Home / View Point / Earl Best / MEDIA MONITOR: Oh mih Guardian! End of buy, buy; start of bye, bye

MEDIA MONITOR: Oh mih Guardian! End of buy, buy; start of bye, bye

The end is beginning.

Lest you think that I should make myself a proper doomsday THE END IS NIGH placard and go and stand under Cipriani Statue so that my friends can laugh me out of town, let me say that I refer not to the end of the world but to the end of the day of the paper newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: A Trinidad Guardian headline on murdered child, Akiel Chambers.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Wishful thinking, you say? Ha! How I wish it were! But I’m afraid the time that so many of my former associates in the media have been dreading is upon us. And for all of them, Page 27 of last Tuesday’s Guardian is essential reading.

“…media managers have diminished the critical oversight capacity,” announces Mark Lyndersay, in his weekly BitDepth column headlined ‘Journalism 2017: Rethinking the newsroom’, “and today’s editors are less trained and seasoned than ever before, many leaving for greener pastures just as they reach professional maturity.”

“Sub-editors and proofreaders,” he adds, “a critical final tier in the news review process, are increasingly being replaced by software robots that don’t always understand the words they are processing.” (my emphasis)

Bearing him out, the Page 18 editorial of the previous day’s edition has several glaring punctuation (forgivable) and other (less forgivable) errors (“sloppy errors at worst, in the chaos of the circumstances which lead to her appointment”).

Entirely unforgivable, however, was the mis-spelling of Marcia Ayers-Caesar’s name which was repeated no fewer than ten times–including in the pull quote!

“New flood study for captial city,” says a headline on Page Ten on Wednesday. And on Thursday, a Page Six strap reads “Woodbrook residents ticketed for littering says:” while on Page Ten it’s “Gun sezied during raid.” These are all headlines, remember, in large font sizes.

Photo: A satirical take on the media.

Lyndersay predicts that “These tools will get better with time” but only after he cites the example of a “notable recent Newsday story which had a full-stop.after.every.word.”

But there’s this very positive note too: “Express Editor-in-Chief Omatie Lyder fretted in the paper’s 50th Anniversary commemorative publication that her young niece won’t read any of the papers she puts in front of her.”

Lyndersay didn’t say it but I shall: maybe there’s hope for the young generation; if they can read but don’t read the local dailies because they already recognise that they are simply not worth reading, maybe we can save them after all.

But we can’t save the local dailies; they’re killing themselves.

“Guardian Media Limited has offered a dozen employees voluntary early-retirement packages,” says a Page Five story in the Express of Tuesday 18 July.

In the 7pm news that same day, TV6’s Desha Rambhajan  was telling televiewers that GML had “sent home 12 workers who had been offered voluntary early-retirement packages.”  The initial proposal, the Express had reported, had been to retrench 73 people but BIGWU had been able to get that number reduced to 40, including “print reporters, senior cameramen in the television division, library supervisors and associate editors.”

Desha Rambhajan, TV6’s current news presenter who graces television screens at 7pm Monday to Friday.

Of course, in November last year, six freelance sub-editors had already been sent home, followed the next month by 16 permanent employees, “including sub-editors, production staff, scanners and support staff.”

And, the Express story also reported that, following the early retirement exercise, GML, which had suffered a net loss of $509,000 in the first quarter of 2017, “will focus its attention on reducing the number of freelancers and retrenching more permanent staff.”

It’s a haemorrhage. And the bleeding can’t be staunched.

Certainly the Guardian has no chance of arresting it; it’s not the paper, its almost 100 years of existence a huge weight on its shoulders, which is in trouble; it’s the industry. Everywhere, the myopia is too great; the necessary commitment to making a difference, to innovation, to quality is simply not there.

Hear Lyndersay yet another time: “There’s little point in publishing an authoritative report a day after the news has already been circulated through alternative channels, discussed, and set aside. Spot journalism can’t be left to simmer, it’s got to be served with the heat of a roadside pie lifted steaming from hot oil, with all the flavor that implies.”

