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The new-look Kuensel

Bhutan newspaper Kuensel launched its daily edition in the most unusual manner. Well, at least to Western eyes.

It was a day-long affair, beginning at 4am when Bhutanese monks and priests started the religious rites of chanting, praying and making offerings.

The Chief Justice made a heartfelt plea for the media to respect its role as the fourth estate, saying it was its bounden duty to be the watchdog of democracy.

The paper is now available from Mondays to Saturdays with both the Zhongkha (the Bhutanese language) and English editions merged into one. The Zhongkha edition starts on the back page but is printed upside down with the English edition on the other side.

Kuensel had printed about 10,000 copies of the new paper and sales were beyond expectations, said its managing director Chencho Tsering.

The paper hopes to increase its number of pages in the next few months.

Kuensel’s dragon (a symbol of Bhutan, also known as the Land of the Thundering Dragon) was a saga that would take a few days to resolve.

After 10 different versions were drawn by different artists, we finally settled on one that would appear in the paper’s masthead only four days after the launch. The version you see below is the eighth dragon but was deemed too skinny and didn’t quite represent the prosperity of Bhutan!

Which brings me to the question of mastheads.

As with mastheads or nameplates, as some call it, there is always a great division. There is the old school which does not want any change, and the other that says we should change with the new look.

I am of the latter school, having changed mastheads at many newspapers, including that of the world’s biggest vernacular paper, the Malayala Manorama, which I redesigned some years ago.

I had the old typeface redrawn and even reworked the elephant, removing all the fine detail and making it slightly more stylistic.

At every one of these papers, there was not one single objection from readers! It was only a handful of journalists (mostly senior editors and long-time employees) who felt they had to retain a bit of the past!

My feeling is that people often mistake the look of the masthead as “branding” whereas it is actually the name and how the paper markets itself.

Your views?

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One small country, four newspapers

Isn’t it amazing that in the small landlocked kingdom of Bhutan, there are four English-language newspapers?

Kuensel, the oldest of the four, is a bi-weekly but launches its Monday-Saturday edition from April 27 with a spanking new design which I have done. Bhutan Today is the only other daily and the other two are weeklies. Kuensel is partly owned by the government and the rest were set up by private enterprises.

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With a population of just 691,000 spread out over 47,000 square kilometres (bigger than Denmark, nearly as big as Spain and half the size of the state of Indiana in the USA), the fact that there are four English-language newspapers is even more amazing.

Bhutan’s newspaper circulation is obviously not large. Kuensel sells about 15,000 copies and limits itself to just 16 pages most of them in black and white.

The papers are chock-a-block with ads, a far cry from the decline in advertising revenues for newspapers in the western world. Better still, circulation is growing, which explains why there are new entrants such as the Bhutan Observer and Bhutan Today.

For more update on the situation in Bhutan, check out this blog in the weeks to come.

Words of advice to would-be writers

I love these two quotes intended for those who think they can write or wish to write.

The first is from Cicero, one of the greatest minds of the ancient world. Here’s what he had to say to the philosophers, statesmen, lawyers and the people of ancient Rome:

For a man to commit his thoughts to writing when he can neither arrange them nor bring any new light to bear upon them, and indeed, when he has no attraction whatsoever to offer to his reader, is a senseless waste of time, and of paper, too.

The second is from Elmore Leonard, the American author who has written nearly 40 books, some of which have been turned into movies (such as 3:10 to Yuma).

My most  important piece of  advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try and leave out all the parts readers skip.

If only journalists had heeded these words, readers wouldn’t have taken flight en masse!