More than a decade and a half ago, on July 10, 1992, I flew from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, humping in as extra luggage 6,000 copies of the first edition of the Phnom Penh Post.
Back then there was a more casual, pre-rectangular strategy atmosphere at Pochentong airport. Passengers could disembark, walk to the side of the plane and just pick up their own bags. No metal detectors, x-ray machines, customs checks – nothing. It was an entertaining form of thinly-controlled chaos.
My staff drove a rented car on the apron to load up all the boxes of newspapers. All you had to do was show your luggage chits, grab your gear and then head off.
As a veteran paper boy I decided to make the most of the brief moment in history and headed downtown to try and flog a few copies of Cambodia’s first independent newspaper in any language to hit the streets of Phnom Penh since before the Khmer Rouge captured the city on April 15, 1975.
Walking along Monivong – which was then called Achar Mean Boulevard – near what is now the Bayon Market, I shouted out repeatedly: “EXTRA, EXTRA!! Read all about it! City grapples with urban growth,” while waving a copy of the newspaper in the air.
Most people looked at me like I was a complete nut case.
I decided to try a calmer approach – “Would you like to buy a newspaper?” – which had immediate results.
I can’t say the paper sold like hotcakes, but initial sales were encouraging and my pockets started to fill up with one dollar bills. It was a heady time as there’s nothing more exciting than making a small slice of history.
The challenge of getting the facts right hit home directly the next morning when an elegantly dressed man showed up at our front door to deliver an envelope from the Royal Palace. It was our first letter-to-the editor from none other than King Father (then Prince) Norodom Sihanouk, pointing out in some detail that we had gotten the date of Cambodia’s independence wrong in the lead story by Leo Dobbs.
For that first issue (re-printed here minus one full-page ad) we had six full-time staff and no reporters. Journalist friends in town had contributed copy just for the fun of being in a home-grown rag.
From the time I had the idea to start a paper in October 1991, it took nine long, frenetic months to get out one issue. The Post’s managing editor, Sara Colm, sensing the fatigue we all felt after that initial inaugural hurdle, suggested we publish the next issue in two weeks instead of one. The pattern was set and we’ve been stuck ever since in one of the oddest publishing cycles known to man.
But that’s about to come to an end real soon.
We have a new design for a daily paper and once a few kinks are ironed out the Post will be published five times a week.
Moving from 32 pages a month to 480 gives us lots of room for maneuver and lots of space for more news, more analysis, more features, more of everything.
We think readers will like the new Post. But don’t hesitate to send me an email with any gripes.