Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali


Tuesday, May 22, 2007  

Last Friday evening I was part of a conversation that included a number of Haitian nationals, delegates from a conference on Haiti that was hosted at the University of the West Indies.

One of the delegates noted that something Haiti perpetually seems to be battling in the news is negative stereotyping. Poverty, violence, Aids, boat people--that's all one ever hears about Haiti, to the point where Haitians themselves internalise what they see and hear, thinking that that's all there is to their country.

It struck me then that in Trinidad we face, in a way, the opposite problem: positive stereotyping. With our relative wealth, our annual carnival, and the physical positives that come with being a tropical island, among other things, the view of Trinidad from the outside is, by and large, that all is well here.

The truth, of course is sorely different. Almost completely decayed infrastructure, institutions not worthy of the name, rampant crime and brutality, inequitable distribution of the nation's resources, a political system that doesn't work, irresponsible, self-serving government, alarming levels of illiteracy, endemic corruption, disillusionment and cynicism: only the oil and gas money (slowly drying up) is keeping us from descending into utter chaos.

To compound the problem, the national media almost seem to be complicit in sweeping our troubles under the carpet. I can't really speak for television or radio, but it's clear to me that the newspapers aren't doing the job they should (and that really is an understatement). The salacious stories on crime and politics often lead, but there is no depth, no real attempt to foster the serious journalism that we so sorely need. (Don't even mention things like arts and literature coverage, reviews, etc.)

I said all of this--after a fashion--on Friday evening. Then on Sunday I picked up the Express, the leading daily. The front-page story was about nesting leatherback turtles. There was a quote over a shot of a turtle, from a foreigner, about how "magical" Trinidad is.

The story was written by the paper's editor-in-chief, one Alan Geere, who is British. Then in Tuesday's paper there was a column by Mr Geere on Sunday's turtle story. Apparently the story had elicited quite a lot of feedback from readers, most of whom, tired with the despressing news of crime and politics, were in favour of the paper leading with a "feel-good" story. Geere is all for this "positive" sort of journalism. Not only because you have to give the people what they want (because that's the bottom line) but because, he says, the media is too much in thrall to special interest and pressure groups who wish to air their grievances.

This is, to say the least, interesting. Now, Alan Geere has been an editor at newspapers around the world. One of the papers he edited was the Phoenix Tribune, in Arizona. According to this article from the American Journalism Review, Geere was just, in his words, a "hired gun" on that paper. The article, quoting Geere, says, " 'We used to be a fancy-pants newspaper that tried to be like the Washington Post.' But no more, he says. 'I don't want to be a guiding light for society.' "

Well, maybe that was alright for the Phoenix Tribune, but is it alright for the leading national newspaper of Trinidad and Tobago? Geere certainly seems to think so. So we can expect more stories on turtles to lead the paper, no doubt, even in this election year, even as the nation continues to spiral down the tubes.

posted by Jonathan | 10:37 PM 2 comments

2 Comments:

You make good points Jonathan. I cannot comment on the veracity of the portrait painted of Mr. Geere but I can tell you that, while I agree with your assessment of the current state of play in media circles here in T&T, I was relieved to read about something other than killing and self-interest on the front page of an important daily.

Personally, I find that there is room for both 'good news' articles and more in-depth reporting with a strong accent on critical analysis and 'follow up'. Too many stories in the media are presented at surface-level depth only and lack almost any further inspection, nor are they revisited for long enough. Its almost as if the news media here has adopted a headline culture where articles are merely expanded 'sub-headings'.

The question is, 'what to do?' and, moreover, 'who to do it?'.

By Blogger Justin, at 10:54 AM  

Boy, I know how those Haitians feel.

By Blogger Blogistani, at 11:37 AM  

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