After almost 48 long years, The Nation is ceasing its print edition today.
As someone who worked with the paper for 23 years before joining Khaosod English, it’s still an emotional day for me as a journalist. I worked there from 1992 until the management asked me resign in 2015, after the junta detained me without charge for the second time.
Very little, if nothing, is permanent. Once upon a time, The Nation was unwavering in its defiance against military dictatorship, a bastion of committed journalism.
During the uprising of May 1992 – which was my rookie year as a journalist at The Nation – it was one of three Thai newspapers which defied an order from the dictatorial regime of Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon to shut up or shut down after dozens of protesters were mowed down by soldiers in Bangkok.
The editor at the time, Thepchai Yong, became the first Thai journalist to win the International Press Freedom Award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
But after Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006, with the country mired in political divisions before another in 2014, The Nation at times served as an apologist for military rule.
When The Nation’s president, Pana Janviroj, asked me to resign the day after I was released from being detained in September 2015, I quickly obliged. If serving the higher goal of defending press freedom from the junta was in conflict with the paper’s “brand”, as I was told, I was willing to leave. All the same, The Nation was like a second home for me.
Ironically, two years later in 2017, I became the second Thai journalist to be given the very same International Press Freedom Award from the CPJ.
In the last year of its print edition, after conservative media group T News took over, my former colleague Supalak Ganjanakhundee was appointed as editor and tried to steer the paper back towards a democratic and liberal path. But it was too late.
I would love to remember The Nation as the paper which defied Gen. Suchinda and not as a paper which occasionally served as a coup apologist because of the deep hatred towards Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, but it would be dishonest not to recognize both.
Beyond the memories of having worked there for over two decades, it’s the realization that print newspapers – as supermarkets of news and entertainment that you can tangibly browse at leisure – are becoming less common, if not a dying breed.
More people, particularly the young, now opt for reading along more narrowly-defined news categories online and on social media.
Instead of having to browse through different pages, where you might stumble upon a story that you didn’t think you wanted to read, people now tend to only read what they want to read. I fear readers will become less generalist if we are no longer accidentally exposed to a variety of news items through the act of browsing print.
But the market is dictating that a print newspaper such as The Nation is no longer a sustainable business model. Mainstream mass media has always taken pride in its role as a gatekeeper of news and information, a guardian of what is fit for print. Now traditional media has lost much of this role amidst burgeoning social media, citizen journalists, bloggers and social media influencers.
On one hand, I think it is good for the public in general that traditional media is losing its grip on the power to determine the narrative of what is news and what is not. This development comes with the need, of course, for citizens to become more adept at differentiating accurate news from fake news and at calling propaganda out for what it is.
While The Nation will maintain an online presence, three-quarters of the editorial staff will be laid off. I wish these former colleagues all the best in their future endeavors.
The Nation, just like any news organization, is a team effort and not just a story of figures like co-founder Suthichai Yoon. Ordinary staff like house keepers, security guards and administrative staff deserved to be recognized as well. So many names could not be mentioned here, both Thai and foreign.
As The Nation reduces itself to an online-only news website with a focus on lifestyle content, I hope it will continue to provide differing views about Thai affairs in English. But it will be up to those who remain and the site’s conservative owners to ensure its relevance.
Farewell The Nation, the place where I learned to place the duty to serve the public above the newspaper. I am thankful to you.