INDONESIA: 'Serambi Indonesia' survives the tsunami

Banda Aceh's only daily newspaper pulls together to restore communication for the tsunami devestated area

The Jakarta Post
Friday, January 14, 2005

By Nani Afrida

A small, dirty shop-house with no parking space in the Beurawe area of Banda Aceh has now become the place where Aceh's only daily, Serambi Indonesia, endeavors to rise from ashes.

The newspapers's former office was badly damaged by the tsunami.

At the front of the house there is a reception area that also serves to receive advertisements and reports of missing persons. The meeting room is only 12 square meters in size while the editorial room is located in a corner with some 10 computers.

"Those were the only computers we could salvage; the rest of them were lost during the tsunami," the daily's head of human resources department, Nazamuddin Arbi, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Unlike previously, when the daily was located in a second story building in Baet village, there is no longer bursts of laughter or joking among the employees.

The earthquake and tsunami have wiped the smiles out from the surviving employees' faces. Apart from ruining the daily's office, 20 percent of the daily's employees either died or have been declared missing as a result of the disaster.

"The disaster cost us 51 employees, nine of them journalists, including Serambi Indonesia's managing editor," Nazamuddin Arbi said.

Serambi Indonesia's bureau in Banda Aceh had 288 employees, of which some 30 percent were journalists. At that time of the disaster, many of the paper's employees preferred to live near the office.

"If families are also counted, the number of (our people) who either died or are missing has reached 185 people," Nazamuddin said.

Serambi Indonesia, owned by the Kompas Gramedia Group, was set up in the early 1990s by several senior Kompas journalists, including its editor-in-chief Syamsul Kahar, who survived the tragedy.

The destruction of the paper's facilities as well as the loss of its human resources caused Serambi Indonesia to disappear from the newsstands for six days.

On the third day after the disaster struck, employees managed to move some of the newspaper's assets to Serambi Indonesia's Lhokseumawe office. Very little remained at the Banda Aceh office, most was swept away by the tsunami. With simple equipment they got back to work, determined to bring news to the people.

On Jan. 1, the daily was back on the newsstands, printed at its Lhokseumawe office. Lhokseumawe was chosen because the newspaper has a five-unit printing house in the city. The print run is now 5,000 copies, much less than its usual 25,000 copies.

The paper is published with eight pages -- half its normal size of 16 pages due to shortages of manpower -- and was initially distributed for free. The paper is now sold for Rp 1,500 a copy.

On Thursday the atmosphere of grief could still be felt in the daily's office, but the spirit is still there.

"We do this despite our limitations because we cannot keep on mourning forever," Nazamuddin said.