The Daily News, 60 years and counting
Would there be a Daily News in Turkey if the 1960 coup hadn’t taken place? Obviously, there would have been one or more English-language newspaper in Turkey at some point, but if a young nationalist deputy press attaché at Turkey’s London Embassy hadn’t been recalled as part of a post-1960 coup purge of Democrat Party executives and civil servants considered “loyal” to the ousted government of the late Adnan Menderes, there would definitely not have been a newspaper that embodied the spirit of the Daily News.
When he was recalled from London, İlhan Çevik did not have an aspiration to launch an English-language newspaper. He had been an established journalist before he was posted to London, but given that he returned as a “sacked bureaucrat,” it was a rather uphill fight to find employment in the media. Together with some friends, he first tried to launch a Turkish-language newspaper, but that didn’t pan out. His English wasn’t that advanced, but he wanted to try something that was absent in the Turkey of that time. He thus sold the family property in Ankara’s Cebeci quarter and bought some used office desks, typewriters and a rather old printing machine. Then, setting up shop in the basement of a shop on Rüzgarlı Street in the old Ulus district of Ankara, he launched the Daily News on March 15, 1961. Later, after lawyers for the New York Daily News, officially titled the Daily News, warned him that they could take legal action over the similar name, the word Turkish was added to the name, resulting in the Turkish Daily News. The paper maintained that name right up until Nov. 3, 2008, when the newspaper was renamed the Hürriyet Daily News.
When I joined the Daily News in September 1978, İlhan Bey was still in charge. The newspaper, which was distributed in the early years by the staff to hotels and locations where foreigners tended to congregate, as well as to embassies, was already among the “national dailies” distributed by one of the two distribution agencies. The editorial office was on Tunus Avenue, opposite the bowling lane used by American soldiers. It was a three-room flat whose backroom belonged to the Associated Press office in Ankara.
Everything was scarce, so İlhan Bey was rather parsimonious, yet the fundamental principle was still to pay the salaries on time. Hopping into a taxi to go chase a story or go to a news conference was out of the question. Reporters always had to use public transport. There was no “online” photograph service; every two or three days, photograph parcels would come from the Anatolia News Agency or, in the case of very important news, someone would go and pick up photos from the agency. Those were very difficult years but one thing was rather comforting: Probably as a result of the difficulties the paper experienced when it was launched, İlhan Bey completely opposed censorship. Even when the 1980 coup bulldozed all freedoms in the country, he would say,
“You are dancers on the word … You will manage to say whatever you want to say without making compromises, but without landing me and yourself in prison as well.”
Once, after I, a young reporter, dared to ask a question to the military-appointed prime minister, a retired admiral, İlhan Bey came under pressure to sack me. İlhan Bey publicly yelled at me for about five minutes but once we were in his room, he kissed me on the cheeks and said, “Go home, take a day or so and come back refreshed.” A few days later, I mistakenly misspelled the word fertilizer as “fartilizer” in a story about the prime minister inaugurating a fertilizer plant; the paper ran an apology, but I was given a full month’s salary as bonus. Naturally, though, I was publicly criticized for making a gross mistake.
The Daily News has always been a prestige publication and has never made a big profit. Over my years as member of the board and managing editor, I was part of a small team of executives who, apart from journalism, busied themselves managing printing works, publishing books, particularly for the Education Ministry, making good money and sponsoring the newspaper. After 1983, when Turkey became a more liberal country economically and the number of high-quality printing works increased, it became increasing difficult to maintain a good balance despite the diversification of non-newspaper income for the company. In 1999, thus, a search began to find a partner. From the Yeni Asır-Sabah group of the time to the Hürriyet group, negotiations opened up with many potential buyers/partners.
The internet and the online edition – of which I was the founder – began on May 19, 1995. It, however, was probably instrumental in hurting the paper’s finances as most overseas subscribers disappeared in a very short period of time, and the web version couldn’t create an additional source of revenue.
In 2000, the Doğan group became the majority shareholder. In 2008, Hürriyet, also a Doğan group member at the time, took over as the majority shareholder, and changed the name of the paper to the Hürriyet Daily News.
Two years ago the Hürriyet newspaper and its concerns, including the Daily News and other Doğan Media Group television stations and publications, were taken over by Demirören Media.
Today, the Daily News remains much the same. It is no longer Turkey’s “first and only English language newspaper” but it is still the most important window to the world on Turkey and Turkish affairs, and a window for Turks wishing to follow international issues with a Turkish perspective.
On this 60th anniversary of the Daily News, I want to salute Nurten and İlhan Çevik, the founding mother and father of the paper.