Twenty-two years ago, a Liberian-born journalist fled from the ashes of a bloody civil war that was raging in his country to establish the first ever daily newspaper in The Gambia that is today shaping the country’s media landscape.
Coming at a time when there was a great void in the country’s media fraternity, what started as a small set up in a Bakau street is today, unarguably, The Gambia’s leading, most authoritative, reliable, respectable, and most widely circulated newspaper.
With its management, editors, a pool of reporters spread across every nook and cranny of the country as well as the general staff corps, the Observer Company, publisher of the Daily Observer Newspaper has evolved over the last two decades, becoming a household name in the country. Soundly operating under its slogan “Forward With The Gambia”, the paper, which has passed through the hands of 11 managing directors, has earned a great degree of respect, admiration and confidence from thousands of readers both within and outside the country due to its unshakeable style of doing business.
The most important thing is the fact that the paper has earned credibility from its diverse readership and continues to be the number one source of information for many people due to its fair style of factual, truthful and non-speculative reporting; the hallmark of any ethical journalism practice.
It is for this reason that even old women in the remote villages of Baddibu would not hesitate to say “Okusava fango ya-safeleh” (even Observer has written it), apparently referring to a story making a news headline. That does not only show the credibility of the news itself, but how popular the paper is among Gambians irrespective of where they are.
The paper is noted for practicing purely responsible journalism and since its establishment has been pursuing a single mission – to promote developmental journalism through which major strides that The Gambia as a nation is making are featured on a regular basis, while encouraging the actors to be more committed in delivering the goods to the people as required of them. It is practicing a kind of journalism where it is using media as a tool to spur development that encourages societal advancement rather than the other way round.
It always holds the belief that media is such a powerful tool that cannot be misused for that may have far-reaching consequences. Sensationalism, which has become a cornerstone for most media practitioners, is silently killing in certain quarters the very ethics that guide the profession. Information that is to be sold to the public has to be accurate, factual and balanced and must not be the source of social disorder as had happened in Rwanda 20 years ago.
But that’s beside the point for this article, which is written in commemoration of the paper’s anniversary. As the paper clocked 22 on May 11th, Sunday, it is imperative that we look at the transformation it has undergone in the last two decades.
On an occasion like this, we wish to state that this paper has and continues to produce Gambia’s finest media professionals both past and present. Majority of Gambian journalists both within and outside the country have passed through this medium and many have attained greater heights in life thanks to the opportunity provided to them by the paper at a time when they desperately needed a starting point for career development.
Popular among beginners
Today, the paper is more popular among young people, especially fresh secondary school leavers who continue to see it as the right place for recruitment into the profession. Hardly two days pass by without one sending in his or her application for a trainee reporter.
The company has gone beyond just providing news to the general public; it has become an educational institute in its own right by providing in-house training for the professional development of many a youngster. Despite the limited space, the paper strives to accommodate those young people with great potentials to excel in the field of journalism.
Twenty years on, the Daily Observer has undergone spectacular transformation in editorial content, layout and design. It would be recalled that some four years ago, the paper deployed reporters to all the regions of the country, and the reason for this, was to ensure that locals at the grassroots become part of the news.
Given the quantum strides of the country, the paper deems it prudent to follow them and report events as they occur. Consequently, this gives the opportunity for the poor rural farmers and other dwellers to be given equal platform where their voices could be heard.
To catalogue the great contributions of this paper to the development of Gambians and non-Gambians alike might be an impossible task. However, what is certain is that this medium has touched the lives of many people.
It has promoted Gambian youths and given them the platform to sell their skills and talents; promoted the home-grown entrepreneurs; supported women-led initiatives; advocated for the welfare of the vulnerable including the sick, victims of calamities; the marginalised and the excluded; supported the work of the international community and other international organisations; defended Gambia’s development policies which are in the interest of national development; contributed in the propagation of the two religions of the country – Islam and Christianity; promoted sports development etc etc etc.
The paper particularly in the last one year has witnessed further transformations, thanks to the new management in place. The Editorial Department has been strengthened both in terms of the requirements needed for a smooth operation.
Reporters are more oriented about what to do and have been challenged that qualitative reporting must be the hallmark of their work at the Daily Observer. Generally speaking, all other departments have been equally strengthened in line with the new approach and strategic direction of the new management.
Sampling his views on what more is expected from the company, the managing director and editor-in-chief of the Daily Observer Newspaper, Momodou Saidy, said: “Observer readership should expect nothing less than the best; observer is the biggest newspaper in The Gambia and is here to stay. When you go out in the street after 9am, one hardly finds the copies of Observer in the streets; that shows how much trust we command from our readership.
On his take on the staff corps, Saidy added: “The way forward for the paper lies in the capacity of its staff and looking at the quality of the stories being published, tells the story. The stories are comprehensive, factual and development-oriented and this is growing from strength to strength. We are a progressive paper that is here to stay.
I have been in the business of journalism for over three decades, but the willingness and enthusiasm I have seen in the staff of Observer is unlike many institutions where I had previously worked. The business of journalism is always challenging, but the staff here is coming up with good stories with the insistence of the management. We want factual, correct and authentic stories; no hearsay, no personal attacks and no gossip. We are moving away from that and the staff is up to the job.”