ayal Sandares and Shantha Yasapala.