By David James
WNING a newspaper is no longer a dream ticket to wealth and influence. With the rise of the internet and social media, and the resultant loss of advertisers, it’s become a tough and highly competitive business; the days of so-called press barons have followed the typewriter into the out tray.
Newspapers the world over are cutting back on staff and pages – and no one knows if the next edition to hit the streets will be the last.
But some brave newspaper proprietors like Pratheep Malhotra a.k.a Peter, founder and boss of the Pattaya Mail, are not giving up the fight. He’s been publishing the resort’s best known tabloid for the past 24 years and despite all kinds of setbacks along the way, including logistical and financial challenges as well as brushes with unscrupulous authorities and even physical assault courtesy of certain criminal fringes, he’s determined to carry on.
“The Pattaya Mail is my passion,” says Peter, a self-confessed workaholic who presides over his company’s smart new offices on Thepprasit Road. “And I still have faith in print media.”
A naturally cheerful man with a resolutely positive outlook, Peter admits that the Pattaya Mail is not the racy tabloid that often raised eyebrows and courted controversy in the past. “Our front page is more likely to carry community news these days ‑‑ and not the hard-hitting, blood and guts stuff as in the past. Pattaya has become more civilised. Yes, there’s still crime, and there are foreigners hiding from the law in Pattaya. But now it’s family-oriented destination, with more than 10 international schools, big and small, 10,000 hotels and all the community services, along with institutions like Rotary, YMCA, Lions, and ladies clubs helping the under privileged and handicapped.
The newspaper has a staff of 30, including local and foreign journalists. The print-run is currently at 5,000 copies per issue, down from 8,000-10,000 in its heydays. “We give away more newspapers than we sell,” says Peter. “We would rather do this so that our readership is wide and varied and gives a advertisers as much exposure to the Thai and expat community as possible.
“The Pattaya Mail is a local newspaper that covers Pattaya and the Eastern Seaboard and we are a household name in our communities. Readers look forward to receiving their paper copies. It’s a unique niche market and we cater to the needs of both our traditional and nouveau readers. Our reports are unique – and our readership is loyal and strong.”
Peter bases his confidence in the future of the Pattaya Mail and his other publications on the belief that people will gradually realise the value of newspapers as a reliable source of information, especially in today’s world of fake news.
He does admit that print media is going through some tough challenges. “But those of us who persevere are proving that it still has a constant and bright future,” he says. His optimism hinges on the ability of newspapers like Pattaya Mail to embrace social media.
To illustrate the point, Peter told the audience at a recent event: “True, the age of the internet and new online media us upon us. But there are still generations of the old guard newsprint readers who maintain that to hold a paper copy of a newspaper in their hands, flip through the pages, see the full stories and photographs, still brings them much more delight and satisfaction than looking at a tiny screen.”
Offering social media exposure will win back advertisers, he says. “Businesses that advertise in our print edition actually get multiple bonuses, because their news, information and promotions in our print edition are also available online.
“It’s really an important point for readers to be able to see and read advertisements in their true form, either in black and white or in living colour. That’s what attracts consumers to the numerous advertisers’ products and services.
“The print media can project the full effect of what the advertiser intends for the potential client to see more effectively than on a small hand held device.”
Looking ahead, Peter had no plans to retire. He loves what he’s doing far too much, even if it’s not been particularly profitable.
He also loves Pattaya, and wants to continue monitoring its transformation from a small fishing village into the rapidly growing city it has become.
“Pattaya has changed enormously. In the 1960s, we had just one hotel. Today, it’s full of high rises and modern department stores. It’s got a bright future, and it will grow.
“Pattaya has a knack for survival. Forty years ago, the Bangkok Post was calling Pattaya ‘a den of vice.’ We’ve come a long way since then.”
How I started the Pattaya Mail
By Pratheep S. Malhotra
When I decided to step into the world of newspaper publishing, everyone, especially my family, wondered whether I had lost my mind. I too would have had second thoughts about what I was getting myself into, but being the determined person as I am, never backing off from challenges, I decided that I was not changing my mind and the newspaper must be published.
Now I’m really happy that I didn’t.
I was born in Phitsanulok where my father owned a successful business. When we were still young, he decided to make it bigger and moved to Bangkok. During the Vietnam War era, my father set up tailor shops in Bangkok and at Utapao where my brother Marlowe and I respectively started our business careers. As you can well imagine we came into contact with English speaking foreigners (Americans) at a very young age.
At the end of the ‘war’ as the US troops were being pulled out of the many bases in Thailand, shopkeepers looked for newer pastures to set up shop to operate their businesses. Most of them were dealing with US troops and therefore it was relatively easy to switch to the European tourism market. In those days the Germans and the Brits were the predominant tourists to Thailand.
My family moved to Pattaya in 1975 where we set up shop in South Pattaya, now known as Walking Street. The original shop, next to the ‘big tree’, still stands. It is called Sir Marlowe. My younger brother Bill owns and runs it now.