Deaf to the message, Saturday’s GSports back page blurb was the result of Wednesday evening’s football match, “Warriors lose 1-3 to Ecuador in international friendly.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lyndersay was singing this song for the first time on Tuesday. The fact is that in an earlier piece headlined “Journalism 2017: The content dilemma,” which repeated the clear message of a September 2015 piece headlined “Dear future media house,” he had had this to say:

“Media producers in 2017 really shouldn’t be wasting time fighting to bring readers back to their products; they need to reach audiences where they gather and engage them with stories and perspectives that re-establish an authority that was once taken for granted.

Photo: Guardian Media head of news Shelly Dass.

“(…) Engaging, important and crucial reporting and storytelling will win readers and viewers, but that journalism can only be done by capable, inspired journalists. That’s where all the solutions will begin. If you’re looking elsewhere, stop.”

He didn’t name names but did he have to? Don’t we all know the names of the heads of news and E-i-C’s to whom he was clearly speaking?

We certainly know whom he is NOT talking to. Apart from the already cited lament about the niece who would not read, he identifies no-one from the conventional—and arguably, when your headline is “Journalism 2017,” irrelevant!—media.

However, maybe one quarter of the Tuesday article reports on an ongoing conversation between the author and Wired868 Editor-in-Chief Lasana Liburd. Why? Because Liburd is a young professional who takes his journalism seriously and whose finger is clearly on the pulse.

Here is an FB exchange that makes clear just what this serious, young professional thinks of the Guardian. And makes clear too that he is NOT alone in his disdain!

Mortified—and, having been a MATT executive member, presumably embarrassed—Liburd raised a strong objection to a report in the Guardian which, on the flimsiest of authorities (using the word very loosely), had attributed Devon Matthews’ death to an abuse of diet pills.

“Does this story,” he asks, “rely on more than a single source? Could that source be wrong?

“Would the paper have taken the same chance if someone had said maybe the late (Anthony) Sabga died due to abusing pills? Or would they then have waited for (an) autopsy?”

Photo: A reporter on the job.

“When these reporters are assigned a story by the desk editor,” comes the response from Dennis Taye Allen, “they have to come back with something.”

The reporter “did her job […] well enough to satisfy the demands of her editors.”

Conceding that the negative public sentiment is unfortunate, Allen notes that “…nobody ain’t send a pre-action protocol letter yet.”

“GML […] have another paper to put out again tomorrow. And (the reporter’s) byline will appear again tomorrow on something else.”

“By next big rain or something next week,” comes the perhaps merely sarcastic, perhaps altogether cynical conclusion, “we done forget bout diet pills ahreddy.”

Allen is, of course, speaking as a citizen; Liburd—I suspect quite deliberately!—ignores that and responds, tellingly, as if his interlocutor were an official spokesperson for the Guardian.

“So,” he asks, “the Trinidad Guardian believes that the mark of a good story is not getting a pre-action protocol letter?”

“[…] What a noble organization!”

Photo: Wired868 editor Lasana Liburd (right) interviews Morvant Caledonia United captain Kareem Joseph after their Pro League contest against San Juan Jabloteh at the Morvant Recreation Ground on 16 October 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It’s a fairly safe bet that that contempt is, if not already widespread, certainly contagious.

Which is why, of the 100% of readers saying enthusiastically of the Guardian in 1917, “Buy, buy!” 100 years later in 2017, more than 80%—and counting!—have said no less gleefully to the Guardian: “Bye, bye.”

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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  1. Media houses in T&T all have their own agenda. and have chosen political sides. I daresay it appears to me that they no longer have editors, given the type of stories written, Its more sensationalism than facts. When an incident occurs we get 3 different versions. I recall a relative of mine lost her baby in a vehicular accident, To our great surprise a story came out in the newspaper. To date no one ever interviewed the mother or family, What does that say? Everyone has their own agenda and Fake news is the norm. Journalistic integrity, what’s that? In T&t you do 6 weeks course and you are a journalist or talk show host. A never ending Comedy Central. I have written letters ot articles and usually send to the 3 dailies, I can tell you who will print it, since there is a trend if you talk about the current government ( I know who will print it or not) if you talk about the Opposition same experience. Objectivity is not a requirement

  2. I’m not sure my own agenda in writing the four piece series on local media aligns with Earl’s, so seeing those words in a somewhat different context from their original setting (http://technewstt.com/?s=journalism+2017) was a bit jarring.
    I’m not ready to toss in any bloody towels into the local journalism ring, and the columns were written with a bias toward print media and an eye on broadcast media, not any paper in particular, but the failings are almost universal and surprisingly uniform at their core.
    I’d hope that someone might use those thoughts to steer their own planning, but really, I hope that an entire generation of young journalists realise that the engine of distribution is accessible to them and that the real solutions will come from entrepreneurial practitioners, not employees.

