INDONESIA: 'Serambi Indonesia' deals with tragedy aftermath

Serambi Indonesia provides hope for the Acehnese and the rest of Indonesia with their progress toward restoration of the newspaper

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, January 20, 2005

By Tony Hotland

It may not be easy to revive the spirits of the Acehnese just three weeks after the horrific Dec. 26 tsunami, but for Aceh's leading daily newspaper Serambi Indonesia, no challenge is insurmountable.

After five days off the newsstands, the daily was back on Jan. 1, albeit initially at only half of its normal size yet with a mission to keep the Acehnese informed and lift their spirits through reporting the solace of victims and relief efforts.

"There were many rumors buzzing, many even caused anxiety, like a second tsunami or an outbreak of disease. We felt like we had to immediately be available again for the Acehnese as we were the only daily here and we had to keep the people calm as none of the rumors were facts," the daily's editorial secretary, Nurdinsyam, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The daily distributed the paper for free during the first seven days to people in areas that could be reached at that time, including refugee camps and humanitarian aid posts.

The important role that it plays has not gone unnoticed.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is now planning to distribute Serambi Indonesia to the hundreds of refugee shelters.

"I acted as a newspaper delivery boy," Mans Nyberg, a spokesman for the UN agency said when delivering a bunch of newspapers and tents for a camp in Lhok Nga to the west of Banda Aceh.

Signs that Serambi Indonesia is now firmly back on its feet came on Tuesday when it started publishing in 12 pages, and in color.

After the week-long free distribution, the daily started charging consumers Rp 1,500 (16 U.S. cents), lower than the initial Rp 2,000. The original price will be re-applied next month.

Currently, the daily prints around 16,000 copies each day, far below 25,000 before the tsunami disaster, but more than triple what it printed on Jan. 1.

While most of its content is about the disaster it has dedicated a lot of space for positive stories about relief efforts and outpourings of aid.

The daily also provides a few pages for survivors' advertisements seeking information on the whereabouts of their missing relatives, which have been printed for free during the first week after the disaster.

"We even changed the title of one special page from Aceh Cries to Aceh Rises to show that we're hoping for the better with all of the positive responses we've been getting so far," said Nurdinsyam.

However, things are not that smooth though for the daily who will celebrate its 16th anniversary next month.

Working on the newspaper from a nine by six meter rented shop house, journalists have to take turns when using computers to write news stories since most of the computers and production facilities were destroyed after the tidal waves swept through their old headquarters located on the coast.

The daily's original two-story office is now filled with mud and dirt, while papers and documents are scattered all over the second floor where the editorial and library rooms were once located. Unsurprisingly, the daily's management has decided to find a new location at the heart of the city.

The paper lost 51 of its 193 staff in the disaster.

"We expect to move to a new place in the next three or four months. Until then, we'll just stay here and do our best with what's available," Nurdinsyam said.

In spite of making progress, the newspaper may be forced to lay off workers in the coming weeks in order to be able to stay afloat financially.

On top of the huge losses caused by the disaster, the newspaper had lost a further Rp 12 billion since its return, and the decision to go color was bound to add to its costs, and thus its losses too.

If Serambi Indonesia had a monopoly before the disaster, that privilege is now gone.

"Basically, it's about competition. A new daily called Rakyat Aceh has just emerged, so we've got to kind of beautify ourselves to win readers over," he said.