During the almost two decades of fun and games in Pattaya I saw that the community was growing and it was not just the influx of locals but the expat community was also growing in leaps and bounds. >>
Having had close contact with foreigners for so long, I had gained their trust and many became my close friends. It didn’t matter whether they were here for a few days or had come to live here for the rest of their lives, there were always questions popping up about the various aspects of life in Pattaya and Thailand as a whole.
In 1991 I realised that Pattaya needed a ‘voice’ to protect ourselves from adverse publicity in both the foreign and national press, combined with the needs of the local foreign community for information about the town and country that they had come to call home.
I decided we needed a ‘proper’ English language newspaper since the national dailies were not adequately serving the needs of Pattaya. In fact, in many cases it seemed they did not care about Pattaya at all as we were just too small a community to worry about.
Application was made for the official license to publish a newspaper, but that took almost two years to come through. I guess the authorities were confused as to why anyone even bothered to apply for one. By 1993, however, we were given the green light to go ahead and publish the first English language newspaper on the Eastern Seaboard.
The Pattaya Mail was not without its growing pains. In fact, several times it looked as if it would be still-born with the conceptual editorial staff themselves not even making it to the first issue!
Those pre-production days included settling on the name for the paper and the design for the masthead at the top. The font used to proclaim Pattaya Mail is as original as the paper itself. It was designed by a local artist who made T-shirts. Although it may look similar to other fonts, it truly is one of a kind. Such was the spirit as the pace continued and the date was set to publish Volume 1, Number1.
In the two weeks that it took to produce that first issue, Chuck Pringle had filled the gap as editor and a young American, Dan Dorothy, had been asked to step in to cover the sports writer’s position, as the original writer had been posted overseas. An even younger Austrian, Andy Gombaez, who was on his way to Hollywood to be a cartoonist, stumbled into the artist’s job after talking to the embryonic Pattaya Mail’s driver! That the first issue, dated 23rd July 1993, ever made the streets is a wonder on its own.
Three weeks later, to coincide with H.M. the Queen’s Birthday, the second issue was published and then weekly thereafter.
Amazingly, every week there was a Pattaya Mail. Sometimes a day late, but it did come out! Dan Dorothy would ask Chuck as he brought in his sports articles, “Do you think you’ll still need anything next week?” But he did, and Dan kept on supplying.
In those early days, the Pattaya Mail was actually printed in Bangkok as there were no local printers then able to handle the job. Andy Gombaez’s memories of those early days included catching the bus to Bangkok to take the art-work to the printers. This was sometimes after working all night.
But of this we can be proud; we maintained our stance and told the truth. There were times when that became very difficult. Pressure was brought to bear by influential persons on whose toes we had trod, disgruntled local politicians whose inefficiency or wrong doings we exposed, but we followed the principle of that great publisher Hearst, ‘Publish and be damned.’
It has not just been the power-brokers who have been sometimes upset. In 1995, after publishing stories on the local ‘mafia’ I was the subject of a serious assault and battery. Pattaya Mail had enough growing pains without giving me physical pains as well!
My cousin and sometime crime reporter, Amorn Malhotra, said: “Pattaya has gone from being a wild-west town to now being a city with some order. The Pattaya Mail helped that progression by working hard to produce the new order.”
Chuck Pringle backed that claim, “We can also be proud that our aims were achieved. Our message got across. Campaigns initiated or supported by us, or both, bore fruit and gradually Pattaya changed and the perception of Pattaya in the eyes of the world changed.”
In 2002 we launched the Pattaya Blatt newspaper in the German language and also the Chiang Mai Mail to serve the north of Thailand. At this point we transformed into The Pattaya Mail Media Group.
We are recipients of numerous awards in recognition of our work, the most prestigious being the ‘Best in the East’ Award. The Pattaya Mail Media Group won the ‘Most Outstanding Newspaper in all of East Thailand’ for the past 18 consecutive years by the Eastern Mass Media Association. Concurrently the Chiang Mai Mail was awarded the ‘Most Outstanding English language newspaper in north Thailand’
Another milestone of note is that after almost 20 years in our old premises on Second Road we moved to our very own brand new ultra-modern five-storey office building on Thepprasit Road.
In the past 24 years, I can proudly say that I have befriended a team of outstanding journalists and co-workers who enjoy and believe in the same ideals as we all do at the Pattaya Mail.
I take my hat off to each and every one of the Pattaya Mail family. Thank you for your enduring trust, loyalty and hard work for our organisation. Thank you for staying by my side through thick and thin, collectively keeping our shoulders to the wheel and our noses to the grindstone.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to friends, readers and clients for your support throughout the years and ask that you continue to do so for at least the next 25 years.
When we reach the big Two-Five in a couple of years, it’s going to be one helluva celebration.
You ain’t seen nothing yet!