    • Earl Best

      Mark, I don’t know that I have an agenda (in the usually pejorative sense in which that term is used); I did not enjoy working at the Guardian but I don’t hold that against the people there and I certainly don’t let it colour my judgement of what has been happening at St Vincent Street. I can say that my son also went to the Guardian more than a decade after my departure and confirmed my assessment of the colonial nature of the place – not to mention its complete lack of interest in change, in adjusting to the new realities, in what we might call forwardlookingness.

      But I am heartened by the discovery that we share at least one position: “the failings are almost universal and surprisingly uniform at their core.” I have merely highlighted the Guardian in this last piece because it is, in my view, really unapologetically a basket case.

  3. Before social networking l may have bought ‘ newspapers’. Now when l can see live videos, pics and news feed s daily, buying a paper is redundant. Now we see that we were also fed fake news in the past, “who’s fault was that”??

  4. I have never forgotten how the Newsday was formed and what a ‘Have’ said to his soon to be ex-employees.

  5. Its the worst so called Newspaper ever! Ethics in journalism obviously missed some of the reporters they hired. Had to fight for years to get my name cleared with an erroneous article they published about me online. Remember that Lasana Liburd?

    Now I may have to fight them again for another erroneous article they have online this time by Joanne Briggs about the film Trafficked. We actually sat with the woman, gave her all the facts and she still printed the wrong information. Even though she recorded it. You want accurate reporting on history, that’s the last Newspaper to turn to.

  6. Scotty Ranking

    Wait a minute! The Guardian is supposed to celebrating its centennial this year? That makes it the oldest newspaper still in existence in the English-speaking Caribbean. Shouldn’t they be playing up to this fact more than they are doing right now. Certainly 100 years in continuous existence is a significant achievement in itself? I’m sure it will at least yield a temporary boost to their readership.

    • Earl Best

      Ha! Pure sentiment, Scott. These are hard times and people have to watch every penny – and they are doing just that!

      If your instincts were right, do you think the Guardian would not have raised its price when the Express raised its from $2 to $3? They don’t dare! Nothing will be done that might possibly threaten the tenuous hold they have on their 15%-20% of the market.

      No, brudder, people lock off the Guardian, G-size and all – fuh good!

    • No, The T&T Guardian is not the oldest newspaper in the English-speaking Caribbean. That’s the Jamaica Gleaner, which has the Guardian beat by more than 80 years. Second is the Catholic News, which turned 125 this year (http://technewstt.com/bd1102/).

      • Scotty Ranking

        thanks for the updated information. Appreciate the correction. However, that still does not excuse the Guardian for treating it’s centennial like it’s just another ordinary year of existence. If they hold their own acihievement in that kind of contempt, then how do they expect the readership to respond?

  7. “We certainly know to whom he is not talking” < correction.

    • Sorry lol. It was a piece on grammar and language – I couldn’t help myself ?

      • But you don’t see the irony, do you?

        In the 21st century, everybody is allowed to damn well split infinitives and use prepositions to end sentences with and nobody bats an eye. And don’t talk about using conjunctions to start sentences.

        Eons ago when I was still in primary school, my teacher would pull her hair out and be horrified if I did any of those things. Nowadays? Pshaw! So move into the 21st century, my love.

        Or keep reading the Guardian, with which you are likely to be comfortable.

  8. A fried of mine call them “the cut and paste media,” and rightfully so. The world has changed and has made a lot of things an older generation took for granted, irrelevant. Movie houses were made irrelevant by VHS, DVDs, and now Android boxes. I have spoken to one calypsonian whom I have tried to show that they, too, are becoming irrelevant whereas they were once known as the “mouthpiece of the nation.” That was when the masses, for all intent and purposes, were illiterate. Soon to go that way would be schools as we know them, as online education becomes more available…..