There was a time when guns were brought to work at The Phnom Penh Post printing house. Mysterious bullet holes were also found in the walls.
Well, they were a mystery, at least, to The Post’s first chief executive officer Michel Dauguet. He recalls a time when he visited the printing house and saw the director of the facility with a gun in the pre-press office, and bullet holes in the wall.
“I asked him what happened and he said, I saw ghosts, freaked out, and fired at them,” Dauguet said.
This was the time when reports about ghost sightings were rampant among the staff.
Dauguet recalled: “It became a serious issue. It culminated in a night when all the staff ran out of the factory abandoning the presses running at full speed.”
The printing house had to be exorcised and monks confirmed that the premises were indeed haunted.
The problem came when Dauguet was told that one ghost remained and was stuck under one of the printing machines.
“Those are very heavy machines and took a month to calibrate. I had to apologise and say we could not move the equipment to help the poor ghost. He would have to find his way out by himself, and I believe he did because there were no longer sightings [after that],” he said.
With the hauntings gone, staff morale was boosted.
When The Post went from a fortnightly paper to a daily publication after a 16-year run, a dedicated printing house was set up near the Phnom Penh International Airport.
Dauguet’s involvement with The Post began in 2007 when he represented its potential investors in negotiations with founder and then-owner of the newspaper, Michael Hayes. The deal was inked in December that year, and on 1 January 2008, Dauguet became the CEO of The Phnom Penh Post, tasked with taking the newspaper daily.
“I had to convince a newsroom that it was possible. There was a lot of doubt at the beginning, including self-doubt to be honest, but I did my best to look confident about it,” he said sheepishly.
To cope with the expansion of the newsroom, the office moved from Michael Hayes’ villa to its present-day location on the 8th floor of Phnom Penh Center.
The first failure
Although The Post did not go through an intermediary stage of going weekly, Dauguet started a drill phase during which the fortnightly newspaper was still being printed but the newsroom worked on a daily cycle, creating their own virtual daily paper using the new system.
“The first evening, we had a very modest objective of doing an 8-page newspaper. The learning curve was so steep with the new software that the newsroom was in a state of complete panic at 10.30pm, with only 4 pages laid out. I called Seth Meixner, who was then the managing editor, and told him that this was just a drill and that we shouldn’t exhaust ourselves before the real thing happens. We decided to call it off and try harder the following day. The morale was very low and the staff were doubting if we were able to make the shift.” he said.
The next day, the team successfully produced an 8-page newspaper just in time, and the number of pages progressively increased every day.
“Eventually we printed our first daily newspaper just eight days late on the original plan. I remember spending the night in the printing factory with my wife, helping to fold the newspapers till 6 o’clock for this first edition,” he said.
A daily battle
Michel likened publication to a daily battle.
“For a journalist, nothing is more important than having [an in-depth] story, but missing a filing deadline has repercussions for the factory workers who are waiting and will work longer hours. Missing a distribution deadline might then result in this great story not being read in Siem Reap, because the paper will arrive long after the hotel guests have checked-out. It’s a whole chain reaction that is not necessarily on the mind of the newsroom,” he explained.
Like many others, Dauguet hopes for The Post to be an enduring publication. Dishing out advice to journalists, he said: “Keep pushing the boundaries, but never surrender to self-censorship: that is the real enemy. Long live to The Post!”
Michel Dauguet was the CEO of The Phnom Penh Post from 2008 to 2011. He is currently the programme director of a large-scale sanitation programme at iDE Cambodia.