Have you ever heard a piece of news which you had probably anticipated for months but which still shocked you when it did come? For me, that happened just over a week ago with the announcement that the TNT News Centre—publishers of the popular TnT Mirror and Sunday Punch—was closing its doors.
I know that there is a dedicated following which is going to miss their Sunday Punch a whole lot more than I ever will but, for me, perhaps even for my generation, the shutting down of the TnT Mirror will be considered the end of an era.
The Mirror, one might argue, inadvertently fuelled its own demise, a victim, you might say, of its own success. I think a little look at the paper’s history and the way it influenced the local media landscape and the local population will bear me out.
When the Mirror came out under Patrick Chokolingo back in 1982, the newspaper landscape was dominated by two publications, the Trinidad Guardian and the Daily and Sunday Express. It is thanks to the Mirror’s existence, that each of these two became, in the local media narrative, a “respectable daily,” a term for whose paternity the Mirror will claim no credit.
By focusing on stories which the “respectable dailies” spurned, the Mirror earned itself a formidable reputation. Whether they merely involved Choko thumbing his nose at his former employers or they were the product of a more altruistic motive, these stories drove the Mirror’s increasing success. It was, remember, an era when the oil money was still working its way through the system, in Michael Manley’s graphic phrase, “like a dose of salts” and there was the pervasive feeling that the “respectable dailies” weren’t really giving us the whole story.
The Mirror exploited the public’s growing awareness about its need to know.
For years, it prided itself on breaking stories which would show up in the mainstream dailies days, weeks or even months later. A regular Mirror reader, I was often amazed at some of the seedier aspects of life in Trinidad and Tobago reproduced within the pages of the paper.
I saw things there which, I often felt, the respectable dailies would prefer us not to see (or, more correctly, would prefer us not to see within their pages); after all, they had a “sterling” reputation to uphold, which was not a concern for this no-holds-barred, no-respecter-of-persons “weekly!”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Mirror, though, a side effect of challenging the status quo being the creation of powerful enemies. I remember how when the paper started writing unflattering stories about the 1986-1991 NAR government, access to scarce foreign exchange became problematic for the paper, crippling the publication by restricting its ability to obtain essential raw materials such as newsprint.
My personal Mirror favourite was the inimitable Ramjohn “Flagsman” Ali, whose “Against All Flags” column treated a wide range of topics with a unique blend of irreverence and biting satire. It used to be a weekly highlight for me to read his often savage riffs, giving out Cobo Pee Awards and consigning deserving idiocy to rickety galvanise latrines!
Even before he became an unlikely friend and colleague, in one of his columns announcing annual awards, Flagsman reproduced one of my submissions verbatim!
Sadly, he is no longer with us, having transitioned almost 12 years prior to the Mirror’s demise.
Perhaps I should explain my earlier comment about the Mirror contributing to its own downfall. Part of what made that paper unique was the kind of stories and investigations that it would offer its readers, thus setting it apart from the “respectable dailies.” However, the competition eventually realised just how lucrative was the market targeted by the weeklies and arguably felt that they should have a share.
That editorial policy shift resulted in the “respectable dailies” beginning to report with much more regularity the kind of news stories they had once spurned. Once the dailies were prepared to fully embrace the more bacchanalian aspects of the news, the Mirror needed to respond by venturing into new areas; it is—as Ken Ali already pointed out right here on Wired868—what Choko would have done.
But his successors, the new media managers, were more adept at following than leading, leading slowly but inexorably to last week’s death announcement.
Having relinquished its winning edge, the Mirror seemed no longer to be required reading. I, for instance, faithful purchaser of both weekly editions, eventually got to the point where I would purchase maybe five of the 100 or so editions put out in a calendar year. And with the rise and influence of the ubiquitous social media platforms as a genuine source of “news,” it really was only a matter of time before the end came.
Was that end inauspicious? It was certainly not the bang with which Choko had announced the paper’s arrival 36 years before. But was there even a whimper audible to all of TnT? Who can say?
I heard it and I mourn. The Mirror helped shape my appreciation for the story behind the story that is life in this country.
History sometimes shows us, in hindsight, that some of the things we scorned were in fact vital to our development. I daresay that the local media landscape would have been markedly poorer had it not been for the contribution of people like Choko, Keith Shepherd, Flagsman, Raffique Shah, Ken Ali et al in the pages of the TnT Mirror.
Maybe in time more of us will come to realise the true value of their print contributions, not just to the TnT Mirror but to all of TnT.