Kathimerini English Edition was one year old when it was plunged into the kind of maelstrom that makes newspapering so exciting and valuable.
For nearly three months, from March 24 to June 10, 1999, NATO forces bombed Yugoslavia. The International Herald Tribune and Kathimerini kept close watch, with continuous reporting, analyses and comments.
For most of the campaign’s duration, Kathimerini English Edition, which had been launched on March 9, 1998, was flooded with letters from angry readers. Dozens of letters each day. It was a defining moment in the young paper’s first steps.
The joint venture, combining the International Herald Tribune (then produced jointly by the Washington Post and The New York Times) and an eight-page standalone supplement based on Kathimerini’s reportage and commentary, managed to anger readers around the world, across the political spectrum. The IHT was clearly in favor of the campaign aimed at evicting Serb troops from Kosovo, whereas Kathimerini English Edition reflected widespread Greek opposition to the bombing.
Readers who supported the campaign were incensed at the position of the Greeks, and they had full access to Greek arguments through the English translations of Greek news and comments by Kathimerini’s diverse stable of writers, columnists and contributors. Readers in Greece, on the other hand, were furious at the global newspaper’s support for the NATO intervention.
On both sides, readers demanded to know why the one newspaper tolerated what the other wrote, why they maintained their partnership. And they sent letters reflecting this anger and division. We must have printed almost every one of them, often dedicating a full page of the paper to letters.
From the moment the NATO campaign began, it was clear that the package of the world’s global newspaper in combination with an English translation of Greece’s leading daily would provide a unique perspective on the world. The IHT was the IHT, the whole world read it and knew it. Kathimerini was the global paper’s local partner in Greece, Cyprus and, for some years, Albania. Kathimerini was most influential in Greece but, through its English Edition was only now emerging onto the international stage.
We were determined, from the start, that unlike other English-language newspapers in non-English speaking parts of the world, the English Edition would not be tailored to what expatriates and visitors would be expecting but would present, in a clear and professional way, what the public debate in Greece was all about. We thought that not all of our readers might be pleased but we hoped that all would appreciate the fact that they were acquiring knowledge that they would not have got from any other source – an understanding of how people across the divide thought.
Apparently, people did appreciate Kathimerini English Edition because the young newspaper went from strength to strength. This was also a time before the dominance of social media, which has fragmented public debate into an endless series of monologues, where each reader can select his or her particular opinion and stick to it, refusing to be exposed to arguments that might lead to greater synthesis and consensus.
Kathimerini was the second local partner to team up with the IHT in the global paper’s new project, following Israel’s Haaretz. A host of similar projects followed, with English editions of leading papers in Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands and partnerships with publications in Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere. While many other partnerships have shut down, Haaretz and Kathimerini are still publishing English editions – now as supplements to The New York Times International Edition, following the NYT’s purchase of the IHT.
Today, Kathimerini English Edition celebrates the 20th anniversary of its launch. The paper has reported and commented on the rollercoaster ride of Greece’s history over the past two decades – from the hard work that went into triumphs like major infrastructure projects, the country’s joining the euro, and a successful Summer Olympics in 2004, to the rash policies that brought the country to crisis, followed by the political, economic and social consequences of the fall. Passions have run high over most of this time, especially when Greeks were divided between those in favor of the reforms demanded by bailouts and others who saw anti-Greek conspiracies behind the need for a viable economy. Division and populism, inflamed by social media, have taken their toll on a public debate that was already overheated.
In all this time, Kathimerini English Edition has remained an authoritative source and calm voice for readers around the world who need to know what is happening in Greece and what the Greeks are saying about it. It carries Kathimerini’s reportage and commentary to a global audience and it brings an international readership to Greece.
The paper’s initial success and long-term survival must be attributed mainly to the support of its owners – Kathimerini’s publishers and the executives of The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Aristides Alafouzos, the late owner of Kathimerini, had wanted his newspaper to acquire an international voice and global partners and he dedicated much support to the venture. Another serious factor contributing to success was the fact that the bar for Kathimerini English Edition had been set very high: It had to reflect the Greek edition’s reportage and commentary in a manner – and in a language – that would be equal to that of the major international papers with which it was now partnered. Otherwise, the difference would be jarring and English-speaking readers would be lost. The talent, dedication and long-term loyalty of the English Edition’s small number of bilingual journalists (writers and editors) helped achieve this aim.
Also, the very nature of the venture dictated the method in which it was produced. The English Edition had to carry the main news, the editorials and the most important comments of the Greek edition on the same day, but it also had to close earlier so that the “mother paper” with the large print run could be printed immediately after the IHT-Kathimerini English Edition. This meant that much of the paper had to be translated late at night and very quickly, on deadline. The result was that a significant amount of content had to be produced earlier. This allowed for the publication of features from earlier editions of the Greek paper but it also demanded that at least some of the news stories were a combination of Kathimerini reporting and original work by the English Edition’s staff members. One of the foundations of the whole project was that if Kathimerini English Edition was to be on a par with its international partners, it would need journalists of the highest caliber working on it. Having such journalists throughout the paper’s life (it still seems presumptive to say “history”!) enabled the English Edition to carry with pride the name and quality of Kathimerini, and also, through the English-language journalists’ original pieces and translation skills, gave the paper its own voice and character. The letters pages in the past and the comments on the digital edition attest to this.
Kathimerini English Edition is in the thick of Greece’s economic, political and social life. The newspaper is Greece’s only English-language daily and the digital edition carries the weight of authority that comes both from being a branch of Kathimerini and from its own journalists, with their experience, talent and devotion.
Over the years there has been much renewal and there have been losses – such as suspension of publication of the groundbreaking and award-winning weekly Athens Plus. This is part of journalism at any time, with its joys and sorrows. The most important part of journalism, however, is that which is reflected so strongly in Kathimerini and its English Edition: The newspapers and their readers are part of a community, they exist in relation to each other.
Readers might often disagree, they might get angry, they might even turn their backs on the paper for a while, but as long as they trust that they will be informed in a way that is both fair and interesting, they will stay with it.
This sense of community is the strongest bond and it is greater than any of the single factors that keep any publication viable, greater than any of the individuals involved. This is what gives Kathimerini English Edition strength as it reaches its prime and renews itself for the future, just as Kathimerini approaches its centenary next year.
Nikos Konstandaras was the founding editor of Kathimerini English Edition.