TODAY (Saturday April 1) marks exactly 41 years since I took up my first job in journalism as Editor of the Crusader newspaper here. Back then I was writing and editing articles and letters by pen and using inked-ribbon typewriters as computers were still amazing things you only read about in science magazines.
In the four decades since then, journalism has suffered a complete climate change. Not only are pens, pencils and typewriters almost extinct now, but media technology has made things so easy that most reporters today openly admit often wondering what reporting was like before computers, iPads, smart phones – and the Internet.
But while the technology has made the job so much easier, it’s also made it more difficult. Why? Because like every other man-made invention, media technology is a tool to be used properly, failing which there will be undesirable results.
An iPhone in anyone’s hand is like a gun in that same hand. The gun can be used to defend or to attack, the iPhone to gather and spread good or bad news. A reporter can use his or her smart phone likewise: to gather information on how people may have died, or to spread grim photos of their littered and shredded body parts around the island – and globe.
When I started off, we looked forward to the weekend papers. The VOICE and Crusader editorials reflected the thinking of the two main contending political forces, the UWP and the revived SLP with George Odlum and Peter Josie on board. The two different editorials on the same issue offered the reader several perspectives from both sides, in many cases reflecting intellectual and literary across-the-bow exchanges. Much later, Rick and Mae Wayne established The Star — and there were now three editorials to keenly await. Alas, three decades later (but also in its tribute), only The VOICE still cares to offer an editorial opinion as much as possible in each of its three weekly issues.
Three decades ago, the many likes of me here established the Saint Lucia Media Workers Association (SLMWA) that for more than a decade changed the media landscape through seminars, workshops and deep, high-end training in media and communications techniques. The result was that, thanks largely to the voluntary efforts of the then already veterans (like Guy Ellis, Margaret Roberts-Steele and Winston Hinkson, etc) and the New Age media savants (Embert Charles, Matthew Roberts, Jerry George, Jacintha Lee, etc.) Saint Lucia secured the historical record of having (at that time) the highest number of graduates coming out of the Jamaica-based Caribbean Institute of Mass Communications (CARIMAC). The SLMWA also built alliances with media houses in the interest of cooperation between media workers and media owners, encouraging owners to see training as an investment and not an expense.
Those were the good old days…
Today, the media is more technologically advanced, but I am not sure its role as dependable provider of accurate information is anywhere near as equally advanced. Today, the world has to contend with ‘Fake News’, ‘Post-Truths’, ‘Half Truths’ and ‘Alternative Facts’.
Here, we have to also contend with the absence of facts and a proven inability or unwillingness to pursue them. Elsewhere, writers and readers engage in ‘fact-checking’ to either expose official lies or correct official mistakes; here ‘No comment’ is still largely treated as quotable quote – and/or an invitation to drop the story for lack of information requested.
In the meantime, if it bleeds it leads: deaths and violent incidents continue to daily make headlines here before stories that don’t bleed.
Having been the humble recipient in 2016 of a national award — the Saint Lucia Medal of Honour (Gold) — for my “sterling contribution in the field of journalism” — I thought I had seen, heard and covered all there was to here, only to live to see and hear journalists being officially called ‘liars’ publicly, hauled before courts to answer the likes of ‘rape’ charges and being accused of dabbling way deeper than an ink well into areas that have absolutely nothing to do with who people think a journalist is supposed to be.
Whether or not this is what led to the women in the media here forming and launching the ‘Ladies in the Press’ (LIP) group, ostensibly to wax warmly — and coolly, as required — over issues affecting ‘ladies’ in the media, how women are covered in and by the media and other gender issues from a ladies standpoint.
I watched the photo of the ladies involved and I remain cheerfully hopeful that they will offer much more than just lip service to the causes they will eventually embrace, whether by force or din of circumstance.
Finally, the proverbial ‘Last of Our Mohicans’ are quickly becoming ‘Our Last Mohicans’, as (too many of) my peers are starting to move on in different directions.
Our quiet colleague, lifelong cadet Major Lawrence James, (like me) collected his National Service Medal at the Independence award last year “for outstanding and meritorious service in the Saint Lucia Cadet Corps”. But he did not wait for the special tribute planned for today (April 1) in his name at the Police Barracks: last week he took a slow boat to the Great Beyond, along the River of No Return.
Guy Ellis has gone, too, though not on any boat. I have long concluded that journalists cannot retire as long as there are things to see, read and hear that we don’t see, read and hear others showing us, reading to us or writing about it/them for us. So, I will check him out, as I need Guy’s assessment of that apparently uncomfortable truth…
As for my other fellow Mohicans…
Rick Wayne’s pace has considerably slowed down, even though he’s no less quick on the draw. Denis DaBreo’s headlamps remain dim, but the clear-sightedness of his weekly editorials hasn’t diminished. ‘Chairman’ Dave Samuels was this year awarded “for meritorious service in the field of broadcasting”. David Vitalis, like old wine, is aging gracefully. Micah George remains himself. Timothy Poleon continues to spin. Andre Paul continues his deadly daily body-count every morning on HTS. Russell Lake keeps driving safely in the fast lane. And Sam ‘JookBwa’ Flood’s tongue (like Donald Trump’s tweets) is still as much as ever an undeniably influential daily agenda-setter as a weapon of mass attention as it is a weapon of mass distraction.
Yes we (and the others whom I forgot to mention, including those no longer living by the craft) are Our Last Mohicans – and we had better start getting accustomed to it.
But our heirs and successors will definitely not be Mohicans. They are and will be the ones born with microchips in their genes and the world at their fingertips. They have redefined reading to 140 characters on Twitter – and they will radically redefine the art and redraw the boundaries in New Media terms, in a time when a laptop computer will have long become a rare museum piece.
I’m already starting to see and hear them coming and growing, never going. Their memories are locked away in the clouds, to be downloaded whenever needed. They’ve been called everything from New Generation to Next Generation to Net Generation, but it’s they too who will define themselves.
Yesteryear’s Generation must by no means step back or feel left out of the new picture. It is our task to talk-down less and listen-up more. We have to find and strike that balance between sharing what we have and bearing the patience to keep up with their accelerated pace of advancement along lines and tracks we simply cannot follow fast enough.
This is not about whether we like it or not – and I know many of us don’t. But meet our future media makers across the line we must, in the interest of and for the benefit of us all. If we don’t, then: Noupwiensa! (We stick in dat!)