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.
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.
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.”
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.
“(…) 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?”
“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!”
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.”