The Post's founder remembers what made the newspaper great - and what will keep it so.
TODAY is my last day as The Phnom Penh Post's editor-in-chief, a position that I have held now for 17 years and 21 days since the first issue of the Post was published on July 10, 1992.
I had actually decided on my title six months earlier and put it on business cards after my older brother Jack explained what the choices were when I was in the process of setting up the paper. I didn't have a clue myself, so he explained the options.
I remember asking him: "Hey Jack, you studied journalism. What should I call myself? Chairman or president or ... what?" Demonstrating the deep affection only a guy can have for his kid brother, he replied: "You numbskull! What are you - a complete moron? You'll be publisher of course, and then if you want to control the content you should be editor-in-chief as well."
There was a lot to be learned in those early days.
Two critical lessons from the 1990s which are no less important today are the need to get the facts right and the dangers involved in attempting to
print the truth.
The day after the first issue came out, a gentleman showed up at the office dressed smartly in a royal uniform.
He delivered our first letter-to-the-editor, and it was from none other than then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk, noting that in our lead front-page story we had published the wrong date for Cambodia's independence.
But what proved to be much more painful was the climate of fear and violence that developed after the new government was formed in 1993.
Sadly, who now remembers Tou Chom Mongkol, Nuon Chan, Sao Chan Dara and Thun Bun Ly? These are the names of Cambodian journalists
who were murdered between 1994 and 1997, most on the streets of Phnom Penh and in broad daylight.
Their cases were never resolved.
Add to these tragedies the grenades thrown at newspaper offices, the numbers of publications confiscated or shut down, the reporters sued or jailed, the pervasive use of anonymous death threats to intimidate the press, and the question has to be asked: Why would anyone in their right mind want to practice journalism in Cambodia, especially since after some years of relative calm we seem to have entered a new phase of systematic efforts to muzzle an independent press?
The simple fact is that I've never had much difficulty finding Cambodians who wanted to be reporters. And if turnover was high, it was more because people with marketable skills in the foreign-employer arena found it difficult to live on the Post's pitifully low salaries, or the demands of working till midnight on deadline placed too heavy a price on time with families.
So if this issue seems unduly focused on me, my preference is to use the space to salute the courageous and dedicated Cambodian reporters who have worked, often at great risk to themselves and their families, for me over the last 17 years. These are the real unsung heroes of The Phnom Penh Post.
As a foreigner I have always had the option to call my embassy for help or just head to the airport and catch the next flight out. My Khmer reporters do not have these luxuries, but in spite of this many, if not most, were and still are determined to do something to help their country, to print the truth about issues and problems that were and still are related to helping Cambodia recover from 30 years of civil war and chaos.
I also want to salute and thank the many friends of the Post who as contributors, freelancers, sources from all sectors of society or just plain readers have, in whatever form, taken an active interest in and involvement with what we do.
Over 17 years we've had both the challenge and the pleasure to report on some of the most incredible stories any journalist could imagine covering. Starting with UNTAC (at the time the UN's largest-ever peacekeeping mission), which resulted in the formation of a new government in 1993, the Post team has been on their toes.
The gradual demise of the Khmer Rouge over the next five years, including Pol Pot's death, brought some sense of closure and great relief. The collapse of the coalition government in 1997 just added more bitterness and sorrow to the brew.
Four contentious national elections made hanging chads look like kid's play.
And superimposed on the whole time frame is the cat-and-mouse game played between government, donors, rights groups and aid agencies in the always convoluted, challenging and entertaining process of reform and recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation.
It has always amazed me since day one how many people wanted to get involved with the paper, how serious was the task of publishing words in print, and how many people and institutions preferred to keep what they did in the dark. The pen may not be mightier than the sword, but it sure as hell can scare the daylights out of both saints and sinners.
Seth Meixner will take over as editor-in-chief, but since I've been working only half-time for the past year, Seth has already been running the show.
I expect the transition will be a seamless one and, in any case, I'll still be around as a senior editor.
As for the Post, it will only be useful if it meets the needs of its readers. This issue becomes more critical as we prepare to start publishing an edition in Khmer on September 9, 2009, when the waters of Cambodia's tolerance for press freedoms will be seriously tested once again.
Finally, I said this in the first issue and I'll say it again: If you want a better paper, then let us know what you need.
Go ahead, don't be shy, give us your best shot - in print, please.
New editorial appointments at The Phnom Penh Post
In advance of next month's launch of the Khmer edition of The Phnom Penh Post, the newspaper's owner Post Media Ltd (PML) has announced senior editorial appointments effective on August 1, 2009.
New appointments at the Post – English and Khmer
PK Managing Editor
PE Managing Editor
PE Lifestyle Editor
PE DeputyLifestyle Editor
National News Editor
Chief of Staff
Mr Seth Meixner has been appointed group editor-in-chief of the two editions of the newspaper. Mr Meixner was previously managing editor of The Post's English edition, a role that will now be filled by Mr Philip Bader.
Mr Meixner has wide-ranging experience in Cambodia, having been a former managing editor of The Cambodia Daily and bureau chief for the wire service Agence France Presse before joining PML.
Mr Kay Kimsong will be the inaugural editor-in-chief of "PK" - The Phnom Penh Post's local language edition. He will be backed by Neth Pheaktra who will act as the managing editor.
Mr Kimsong said he was delighted to be leading The Post into its vernacular edition.
"These are challenging and exciting times for Cambodia. The likelihood of a stock exchange soon, the rapid sophistication of business and markets, and a fast-maturing population that desires more from its press, forces us to think carefully," he said.
'Over the past 12 months we have been planning our Khmer edition, and it will be fundamentally different from its English-language sister. The papers will have the same name, but will often make different editorial judgement. That's an exciting concept."
"We are looking forward to competing for readers when we launch in September. We're confident that we have judged our market correctly," said Mr Kimsong.
Post Publisher Ross Dunkley said the company had commissioned the designing of unique Khmer fonts for the newspaper. To be known as Post Khmer, the new fonts, written in Unicode, will be widely available for PC users once the paper is launched.
Meanwhile, The Phnom Penh Post today launches its regular Friday insert, called 7Days.
"The lifestyle liftout aims to highlight the growing diversity within Cambodian society and the lifestyle options available to people these days," said Mr Dunkley.