THE ISLAND SUN STORY 1962-2019
In 1962 Chief Editor Carlos Downing and his wife Esme deCastro-Downing founded The Island Sun Newspaper. Carlos Downing was a member of the USA Army during World War II and fought on various front lines including Italy. He was also politically active in the US Virgin Islands during the post war years; Downing was president of the BVI Chess Federation. In 1987 he retired from The Island Sun and Vernon W. Pickering became the Chief Editor.
On June 23rd, 1962, the inaugural issue of The Island Sun was published and at the time it seemed impossible that a newspaper could survive without hardly any public or financial backing. It was on the whole a very difficult period for the British Virgin Island, but this did not deter the founders, Carlos and Esme Downing from their new venture. It mattered little that a weekly by the name of “Tortola Times” had ceased publication after less than three years. There was some encouraging support coming from readers, well-wishers and the government and that was enough for the indomitable founders.
During the first 50 years of uninterrupted publishing, contributing writers and columnists included among others British aviation pioneer and hero Sir Alan Cobham, Dr. Norwell Harrigan, Dr. Pearl Varlack, Godfrey deCastro, Dr. Pierre Encontre, McW. Todman, QC , Sir. Ronald Sanders, Dr. Quincy Lettsome, Dr. Giorgio Migliavacca and Clarence Christian.
Of the many honours bestowed upon Carlos Downing, none ranked higher than the honorary BVI citizenship presented to him in 1983 by the then Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands, H. Lavity Stoutt.
In 1985 Sun Enterprises (BVI) Ltd (a company locally owned and locally managed) became the official publishers of the oldest-running newspaper of the BVI. Carlos Downing continued as editor for a short while and then Vernon W. Pickering became chief editor. Between 1986 and 1989, The Island Sun published a mid-week edition which came out on Wednesday. The first Chairman of the board of Sun Enterprises, renowned educator and historian, Dr. Norwell Harrigan was – in 1993 – one of the first two black natives to be honoured on BVI stamps.
During Vernon Pickering’s expert editorship and management the oldest running newspaper of the BVI has fully developed into not only a dependable source of reference, but has also become a household name in the process too. Its publication each week, is always eagerly awaited, and it has developed a growing worldwide distribution network. It is under Vernon Pickering’s skillful leadership that ‘The Island Sun’ has been able to flourish and has gone from strength to strength, with an ever expanding readership and worthwhile news content. This now includes both regional and international items from well-known news agencies. In 1989, ‘The Island Sun’ was the only newspaper in both the British and US Virgin Islands to be published the very same week that hurricane Hugo lashed the islands and brought most services in the Territory to a standstill. In 1992 the BVI Hotel & Commerce Association bestowed on The Island Sun the “Past Merit Commerce Award” “for pioneering and dedicated service of news media in the British Virgin Islands”.
During the early years the weekly newspaper had its own press, but eventually Caribbean Printing took over the job, and by 1987 the whole operation became computerized and The Island Sun was then printed in St. Thomas. The publication has gone from the initial few pages, to the 12 pages of the 1970s, 20 in the early 1980s, to an average of 40 pages today. The weekly newspaper has grown considerably, since the new millennium an 8-page supplement called “Sunny Side Up” has attracted a vast readership; but the newspaper staff remains small and the commitment to serving this community is still the same as the founders. Most importantly in our ever-changing community and economy, The Island Sun has remained punctual, reliable and competitive thanks also to its loyal readership, regular advertisers and a committed staff. Vernon W. Pickering described the entire enterprise as a “team achievement” that has served the BVI community uninterruptedly for almost 60 years. He identified two pillars of the Sun success story in the persons of publishing consultant Dr. Giorgio Migliavacca, and circulation and advertising manager Delseita “Peggy” Carney-Liburd.
News items and editorials from the ‘Sun’ are frequently reprinted or referred to in the international media, including The Washington Post, CNN, PBS, BBC, and the British Daily Telegraph. Also, Caribbean newspapers such as St. Croix Avis, and the Voice of St. Lucia, along with scores of other travel magazines and publications carry reports from the ‘Island Sun’.
In 1997 The Island Sun became the first Virgin Islands (US and British) newspaper to have its website. A recent survey of the daily traffic on The Island Sun website has shown an average 3,500 visits per day, and on certain days as many as 18,000 accesses have been reported.
In 2002 the BVI Postal Authority issued two stamps to commemorate the 40th anniversary of The Island Sun depicting the front page of the 25th anniversary edition and other front pages including the first one, the newspaper’s founders: Carlos Downing and Esme deCastro-Downing were pictured on the other stamp.
In 2008 the production of the newspaper was digitized, and in early 2014 the website was redesigned and revamped to provide greater prominence on the net as well as a more reader-friendly and up-to-date format.
During the 1966 Royal Visit, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II asked Mr. Downing why he had ventured into publishing the local newspaper. His answer was that “The Island Sun was not started in the sense of a business undertaking per se…(but) as a community venture and with confidence in the future of the Virgin Islands.” That philosophy and commitment have remained unchanged and the newspaper has kept pace with technology and progress.