Thackoor Boodram. Remember the name? I do. Not because he is—was—important to me but because journalism is—was—important to me.
New Year’s Day, 1 January, 1998. Guess what gift one of the daily papers in Trinidad and Tobago offered on its front page? Why, a man’s head.
It had been found at the Caroni Cremation Site! Yes, just the head, a ‘decapitated head’ as reported many times over by the local media. As if you can cut the head off a head since ‘decapitate’ has always meant ‘to cut off the head of.’’
The decapitated man was Thackoor Boodram, brother of notorious drug dealer Nankissoon Boodram, better known as Dole Chadee. A year and a half after that photo hit the front page, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj sealed his place in the record books when Chadee was one of nine men hanged by the neck until dead.
Nine! In a single June weekend in 1999! If Grimm made The Brave Little Tailor famous, it’s grim and gory that did it for the valiant big lawyer.
And as the recently deceased Singing Sandra, bless her soul, told us in ‘Voices from the Ghetto’, some people’s ‘tragic story brings a journalist glory’.
Or a media outlet.
The ‘journalist’ spreading the Thackoor Boodram Christmas/New Year’s cheer was Newsday—the paper which had first hit the streets in 1993 as the ‘good news paper.’
In those days, editors were required to read the other dailies. I did, holding my nose sometimes. But as the ten people who read these Media Monitor columns know, I am no less allergic to e-literacy than to full-blown illiteracy.
I’m more than willing to overlook typos but grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and clichés drive me up the wall and round the bend at one and the same time.
So once I was under no obligaion to raed that paper, I avioded Newsday likes the plague. I am told that, under the new Management, things has got decidedly better but I prefers to continue to think that the dailies in Trinidad and Tobago numbers only too.
Don’t blame me. Blame my late brother, Lloyd, in whose Tapia I cut my journalistic teeth. He always urged me to ‘know what you are rejecting’.
So like the man who, having read that smoking was dangerous, decided to give up reading, rather than reject Newsday, I have opted not to get to know it at all.
Even the reportedly new and improved but doomed version. It’s not their fault.
The Thackoor Boodram episode, which first suggested that Newsday was not worthy of attention, abided with me. And some eight years later, the paper’s overdone treatment of another high-profile murder converted it into a conviction.
In the decade and a half since, another name has attached itself to Boodram’s and drove me to turn my back irreversibly on the erstwhile good news paper.
That name is Sean Luke.
Which is the cue to bring up one more time the sloppiness that passes for professionalism in the local media.
On Wednesday night, a female presenter on CNC3 told us about ‘Sean Lukes’ body’. I guess a few weeks short of a decade and a half is more than enough time to sow confusion in one’s mind about whether it is ‘Luke’ or ‘Lucas’.
And on the weekend, in discussing the plight of the boxer who was recently involved in a road accident, one of her male counterparts let us know that Michael had ‘no fixed home of abode’.
But to return to Newsday, here, quoted by Dr Valerie Youssef in a 12-page paper titled ‘Child murder in the press in Trinidad and Tobago’,’is a paragraph from a Newsday story:
‘It was a murder that traumatized the entire country. A week ago, six-year-old Sean Luke was lured away from his Orange Valley, Couva, home by two older boys who offered to take him fishing.
‘Two days later his battered, naked corpse was discovered in a canefield. He had been sexually molested, tortured and killed.’
Several times, the good doctor points fingers directly at the Chacon St publication as she sought to ‘explain the steady shift over the last thirty years from a press which wrote on matters of state and government import on its front pages to this kind of populist coverage of violent crimes which we have had for the last ten to fifteen years.’
She is writing, remember, in Tout Moun in 2011.
‘Competition for sales,’ she adds, ‘has been exacerbated by the arrival of the newest paper, the Newsday, and by its more populist approach which immediately began to draw sales.’
Perhaps attempting to soften the blow, the good doctor writes that, ‘The media have been criticized for publishing too much bad news, but it may be argued that the audience actually pay more attention to stories about crime and disaster than to good news.’
There are not too many newspapers readers in T&T who would dare dispute that. But many of them, one suspects, would also agree that the Chacon St paper has on occasion taken things too far.
If you are minded to raise an objection, now is a good time to go back and look at the reporting on the Sean Luke case. Incredibly, the six-year-old’s name is back in the news this week, the case having just made it—finally!—to the trial stage. After almost 15 years!
So, yes, in T&T there are but two dailies about which I have, kill me dead, first-hand knowledge. There’s the 1917 Centenarian of St Vincent St, erected on the figurative backs of other people. And, built with the sweat of our local brows, her 1967 competitor still stands tall on Independence Square…
…where, ponder on the implications, the Chacon St publishers nowadays have their paper printed every night.
How long before they too stop the self-delusion and concede that in T&T there is room for just two dailies?
And how long before even those two die a natural death…
… leaving the field to the on-liners?