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Journalism then and now

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(January 06, 2013 London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sub-editors at the Daily News harassed me so much that they had to get every nuance right or else they threatened that my piece would not be published. I dreaded their beckoning me as I was about to leave on such pesky detail as a name of a minister or the sum allocated to a ministry.

Sub-editors harangued me and I was on the verge of saying to hell with these old codgers; but without them I would have been hauled up before courts for the four sins journalists are prone to. Breach of parliamentary privilege, contempt of Court etc; etc.

Sub-editors kept me in check. They earned no laurels like the reporters in that for the years they spent in pokey smoky cubby holes with magnified lenses their names never graced the pages of newspapers. But it was these sub-editors who jazzed up our stories with pithy headlines. They scrutinised their reporters’ stories with a fine tooth-comb and our by-lines kept our egos on a permanent high.

Visakha Cooke, Lalitha Viththanachi, Mr De Silva, Mr Samuel, Anton Kurukulasuriya, , Dudley Jansz and Nedra Vittachchi were ready to edit our badly written copies; particularly Daryll de Silva’s inebriated piece on a ministry press release or the late Ivor Milhuisen’s interview with the attractive PR Jasmin Cader from Hilton. The late Preethi Kodagoda who died an untimely death was forever bickering with Daily News chief editor Manik de Silva.
Dinamina and Silumina were our siblings and we exchanged many a stories when we failed to turn up for press conferences which bored us to death.

Jasmin was supposed to be interviewed by me but Ivor said he was more experienced in Hilton affairs; ergo Jasmin should be interviewed by him. Ivor’s grin stayed for days than the Cheshire Cat’s and he survived for days on her gorgeous legs which he described as tender plantain shoots.

Daryll died a few years ago having been trampled by an elephant while he was press officer for the wildlife department.

My life at Daily News was blighted by the shenanigans of its news-desk reporters. While I adhered to the book of rules of journalism as dictated to by my peers, these maverick journalists chose me to be their mouthpiece when they scooted off to the water-holes surrounding Beira on pay-day.

Zorro hot-footed it to the bookies, Rodney Martinesz to the bar and court reporter Sarath Malalasekera to a hotel outside Colombo with his flavour of the day in an Ace cab and I was left with answering their wives’ telephone calls and giving excuses they were at important press conferences. Despite the restraint on my reporting my Daily News days will long be remembered for those halcyon days when we forgot we were Tamils, Sinhalese, Burghers, Malays or Muslims. We were simply journalists and we told it as it were.

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)