My hearty congratulations go out to all those honoured in the national awards Friday last. Of course, with no disrespect to the other luminaries who were awarded, I have to confess special excitement over the journalists who received national awards: Therese Mills, John Babb, Clevon Raphael, Lennox Grant, Phoolo Danny-Maharaj, Sharmain Baboolal and Shamoon Mohammed. I am especially proud of Lennox Grant’s Hummingbird Gold because, quite apart from his role in the national media, he has been a mentor to me from the time I entered the profession in the mid-90s. In a newsroom as much as in any other environment, young people need mentors and role models. I have been blessed to have been mentored by some of our country’s most exceptional journalists, and I am deeply grateful for what they have taught me about persistence, reportage, fairness, honesty and integrity; any shortcomings in the above I demonstrate today are due to my own fault, not theirs.
Lennox Grant, as the editor of the Express, hired me for my first job in media. He threw me in at the deep end but gave me life preservers in the form of Judy Raymond and the late David Chase—Judy as the supervising editor of the magazine that I was allegedly editing; and Chase as the editor on the features desk where I was allegedly reporting. I say allegedly because looking back I realise that I didn’t know my elbow from my aspirations and it must have been terribly frustrating to work with such a complete neophyte. Yet, with the help of the other reporters and editors I worked with such as Kim Johnson, Earl Best, Camini Marajh, Franka Philip, Deborah John and Terry Joseph, they managed to show me how to write a feature, write a review, write a report, write a column, and to edit all of the above. When Lenny went over to the Guardian in ’98, I soon followed, and encountered a whole new set of mentors to learn from—George John and Andy Johnson among them. MATT, in its press release congratulating the journalists given national awards this year, said, “As the country marks its 50th anniversary, this is an appropriate moment to reflect on the changes in the media environment as well as in T&T over the years. In the Information Age, with changing standards and expectations, modern technology and the proliferation of new media, the need for trained, qualified, independent and intelligent journalists is more critical than ever. “The association urges media houses and their managers to make a commitment to invest in the resources required to provide the kind and quality of journalism that T&T needs and deserves as the country embarks on its next 50 years.”
The constant cry for more training opportunities has at last been answered, and no longer is it out of reach for media workers to get journalism training and education, as both UWI, St Augustine, and Costaatt have journalism programmes, in addition to those at the myriad private tertiary institutions in T&T. Those who are interested in learning to be journalists can go to school to do what I did at the feet of Lenny and others. I hope, however, that just because the formal journalism education is now more accessible the newsroom mentors do not become less so. Mentorship does more than teach how to research and write a balanced report. It teaches an approach to work, an approach to the profession, and models for a young mind the way one ought to be as a journalist. You can’t teach curiosity, or intelligence, but you can train a mind in how to channel that curiosity and intelligence if that mind is humble enough to be open to learning. As MATT indicated in the release, the industry is changing. Newspapers are the tip of the media iceberg that consists of an increasing number of nontraditional news outlets. I would resist making training mandatory—that smacks of an intervention for the regulation of journalists, which I would not support—but I would encourage more experienced journalists to reach out to less experienced ones in the new media. Mentorship needn’t be a formal, in-house relationship. I think mentorship can also be expressed in our ability to carry on conversations about what is appropriate, what is necessary, and what is fair. These conversations used to happen over drinks in Lily Orchid, a storied restaurant cater-cornered to the Guardian many years ago. Now they happen on Facebook. That’s fine, as long as the intergenerational engagement continues to take place.