APSN Banner

Reporting Indonesia: Chronicling 25 years of The Jakarta Post

Jakarta Post - October 9, 2023

Jakarta – In 1983, from an empty laundry warehouse, five rival media companies banded together to create an English-language daily, an experiment during the New Order era that some saw as doomed to fail.

Now, 40 years later, The Jakarta Post is the sole English daily in the world's third largest democracy.

Throughout its four decades of promoting and safeguarding transparency, accountability and democratic values in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, the Post has cemented its status as the archipelago's window to the world thanks to its punchy editorials and snappy features, particularly among expatriates and visiting foreigners.

Still, the daily's birth and growing pains were never what you would call unremarkable, as expected from a newspaper printed in a foreign language during the notoriously repressive New Order.

For the most part, only senior journalists, politicians and historians know the full extent of the Post's story. Chances are most others will have to find someone to recount the experiences and knowledge contained in the paper's history.

Alternatively, they could read Reporting Indonesia: The Jakarta Post Story.

Written by senior Thomson Reuters journalist Bill Tarrant, Reporting Indonesia is a firsthand account of the Post's early years up to its 25th anniversary in 2008.

Tarrant himself was among the group of editors that helped start the daily in 1983. He left the paper in 1984 and was "emotionally detached from the subject he was writing on," says then-chief editor Endy M. Bayuni.

The first few pages can serve as a kind of time capsule for younger readers, or a walk down memory lane for their elders.

Tarrant described 1982 Indonesia through the eyes of a foreigner who had recently arrived in Jakarta, in a humorous yet slightly sardonic tone, recalling a cash economy with bulging wallets and envelopes – a far cry from the QR code transactions of today – along with the city's eternally constant aspects, such as the cacophonous traffic and the odd demonstration or two.

Of The Jakarta Post, he chronicled its genesis, a 1982 conversation between CSIS senior fellow and cofounder Jusuf Wanandi and then Communications and Information Minister Ali Murtopo emphasized Indonesia's status as the largest ASEAN country, but with no English titles to speak of.

Thus, a new chapter of Indonesia's media history was written, with the Post's first edition published on April 25, 1983. Tarrant wrote that the eight-page daily, "aiming to appeal to foreigners and well-educated Indonesians", was designed to set itself apart from others, with extensive use of photos and graphics along with a total of eight comic strips on a lifestyle page.

Still, the New Order journalism ecosystem was not known for its openness, and the new daily "had almost no original reporting in the beginning", with page editors pulling stories from local newspapers and wires instead of having their young reporters navigate the minefield of reporting the truth amid an overbearing military and information ministry presence.

Tarrant's recollections span the gamut, from internal newsroom tensions between the native English speakers at the copyediting desk and the Indonesian reporters over grammatical changes and errors, stories that never made it to the printing press, and those that sparked political intrigue and threats to shut the Post down.

In 2023, it seems, some things will remain.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/front-row/2023/10/09/reporting-indonesia-chronicling-25-years-of-the-jakarta-post.htm