The completion of three score and ten years is an impressive milestone in the life of a newspaper, especially in these times when papers come and go with predictable regularity. To weather stiff competition over the decades, as well as to survive through tumultuous periods, is in itself a highly laudable thing. To become, during this time, a reference point for events of this region in the bargain, shows that it is only ethical reporting and indeed ethical standards overall that can go the long haul.
At seventy plus, a paper can rightfully be called a “Grand Old Lady”. But the tone of sober veracity that is the hallmark of The Assam Tribune was something that was seen even in its infancy. Never one for sensationalism, or for scandal mongering, the paper has stuck to its core values of ethical reportage over the decades of its existence, even as ever newer generations have joined its readership. Which is why, during the height of the troubles in this State, people never believed a piece of “news” until they saw it reported in The Assam Tribune. Over the years, “It says so in The Assam Tribune” has become a kind of clincher, something that puts an end to all argument. This is indeed an amazing achievement, something that is as valuable as it has been hard won.
Of course weathering difficulties is not something new to the paper. Even when it was started, as a weekly in Dibrugarh, on 4th August, 1938, there were many who were skeptical about its survival. An English paper, in the boondocks of pre-Independence India? What chances did it have? These nay sayers did not take into account the dogged perseverance of Radha Govinda Baruah, who left no stone unturned to garner subscribers, as well as advertisers. In the teeth of great financial difficulties, through great personal hardship, insecurity and toil, he emerged, triumphant, in establishing the paper. Through crises such as the Emergency, and other times when all Government advertisements were stopped, the paper has never bowed to unwonted interference from any source. Even when the paper shifted to Guwahati, and then became a daily in 30th September, 1948, through disasters such as a devastating fire on its premises, it is to the credit of the paper that it has not missed bringing out a single issue.
All the paper’s extremely competent editors, starting with the legendary Lakshminath Phukan, have had core values that have meshed smoothly with the ethos of the paper. Besides, many people, too numerous to mention here, have toiled body and soul to make the paper what it is, today. And it is also a tribute to the management that editors have been given a great deal of independence, with the management standing up for them even when they ruffle the feathers of those in authority.
The reportage is sober, not given to alarmism or sensationalism. It has given a balanced perspective of the many happenings of this region. Besides, it has always placed before the Powers That Be the interests of Assam , and its people, in measured language, and a judicious tone. The paper’s moderate voice is even today the voice of reason in times of unreason.
The evolution of the paper has been gradual, no doubt, but it has definitely kept pace with the times. And it is perhaps because of this measured pace that these changes have an inevitable quality about them. Sports reporting was always the paper’s forte, and it has kept up that tradition till today. But the starting of the Business Pages, for instance, might seem redundant in a place like ours, not known for industrialization or even a thriving business environment. Yet it is a fact that the news items on this page, a judicious mix of local, national and international business news, do carry important aspects of business news. It is through news of this kind that a much-needed “seeding” of ideas occurs over a period of time.
One of the major strengths of the paper is its reporting from the smaller towns, and the remoter places of the State. Pages 8 and 9 are usually devoted to news items emanating from the interior. This is unmatched by any other English language daily of the region. There is an endearing quality to many of these pieces, coming out of say, Gouripur, or Sadiya. And yet they certainly denote the pulse of the people. Whether it is erosion in Biswanath, the inauguration of a wall journal in Lumding, or Durga Puja fever gripping Badarpur, the varied hues of the lives of the people all across Assam are reflected faithfully in these pages. Indeed, this tradition of reportage from the tiny towns of Assam has been with the paper since its inception, when RG himself laid down this guideline.
Today, in both the weekend supplements as well as the main paper, The Assam Tribune carries a variety of columns, of many flavours, and many colours. Its unique strength is that a large number of them are written by local and regional columnists. This is indeed a feather in its cap, a fulfilment of RG’s long-ago dream of making his paper carry the voice of the people of this land to those in the centres of power in the State, as well as nationally. The power of this kind of “local English reporting” is reflected in the fact that this paper is routinely quoted whenever there are debates and deliberations around the country regarding matters in this State, and indeed this region. The Letters column reflects the variety of concerns in the lives of the people here. The numerous glossy advertisements that it carries, and its classifieds columns, bursting out of their allotted pages into several sheets on weekends, are clear proof of the high readership that the paper now enjoys.
Yet another large asset of the paper is its Friday section on culture. Over the years, many important works of literature, music, and drama have been discussed and reviewed in these pages. Fresh ideas on the cultural scene have also been showcased here, many a time. Indeed, these Friday pages have an archival value of great importance. This is especially significant because nationally, many papers that previously carried culture pages, have now stopped doing so. The fact The Assam Tribune continues with these pages reflects its priorities, as well as the tastes of its readers and also the vibrant cultural scene of the State.
One of the first things that the diaspora of Assamese scattered around the globe does on getting up in the morning is to access the online edition of the paper. Indeed, it is remarkable how, in the few short years since its inception, the internet edition of The Assam Tribune has become an umbilical cord connecting the “Probaxi Asomiya” to her home State.
Its seventy years of success means that the paper has been a companion to a large number of people of these twin valleys since birth. Many feel a day is not well begun unless they start by going through the pages of The Assam Tribune. Some even report withdrawal symptoms on those days when the paper does not appear because of a press holiday.
By such markers, indeed, is long-term success gauged.