Farewell to Daily News founding editor Kışlalı
I did not work a day alongside Mehmet Ali Kışlalı, which was my loss. Yet, he has always been my editor, mentor, harshest critic and, fortunately, one of my most devoted readers.
Born in the southeastern province of Kilis in 1933, Kışlalı was an established journalist before my birth. In the 1961 foundation of the Daily News, he was not just a partner of founder İlhan Çevik, but also the first editor of the paper.
At a time when Ankara-based Turkish journals were having great existential problems, establishing a newspaper must have been a challenging task for the founder and the founding team of the Daily News. When I first formally joined the Daily News in 1978 there was still doubts whether the paper would survive the frequent economic tides and occasional tremors of Turkey.
As a young and inexperienced diplomatic correspondent, I first came across Kışlalı at the office of Mr. İlhan. They long parted their businesses but were still very good friends. Kışlalı was a handsome, tall, well-dressed man looking directly into your eyes while talking. He asked a few questions about the issues of the day and details of a certain development. It was as if I was subjected to a very difficult examination. After I left the room, he and Mr. İlhan continued their talk and enjoyed their “on the rocks” drinks. Mr. İlhan was a very friendly yet quick tempered boss.
He was a perfectionist and though always nice to juniors, often for trivial reasons – to our understanding – he was grilling the sensors with very harsh terms. A while later, however, he would feel regretful for what he did that he would try to appease with offering concessions that he would otherwise never accept. Over the years, this and other spoiled members of the Daily News family used that peculiarity of Mr. İlhan to make the Daily News undertake many reforms, including for example becoming the first online newspaper on May 19, 1997.
Kışlalı was a correspondent for the legendary Tercüman newspaper, Ankara reporter of the Time and New York Times while at the same tim pblisher of the Yankı (Echo) news magazine and the English-language Outlook weekly.
While at the Daily News and other newspapers space was always limited and we were asked to write as short as possible. At the Yankı news magazine subjects were elaborately presented, including detailed background and prospects. Thus as a apprentice diplomatic correspondent I was trying to learn as much as I can from the Yankı magazine and envying my colleagues working for Kışlalı.
I did not know that Kışlalı was following my stories very closely until one day the telephone operator said he was on the line. At the time I was frequently on the phone with President Rauf Denktaş, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot ministers, but I was about to fall from my chair when the secretary told me Kışlalı wanted to talk with me.
It was post-1980 coup time. Reporting on foreign economic relations, energy issues, foreign affairs was very restricted or under strict scrutiny. Only issues reported by the official news agency could be published. Acting on a report by the Anadolu Agency, I wrote at the time a very elaborate news article on Turkish-Iraqi relations, including prospects of a second pipeline. I was afraid that I might end up in a military court because of the article, but to my surprise I received much appraise and a rather rare bonus from the boss.
For about 15 minutes Kışlalı questioned me as if he was the prosecutor of a military tribunal. He asked every detail, how I gathered the information and expressed his appreciation that I used the Anadolu Agency report as an intelligence to act on. “Well done young man, well done,” he concluded, making me so proud.
From that day on, once every few weeks, he was calling to discuss developments or express his comments, where I failed or why my approach was wrong on certain developments. He was a great tutor.
When I became managing editor, he in a way promoted himself to the post of my “editor-in-chief at large.” Often, he was calling early Monday mornings to discuss the previous week and what to expect in the new week. Those were precious times for me.
We were rather at opposite ends on certain issues. For example, for Kışlalı, before being a journalists we should all be devoted citizens of the Turkish state, while I always believed we must first be journalists and place the norms and values, ethics of our profession before everything else. Yet, when we were speaking at the same platforms, to my surprise I was noticing that we were talking of the same subjects with different words and approaches, but concluding with the same themes.
For a long period, Kışlalı was suffering from Alzheimer’s. For the past two years under the control of the doctors, he was sleeping most of the time. Yet, news that he passed away shocked all of us.
On Sunday, several hundred friends, relatives and colleagues gathered at the Kocatepe Mosque to say a final farewell. Goodbye my editor, mentor and elder brother. Until we meet again…