July 27, 2013

Newspapering, the Thai way

Barely a decade after he delivered newspapers on his bicycle in Dorchester, Denis Horgan held the lofty titles of editor and publisher at the English-language Bangkok World in Thailand’s capital city. The adventure unfolds in his new memoir “The Bangkok World” (Bluefoot).

Horgan, once a cub reporter at The Boston Globe, had become acquainted with the World while serving in the US Army in Thailand and was invited to join the staff after his military service ended in the late 1960s. Finding himself in charge of an antiquated operation in which people who didn’t know English set the type by hand, he called on William Harting, a friend from their student days at Northeastern University. Harting, then a production editor at the Globe, packed up his family and moved to Bangkok. Harting sets the scene for “Bangkok World” when he describes his arrival in 1969: “We were assaulted immediately by the heat — it felt like a blast from the wrong side of an air conditioner — and the smells, the perfume of flowers, of water, of decay, of spices, all part of the strange new world we were to inhabit.”

Darrell Berrigan, the founding editor of the World, had been murdered in 1965, and the Thai staffers felt his spirit was lurking whenever a door slammed shut for no apparent reason. To soothe their jangled nerves, Horgan would invite a monk or two to spiritually disinfect the building, running a holy thread around its walls and sprinkling the workers with blessed water.

Horgan quickly learned his way around the Thai newspaper world. Stories critical of the king or Buddhism were a no-no. And the paper could never ever run a picture of the king lower on the page than other any other photo. Though he tried to keep expenses down, revenues never kept up. The paper was bought by its rival, the Bangkok Post, and Horgan returned to the States. He subsequently spent 25 years working for The Hartford Courant and now lives in West Hartford. Harting, who lives in Plymouth, returned to the Globe, retiring in 2000.

The Bangkok World ceased operations in 1987. Horgan remains grateful for the few short years he spent navigating the “archaic, exotic mechanics of Bangkok newspapering.”

“We worked hard. But we had so much fun, too,” he writes.

Harting’s words are a fitting summation of Horgan’s memoir: “Though we moved on after what now seems a short while, we really never left.”

Article: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2013/07/27/memoir-recalls-american-journalist-days-editor-bangkok-newspaper/xkcb2DKdRQ6IUoeVtFGJjJ/story.html

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