Two words, no more. But I know I heard controlled anger. I know I heard complete disbelief.
“You mean you read (she used the present tense) that Sunday Guardian editorial,” she said, her voice almost breaking with the effort not to lose control, “and only see grammatical errors?”
I know I heard unconcealed contempt in the last two words. I don’t know what is the opposite of empathy but I know I heard it in those two words as well. It was very clear that she would be mortified to find herself in that hellish place which must be home to anyone who can be hard-hearted enough as not to be moved to tears by Our Obscene Tragedy.
I probably have not just residency but citizenship; I remain unmoved.
Nor did her would-be broadside move me. It was not new. I have heard it many times before. The issue of the cómo trumping the qué. Form over content. Is that really—I have oh so often been asked, in and out of the classroom—what journalism is about?
The answer is an emphatic no.
But like a true Trini, I am wont to respond with a question of my own: is there in our journalism real concern about form? Is there anywhere in our media sufficient concern, in fact, any genuine concern about grammar and syntax?
Of course, the issue is only superficially grammar and syntax. At a deeper level, we’re really talking accuracy and quality. We’re talking standards. Professionalism.
If a thing is worth doing, I grew up hearing, it is worth doing well.
With Our Obscene Tragedy, I chose to see grammar and syntax and not to go down the rabbit hole of spiralling crime and the growing endangerment of our women.
There are scores of commentators, some of them manifestly empty politicians, only too willing to whip that horse until the cows come home. Or until the cockroaches are crushed—which gives them plenty, plenty, plenty time.
I chose to avert my gaze from the bandwagonism of the editorial’s call for the passing of: ‘an acceptable new Bail Act, which should be called the Andrea Bharatt Bail Act, as a reminder to every magistrate and lawyer, politician and even criminal of the most heinous of acts that took the life of a young woman who had so much to offer’.
In almost 60 years of independence, when have we ever named a piece of legislation after a victim? Why should we? How is this latest piece of iniquity essentially different from any of the many that have preceded it?
And, more crucially, in a country where the effective law is whatever you can get away with, how will mere additional legislation help if the media continue to blame ‘those charged with running the country’?
How, pray, will it facilitate our escape from the culture of criminality that has crept up and covered us all over the years?
Where in the Guardian or in Guardian Media Limited have we seen genuine concern for country? In the Neediest Cases Fund, carefully unpackaged and reactivated annually as salve for consciences when Christmas comes around?
The press has undergone a gradual process of tabloidization, Valerie Youssef wrote in Tout Moun ten years ago, over a period of approximately thirty years, apparently in response to the need to maintain sales at any cost.
Is or is not the Old Lady of St Vincent Street a part of the press? Is she somehow in it but not of it? Or is the old broadsheet champion now leading the tabloid charge?
Where in the Guardian or in GML are the sustained calls, the unrelenting campaign to contain criminality that should have come 15 years ago in the wake of the murder of six-year-old Sean Luke?
Or ten years ago in the wake of the outrageous murder of some other innocent citizen whose name we no longer recall?
Or seven years ago in the wake of the intolerable murder of Dana Seetahal?
Or five years ago in the wake of the completely unacceptable murder of Shannon Banfield?
Or late last year in the wake of the appalling murder of Ashanti Riley?
Next year too, in the wake of another high-profile murder, the calls will come.
So what makes this Andrea Bharatt effort different? I for one am not wasting my time going down that Wanderland rabbit hole. Unapologetically. I block my ears to the emoting and keep my eyes on the motive.
And the spelling and the punctuation and the participles, past and present, and the unprofessionalism you get because that is all you’re willing to pay for.
I want to share one more time the eye-opening story of the 1994 Guardian. While the post-tax profit was in the millions, the prize for Employee of the Year was a whopping TT$500. Not, however, if you had the misfortune not to be a clear winner but to have tied with someone else.
In which case you collected a cheque for half that, the princely sum of TT$250.
Meanwhile, at least one manager took home a Christmas bonus of over TT$30,000. Santa Claws with a vengeance.
It took me four years to disentangle myself from the monster that was—probably still is—convinced that since it pays you, it owns you. And the entire Sports Desk crossed Independence Square to the environment where money talks too.
But sotto voce.
For someone I know, who followed in my footsteps but changed the direction, two years sufficed, one in each establishment. A decade and a half after me, he crossed Independence Square to go to St Vincent St.
He had made the judgement early on that the rise of social media would spell the end of paper newspapers. Those that failed to adapt to the changing times were doomed to die a natural death; his estimate was a decade, maybe, with luck, two.
Most of his time was spent seeking to persuade the media managers to get serious about the online paper programme. All he got, he reported, was lip service.
“Myopia?” I asked.
First he crooked his head, then he shook it.
“No,” he said eventually. “Much worse. Purblindness!”