I was at a party last night when someone dropped a bombshell in the middle of a conversation.
“It’s really too bad about The Daily Star, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re going bust. Such a shame.”
This report was confirmed by another person listening in on the conversation. “Haven’t you heard,” they asked. “Last Thursday was their last day.” My mood instantly darkened, and I went home early. This morning, I came to work and immediately checked the newspaper’s website. Lo and behold! Staring back at me from my computer screen were the vaguely familiar headlines that said it all: old news…
I spent the next half hour thinking through the implications of this turn of events. Perhaps almost as remarkable to me as the news of the alleged bankruptcy was the degree to which I was disturbed by it. I was actually rather surprised by how upset it made me feel to hear that The Daily Star, that old fixture of the anglophone Lebanese community, the perennial employment standby for visiting journalism majors and wandering NGO part-timers, was closing its doors.
“They were going bust when I worked there, years ago,” said a friend as she nursed her drink. “I’m not surprised by it. It’s managed chaotically.”
The result of my brooding was the revelation that The Daily Star, for all of its flaws, performs a role that cannot easily be filled by another institution. Even setting aside the fact that it is the only Lebanese daily published in English, the Star strikes me as unique in the generally even-handed character of its coverage. Unlike pretty much all of the other Lebanese papers (with occasional exceptions of course), The Daily Star plays host to a wide range of perspectives, and its editorial line is not so easy to pin down. More often than not, I find myself rolling my eyes as I flip through the pages of an-Nahar, as-Safir, and even al-Akhbar, due to the ideological intransigence and bias of their journalists. The Daily Star’s op-eds and reports are typically more balanced, surely the mark of a good newspaper.
I awoke from my gloomy day dream with the idea that I should probably give the newspaper a call to confirm the rumor before penning its obit. (Imagine the millions who’d take to the streets in mourning promptly after reading my blog, right?) I picked up the phone and called the Gemmayzeh offices. Someone answered after several long rings.
“So I hear that you’re closing.”
“So… how come you’re not circulating a paper then?”
“Our printing press is broken. We’re fixing it.”
“Oh, ok. Well that’s a relief, right?”
“Ok, well… bye.”
In the meantime, I’d received an email from a friend who suggested a different explanation of the rumor. The Star’s printing press was not busted: rather, its assets have been frozen because someone is suing them, and they are trying to work out some kind of deal. Any more insights? Please advise.
(Somewhere in the Gulf, the editor of another English daily whose goal is to “reinforce Abu Dhabi’s status as … a political, cultural and social leader of the Arab world” can only be rubbing his hands together and cackling happily.)