Postimees – more than a newspaper

Päeva karikatuur 5.01

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

Today is an anniversary of Estonian journalism; one could almost call it a birthday. It is true that Estonian-language journalism is older that Postimees, which meets its 160th year, since the magazine Lühhike Öppetus was published in Põltsamaa more than 250 years ago.

The magazine published by the German physician Peter Ernst Wilde, which provided some useful advice, was remarkable as the first attempt, yet far from journalism in its present-day meaning. The Marahwa Näddalaleht by Otto Wilhelm Masing, the inventor of the letter õ, was a large step towards Estonian journalism. That newspaper is also remarkable for having brought the important word “minister” to the Estonian language. Yet the linguistic innovations or wider horizons in reflecting the world could not keep the publication going for a longer time.

This is why we can state that consistent and sustainable Estonian-language journalism was born in Pärnu on June 5, 1857. The tree planted by Jannsen turned out to be tougher than all the previous ones. There is no doubt that the success of Perno Postimees was based on changes in the society and the improving position of the Estonian language, but on the other hand the contribution to its success story was the active involvement of readers and the desire to depict the events in the wider world.

But let us imagine ourselves in mid-19-century Pärnu. The science and technical revolution was gathering momentum in the world. More and more new inventions reached general use. The people’s desire to keep up with them, to be more aware and to belong to a larger group increased steeply. The growth of national self-consciousness was vigorously supported by the rapidly spreading public education and the decline of the class society. All that created premises for the emergence of sustainable Estonian-language journalism.

Besides providing information and expanding the readers’ world-view, Jannsen’s Postimees managed to spell out another important principle, which has supported the newspaper until out rime and which allows us state that Postimees is more than a newspaper. Yes, it is an institution, a think tank, a factory of ideas and news, but it must have some purpose, a mission if you please. I believe that Jannsen’s opening words in the first issue of 1857 – «Dear Estonian people» – sum it up nicely. This addresses the Estonian people – the ones for whom they will write, whose wellbeing matters, about who they worry and with whom they will share their joys. Briefly, Jannsen wanted to state in his newspaper that Postimees is the bearer of Estonia’s linguistic and cultural identity. Thus purpose alone makes Postimees something more than merely a newspaper.

In that respect I have often thought about an interesting phenomenon. In complicated times readers come to look for information in the paper or electronic version of Postimees. I believe that this is caused by the desire to receive reliable information, the need to find multi-faceted and analytical news on important moments. The dream of a news journalist is to see how the huge machinery picks up speed to reflect a major news, be it presidential election in the USA or Estonia, the song festival or – God forbid – a terror attack that must be reported (unfortunately that must be done as well).

In such moment one lingers for a mere second before every journalist knows where to go, what to do and who to speak to. The result is an extensive report of the event and the goal is informing the reader about what is important and matters to him.

When discussing the reputation for reliability of Postimees, we should certainly mention, besides Jannsen and Karl August Hermann, Jaan Tõnisson as the longest-lasting editor-in-chief and Mart Kadastik, who restored the name of the newspaper and made Postimees Estonia’s largest daily once more. The result of both the latter gentlemen’s efforts was a reliable and conservative daily, which had no place for cheap sensations. Yet they both valued folksy manners, which brought easier reading to accompany harsh political issues.

I often ask myself, how frequently can we surprise and inspire our readers. This aha-effect is what provides extra motivation to steady readers, attracts the youths to news and brings new people to Postimees. This can be done by kind words, bright ideas, shocking news or amusing discoveries. In order to attract the reader’s attention in an era saturated by information, a newspaper must be smart and absorbing, besides being important and reliable.

Reliability, tradition and inspiration are the three pillars, on which rests the relation between Postimees and its readers. Our current time includes the need to find balance between the readers of the paper issue and electronic version. I often hear the question: when will Postimees publish its last paper issue. This is obviously carried by the success of online media, but even modest calculations show that publishing the paper issue will remain practical even several decades later.

The opportunities of online media are much wider than those of paper, but the latter has something marvelous and unique. The newspaper has its soul, which is expressed by the smell of newsprint, a palpable result of the work to which reporters, editors, layout specialists and printers have made their contribution. Without favoring either of the output options of our newspaper, I assure that Postimees will stay, regardless the form in which it reaches the readers. This has been confirmed by 160 years of varied history. We attempt to bring a fraction of it to the readers in today’s paper. Thank you, kind readers, for the 160 years we have been in your service.