The angels we need
This has not been a good season for newsmen and the news.
In the past weeks, we lost Ric Hernandez, the venerable Sunday editor of The Mirror, the celebrated tabloid of the 1960s.
When it closed surprisingly in 1966 Ric turned to advertising, becoming the point man at his own firm, Hernandez/FCB. Then we lost Jimmy Andrews, who worked at The Mirror as its features editor, and later in public relations.
Reports are circulating of older heads from that era who are being struck by serious illnesses and are bedridden.
Ric was my cousin. I hold memories of his handsome figure, standing tall in Auntie Aggie’s living room in Arima. It was the same stature, which Raoul Pantin praised in a letter to the editor recently, that he brought to journalism. He read widely, and once encouraged me to “read everything you can put your hands on”.
So last week, I wondered what Ric would have said about recent events at the Guardian where he started his career in the 50s, sitting in the then “cathedral of journalism”, alongside persons like George John, Owen Baptiste, Pat Chookolingo, Therese Mills, Lenn Chongsing, with cubs Vernon Khelawan, Frank Arlen, Lennox Raphael, to name a few.
The stories tell of a golden era in St Vincent Street journalism, as the Guardian newsmen battled from across the street with the Port of Spain Gazette and later the Chronicle for scoops.
It was a colourful chapter in journalism, which can be traced back to Trinidad’s first newspaper, the Gazeta in 1790.
It was shaped by the Fleet Street ethic which sees newspersons as a special breed possessing a higher order of commitment renewed every day in pursuit of the news.
It is said that every story demands that the practitioner be dogged, yet open-minded if he or she is to both master the craft and achieve journalistic credibility.
The basic requirement of good journalism is that it is always tethered to the facts. In inquiry, it should be adversarial, yet neutral—but not in the expression of its findings.
“The true university is the newsroom,” I recall a journalism professor saying to my class years ago. “Guard it with your life…every day it schools, and demands excellence from us,” my notes say.
For the professional, news values are always sacred; they are never to be lowered or equated with a newspaper’s commercial interests.
So last week, I found myself wondering how Ric and other masters of that earlier era would have interpreted the Guardian’s decision to parachute Dr Hamid Ghany into its newsroom as its official “public educator”.
He has been charged with “leveraging the strength” of Guardian Media Ltd to provide “its audiences with the most comprehensive multi-dimensional coverage of news and current affairs”.
It is planned that Dr Ghany would achieve this objective by “empowering the respective heads of news and current affairs using a cohesive strategy of effective convergence”.
From the scope of those duties, it appears that Guardian Media intends for Dr Ghany to operate, in its newsrooms, as some kind of “journalistic Gauleiter”.
Last July, the Guardian’s secret plans to “tone down” its political coverage, and have its Editor-in-Chief, Judy Raymond, operate “off-line” were discovered. This brought the gutsy reaction of three journalists who marched out, claiming political interference in the newsroom.
It meant nothing to the Guardian that one of the journalists was mentioned in “emailgate” as being on an alleged political hit list. So for the second time in 15 years, the paper disregarded its emblem as the angel of democracy, and descended—as Chookolingo once wrote—from being “the angel of St Vincent Street to its harlot”.
This time, there is no disguise. As it yields to political pressure, the Guardian has sold out its angel, as “a cohesive strategy”.
This leaves the Express alone in independent daily journalism, since the third daily has long decided that, for its own survival, it will function as the daily newsletter of the People’s Partnership Government.
But the times demand good journalism. Its practitioners, for instance, need to be examining the real motives behind the Government’s furtive introduction of Proportional Representation, just weeks before the Local Government elections. They need to remind the Prime Minister that her Committee on Constitutional Reform recently sought citizens’ views—and it is yet to report back to the people.
Most significantly, good journalism demands that the PM be reminded of emailgate and that her new National Security Minister is under investigation by both the police and the Integrity Commission.
* Keith Subero, a former
Express news editor, has since
followed a career in communication and management.