Now Liberia’s Oldest Surviving Newspaper
Tomorrow, Friday, February 16, 2018, is the Daily Observer’s 37th birthday.
The newspaper becomes the nation’s oldest surviving newspaper, finally surpassing Liberia’s first newspaper, the Liberian Herald, which lasted for 36 in 1862, when it folded.
The Herald was founded in 1826 by John B. Russwurm, a Methodist missionary, who arrived in Liberia in 1825 and brought along with him a printing press. With that he started his newspaper the following year and it became the periodical of the Colony of Liberia. Its first editor was Charles L. Force. According to the Historical Dictionary of Liberia, editorial successors to Force included John B. Russwurm, Hilary Teage, Hilary Richard Wright Johnson and Edward Wilmot Blyden.
The Herald, which launched Liberian journalism, became Africa’s fifth press. According to Carl Patrick Burrowes’ Press and Politics in Liberia, 1830-1970, the Herald came after the French language periodicals published in Egypt during the Napoleonic occupation of 1797; the Cape Town Gazette of South Africa, 1800, and the Royal Gazette and Sierra Leone Advertiser, 1801, and the Royal Gold Coast Gazette, 1822.
As mentioned earlier, the Herald lasted until 1862 when it folded. The Herald was followed by several other newspapers, including Africa’s Luminary.
The more recent Liberian newspapers included the Liberian Age, founded in 1946 by Jacob Henry Browne, and later taken over by the True Whig Party as its mouthpiece. It lasted until 1980 when it went out following the April 12 coup d’état.
Next came the Daily Listener, founded in 1950 by Charles C. Dennis and subsidized by the True Whig Party.
Next was the Liberian Star, founded in 1964 by a consortium between the Liberian government and Lord Thomson of Fleet Street, London. It lasted, like the Daily Listener, until 1978 when both folded. The Listener was 28 and The Star, 14 years old.
The Daily Observer was founded by Kenneth and Mae Gene Best. The Liberian Observer Corporation (LOC), publisher of the Daily Observer, was established in January 1980 and the newspaper was launched February 16, 1981. The LOC’s first chairman was the legendary Liberian constitutional analyst and pamphleteer, Albert Porte, maternal uncle of the Bests.
Coming less than a year following the bloody 1980 coup d’état that overthrew the government of President W.R. Tolbert, Jr., the Daily Observer suffered great persecution from the military regime that staged the coup. The newspaper suffered five closures, including one that lasted nearly two years; several imprisonments of its staff, including Mr. Best and his wife; and three government-contrived arson attacks, the third of which totally destroyed the newspaper and the Charles C. Dennis homestead on Broad Street, Crown Hill, Monrovia, the first headquarters of the Daily Observer. The newspaper and the LOC lost everything.
By the time that last arson attack occurred, the Best family was already in The Gambia, in exile from the Liberian civil war, where they were preparing to launch that country’s first professional newspaper and first daily.
Tomorrow’s observance will be confined to a staff meeting, during which an important announcement regarding a historic transition is to be made.