The Inquirer at 25: Commitment, Endurance Exemplified

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They looked around and could not find their employer and mentor, the Publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper. But they knew that the country, Liberia, needed a good newspaper to herald the stories of mayhem, murder and wanton destruction that were taking place.

Their first instinct was to re-launch the newspaper that had taught them journalism and made them courageous reporters. However, they did not have the permission of their Publisher. And wary of the temptation to indulge in a “presumptuous” sin, publishing the Observer without permission, they decided to do otherwise.

Meanwhile, their Publisher, unbeknown to them, had taken his family to The Gambia, where they had sought exile and were preparing to launch another daily newspaper, that country’s first professional periodical and first and still only daily.

“So what shall we do?” they wondered.

They were yet passionate about journalism and determined to continue their trade and give the country what it needed, despite the continued prevalence of the guns, bayonets and hand grenades that had destroyed their mother newspaper. Yes, following the capture and execution of
President Samuel K. Doe, forces loyal to him went about burning Monrovia and shouting, “No Doe, no Liberia!” And the Daily Observer newspaper became one of their first targets. They threw hand grenades into the Observer Building, owned by the family of Mr. C.T.H. Dennis, Sr., and destroyed it completely. The newspaper lost everything, including its library and archives and the Dennises lost their homestead.

These young Observer reporters, following the tradition of courage, daring, endurance and professionalism they had learned from their parent publication, the Daily Observer, decided to start another daily by another name—The Inquirer.

So the Remnants of the Observer family—Gabriel Williams, T. Max Teah, John Forkpah, George Wandah, C.Y. Kwanue, Burgess Carter, Grody Dorbor, S. Togba Slewoin, Sam Van Kesselly, Gregory Stemn, Amos Bryant, Stanton Peabody, Phillip Wisseh and Roger Seton—started The Inquirer in 1991.

They were determined to adhere, for the most part, to the professional and ethical principles they had learnt from the Observer. For this reason, they, too, like their mentors at the Observer, suffered persecution, leading several of them to flee the terror of warlords.

Gabriel Williams became the Inquirer’s first Editor-in-Chief. He, like Phil Wisseh, Gregory Stemn and Grody Dorbor, were recruited from D. Twe High School. Gabriel left first for the United States, where he wrote a book, Liberia, the Heart of Darkness, about his experiences during the war.

He was followed by Roger Seton, and later James Seitua and Stanton Peabody, both of whom had relaunched the Daily Observer, but this relaunch was short-lived.

In 2005 the Observer Publisher, Kenneth Y. Best, returned after 15 years of exile—four in The Gambia, where he and the family successfully started the Gambian Daily Observer, and 11 the United States. He immediately started recruiting, training and retraining staff, renovating a totally dilapidated building and mobilizing the equipment and supplies for the relaunch. Among the staff recruited were several of the old Observer young reporters—Abdullah Dukuly, Burgess Carter, John Forkpah and Edwin M. Fayia III.

The good Lord Himself was clearly behind the successful re-launch. The date was June 21, 2005, barely three weeks following Mr. Best’s return after 15 years of exile!

The Inquirer, meanwhile, under the astute and dynamic leadership of Philip Wisseh, continues its work. It is one of the nation’s leading newspapers.

On Friday, January 15, 2016, The Inquirer marked its 25th birthday, making it Liberia’s second oldest surviving newspaper. The only older newspaper is its parent, the Daily Observer, launched on February 16, 1981.

The Inquirer’s survival for over a quarter century is a credit to its example of commitment to professional journalism and its determination to endure despite the odds, including the Liberian government’s dogged and prolonged indebtedness to the Liberian media.

If by God’s grace the Daily Observer reaches 37, on February 16, 2018, it will be the longest surviving newspaper in Liberia’s history. The only other one to clock 36 years was the nation’s first, The Liberia Herald, founded by J.B. Russwurm in 1826. The Herald had an intermittent (irregular) existence, with many eminent men serving at one time or another as Editor-in-Chief. These included Hilary Teague, who wrote Liberia’s first Declaration of Independence (1847); Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, 11th President of Liberia, son of Elijah Johnson and the first Liberian-born President; and Edward Wilmot Blyden, the great Liberian scholar, former president of Liberia College and Liberian Ambassador to the Court of St. James (London).

The Liberia Herald lasted until 1862, when it folded.

The Daily Observer’s Board of Directors, Management and Staff fete The Inquirer on its 25th birth anniversary and wish its Publishers, Management and Staff heart-felt Felicitations, Congratulations and God’s choicest blessings for Continued Success in the years ahead.

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