Former Express editor-in-chief Owen Baptiste was placed in the company of people such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Charles Dickens by columnist Martin George for his literary prowess and ability to evoke and stimulate change.
George was speaking during the launch of Baptiste's latest book, The Essential Benedict Wight, and other writings which took place inside the audiovisual room at the National Library in Port of Spain recently.
George, the main speaker for the evening, gave a brief review of the book which reflects all sides of Trinidad and Tobago: the good, the bad and sometimes ugly truths that many seem more comfortable to sweep under the rug rather than face head on.
Baptiste was praised for his astute journalism and passion to see a better Trinidad and Tobago and was described as the "Oprah Winfrey of Trinidad and Tobago".
George continued, "Now in his social commentaries, Owen has taken not just a local or regional; he has taken an international approach. When you look at his approach he falls in the line of so many other great thinkers, writers and activists because he's an activist. When you read this book, you recognise that he is an activist. He wants to stimulate change, he wants to get us moving; get us thinking and sharing ideas to do things better. He is not an activist for being an activist sake, he is not a rebel without a cause; his cause is his love for Trinidad and Tobago."
George, who seemed to share a close friendship with the author, smiled and said, "Looking through this book, I think it is probably easier to list the number of persons Owen didn't piss off than to list those he did. Owen did not hold back, it was irrepressible. When something got in his craw, trust me I think the whole world knew about it. It didn't matter if it was priest, politician or pundit as we say in Trinidad parlance, when he ready to give them a lash; he give dem a lash; to hell, where the chips fall he did not care."
Described by friends and his colleagues as "not an easy man to work with", his wife fondly said, "You say he is not an easy man to work with; imagine living with him then you would see how difficult he really is."
Baptiste, who had stints both at the Express and Guardian newspapers, has been in the field of journalism for more than 45 years. This is the third book for the author who could not resist commenting on the number of empty chairs inside the audiovisual room.
Despite the small gathering, Baptiste remained thankful for the support and took the opportunity to acknowledge people like Vernon Charles, Sidney Knox, Neil Lau, Carlton Mack, Edward Habib, Thomas Gatcliffe, Tajmool Hosein, Elton Richardson, Hamilton Holder and David Law; some of the people who first started the Trinidad Express Newspapers Ltd back in 1967.
He also made special mention of Kenneth Gordon who came to the newspaper in 1969.
He said, "The board that we had when we started the was one of the greatest newspaper boards that any newspaper in the Caribbean ever had. These men who were not just about the bottom line, as I think most newspapers are today, they were for more than that. They wanted a newspaper that would improve the lives of Trinidadians and Tobagonians."
"We focused on journalism but you could make a lot of enemies in journalism. In those days you made enemies but you did not make the kind of enemies you have today. Today is a different bunch of people you have outside there so I want to thank all those persons I mention for creating Benedict Wight and want to also include Dr Eric Williams," Baptiste said.
"He was a gentleman. He never threatened me as some people threaten journalists today," he added.
"I don't know if I wrote today whether or not I would be able to continue to write as I did with the politicians we have nowadays. We have politicians nowadays who are not so 'gentlemen-like' and 'gentlewomen-like as Dr Williams was," Baptiste said.
His first book, titled The Seagulls Won't Come Down, was soon followed by the book, Kamla: Ascent of a Woman. Baptiste was assisted by his wife Rhona, the author of the book.
Giving his take on journalism as it stands today, Baptiste said, "The real problem with journalism today is a lack of training. When I worked at the Express I was lucky because there were a lot of persons there who had experience who helped me. I use to stay on and work with the night editor when everyone else went home. I did not realise it then but that was training I was giving myself."
"Every newspaper produced today, the Guardian, Express and Newsday, they have a wonderful stable of columnists that write really beautiful things. However the newspaper lacks a strong, authentic newspaper voice," he said.
"This is not sour grapes, but I was genuinely disappointed in our newspapers; so disappointed that I even considered going back to the Express or the Guardian. I was never sure which would be the final choice," he said.
Taking an excerpt from the book, Benedict Wight, the pseudonym Baptiste assumed since the 1960s, he explains what motivates him to write. He says, "We are unique, or are we mad victims of our own brainwashing. And yet I cannot believe that we really don't care about what is going on in Trinidad and Tobago. This is why I have been writing and not because I am bitter; I am not. I am just terribly afraid not of the revolution but the apathy and comfort that isolates us from revolution and change; responsibility and conscious, justice and love."
He added, "It was the board and Dr Eric Williams that made Benedict Wight possible."