Great newspapers and the shifting fortunes of time
June 10, 2004
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ALL the great newspapers in Guyana have had their era. They had their time in the sun and slowly faded into the twilight of history to be replaced by other newspapers aspiring to make their name is this unrewarding business we call the media in Guyana.
Once upon a time in Guyana, newspapers were household names. Guyana’s newspapers were not without reputation. Deciding on where you stood, they could be either good or bad. We had the Argosy, the Evening Post, Graphic and the Chronicle, just to name a few of the notables.
I say we had the Chronicle because today what we call the Guyana Chronicle is a remnant of a once great newspaper. The Guyana Chronicle is now down on its hands and knees, in asphyxiation, its oxygen squeezed out of its body by Desmond Hoyte’s call for a boycott and the PPP’s downright stupidity in not recognising the damage that they have done to that newspaper by not ensuring greater balance in the coverage of local politics. Lack of fairness and balance will always hurt a newspaper as one of Kaieteur News’s competitors, the Stabroek News is now learning
The Graphic was a victim of Burnham’s designs not only to control the commanding heights of the country but also to control what was reported about the way he mismanaged the country. In no time, a vibrant private media went under. This inexplicable decline of the grand old newspapers can however best be explained by the way these publishing houses were structured. Built upon class, race and ideological biases, they jumped into bed with Burnham. When he had finished using them, he dumped them and they soon found out that newspapers that built their reputation on anything other than fearless, fair, honest and accurate reporting would go under easier than the unsinkable Titanic.
Despite the shortcomings of the media there are great memories of the profession as existed in pre-Independence Guyana. The newspaper business was something of fairytale. The news sold the newspapers in those days. And even the vendors had a colorful way about them. Those of you old enough will recall Oscar, a blind man who went around selling newspapers. Try shortchanging him even though he was blind as a bat and witness his reaction.
Many of these newspapers survived because communication was not as advanced as it is today. News today is harder to sell and the profession is much more demanding, requiring competence in so many areas. In the old days, an editor with a scoop was like a pork knocker with a nugget. Today, exclusive scoops are as rare as finding nuggets.
Competition has come and the world has changed. Even in Guyana, breaking stories reach us instantaneously via Sharma, thereby robbing the newspapers of the exultation of landing scoops. The newspaper industry has become a business; it is extremely competitive. But what has not changed throughout the ages is the need to abide by certain standards. This was just as true in the 1930’s as it is today.
When the Stabroek News came on the scene it had the advantage of being deemed independent. Out there was a society hungry for the news, all sides of the news, not just the one that the government provided through the Chronicle.
Times changed quickly though. The PNC was booted out of power, more television stations came on the scene and then ten years ago Kaieteur News stepped into the business. The going was rough in the early days and Stabroek News held on to its grip on the readership. But times have changed. Kaieteur News has now come of age and Stabroek News is falling behind. Panic has begun to step in and you can see it in the way certain events are reported.
The publisher of this newspaper has always insisted that he did not come into this business to displace anyone and while it is understood that Kaieteur News has dug deep into the circulation of the Stabroek News, this is all part of the business of newspapers throughout the world.
What is not the business of newspapers is to compromise the ethics of the profession and be unrepentant about it. Turning away from your mistakes does not make you better. Stabroek News may have seen its best days. Like the Graphic and Argosy of years gone by, it will have to give way to the more vibrant newspapers that understand competition and the ethics that go with making a newspaper credible. When newspapers begin to compromise the sacred ethics of the profession, not even the best of managers can save them.
One of the saddest periods of my life was to have witnessed the coverage by the Stabroek News of the Reeaz Khan issue. Not even the class and race biased newspapers of the past would have denied Reeaz his side. Those newspapers may have spun the truth, as they did with such agility in the fifties and sixties. But the truth would have been presented in all its sides and faces.
It would be to no one’s advantage if the Stabroek News loses its special place in newspaper history in Guyana. It would be to the detriment of the entire industry if such an important player were to disintegrate further. We all need competition to make us better. But unless that newspaper does some serious reflection and genuflection over its coverage on the Reeaz Khan affair and unless its editorial board recognises the terminal disintegration that has taken place recently and unless its moves quickly, and takes action to discipline those involved in what can only be described as a disgraceful act, not even the most ardent of its readers would miss the Stabroek News if it goes off the scene altogether.
All great newspapers have their moments in the sun. We will all miss Stabroek News if they go under due to diminishing circulation. But life has to go on!