Does the name Debbie Ransome ring a bell? For the younger generation it may not. But this extraordinary journalist has been around for quite some time, making her name in both local and international media. Adding to her plethora of accomplishments, Ransome recently launched her own online magazine, Caribbean Intelligence. From her home in London, she spoke with the T&T Guardian via e-mail and recounted her earlier years as a journalist. “I remember admiring Trevor MacDonald as one of the first black television news readers in Britain and wanting to become a journalist one day.” At the time she had just completed her first degree in English, and didn’t fully commit to specialising in media until she completed her masters in mass communication.
“I did that at Leicester University, which, at the time, was one of the few universities in Britain which had a specialist course in media and mass communications. Today, every university offers it but, at the time, it was more academic, theory of mass communications, specialist areas for your thesis and regular time producing a television news programme from the campus studio,” she explained. After she had submitted her MA thesis, her parents decided to return to Trinidad. She applied for a job at Radio Trinidad and was hired by the news director, the late Vernon Downes. She was 23 at the time. “I was hired and I was told I was starting the next week,” Ransome said. She recalls Downes telling her the station couldn’t pay her in line with her qualifications, but that didn’t matter to her. “I told him anyone who can train Trevor MacDonald can train me.” Recalling her rookie years as a journalist, Ransome said: “The detail of the job really helped form me as a journalist. First thing in the morning you would be covering overnight crime incidents for the morning bulletin; mid-morning it would be the news conferences of the great and the good.
“Lunchtime you’d be business reporter at a business lunch, and by the afternoon labour reporter with the unions,” she said. She described it as boot-camp training for journalists, with Downes putting red lines through anything wrong in a reporter’s copy.
“My news editor would also squash any optimism, which could hamper a developing young journalist who needed to learn a degree of cynicism to take everything with a pinch of salt until proven,” she said. On media in T&T in the 21st century, Ransome said she hopes the standards of journalism remain intact. “I’m not practising journalism in Trinidad now, but I do know that the job is much faster everywhere in the world, because of the Internet. “However, I still hear Mr Downes’ voice telling me to recheck the facts. I suppose the equivalent today would be, ‘Just because it’s on Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’s true!’” she said.
In Ransome’s career she has had the opportunity to meet highly influential public figures, which she describes as some of her most treasured moments. She recounts, while at BBC’s Caribbean Service, her two most favourite interviewees of all time were the fourth prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, and Cuban President Fidel Castro. “They just literally oozed charisma during their interviews,” she says. Ransome said she has also been kept on her toes by others she has interviewed, including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, St Lucian Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, and World War II airman and retired Appeal Court judge Ulric Cross, to name a few. Asked to describe her career as a journalist in one word, she chose “fantastic.”
“It’s been wonderful working for all the media houses I’ve been with. I remember the excitement of the then new Cana radio programmes, when we started joining up the dots between the islands. People used to say that my reports on the simplest things in Trinidad sounded familiar in Jamaica and, in turn, other islands felt closer because life sounded so much the same.”
At the BBC, she says it was an honour to work with the late Hugh Crosskill, head of the BBC World Service, and many others who have remained her friends. “The rigour with which the BBC insists its news stories are written is an admirable quality which I would still get a thrill being a part of, even up to my final shifts at BBC News Online.” Even after the World Service announced budget cuts and the Caribbean Service was shut down after seven decades, Ransome stayed to ensure that even the closure would be done on a high and with dignity. “I’m glad that my work has always been appreciated, and I suppose testament to that is that I still get calls from within the BBC asking for advice on Caribbean issues.”
A new chapter
Ransome is now spending her days managing her own online magazine—www.caribbeanintelligence.com
. Although it’s still in its teething stage at only a few weeks old, traffic has been good, she said. The magazine, which is geared to both the Caribbean and its diaspora, has been designed as a one-stop Caribbean news shop. Ransome wanted to create a Web site where people can log on to find all the information on Caribbean issues on one site, regardless of which media source the information came from. “It just made sense to pull all that together, for those who don’t have time to check out every source, even though it’s all available somewhere.
“We combine join-the-dots pan-Caribbean news analysis on our news pages, but also allow room for the newsrooms of the Caribbean to do what they do. “We follow them on Twitter and retweet material, which brings more hits to them, but also rounds things up for our audience.” She continued, “We provide tales from the diaspora so David Rudder can talk about life in Toronto and former T&T Guardian reporter, Natalie Williams about travelling around Europe. “Then there’s the fun bit, the What’s the Buzz pages which follow what people are saying after they put down their newspapers and stop watching the news bulletins.” Ransome said the biggest danger will be the temptation to update all the time because the technology allows it. “So far, we’ve stuck to tweeting the updates so you can still see them rolling on the site, or on Twitter, if you want.”
A good journalist must have....
In becoming a successful journalist, Ransome said she has learned the key is to do your basic job. Her recipe: find out the truth; quote people accurately; state all facts; never take sides; don’t become the story; and keep an open mind. “When the attempted coup happened on that Friday, I didn’t step up my reporting skills. I simply did what I’d been trained to do and didn’t let my personal feelings interfere with doing the most professional job I could do, even though my own life was in danger. “The same has applied over the years, whether it was Radio Trinidad, Cana or BBC.” Her approach proved fruitful; she received a number of awards that year for her coverage of the attempted coup.
About Debbie Ransome
Ransome was born in Britain to Trinidadian parents. Her career as a journalist spans 25 years. Starting out as a reporter with Radio Trinidad, she went on to become the Caribbean News Agency’s (Cana, now CMC) first radio and newswire correspondent in Port-of-Spain. In the mid-80s, she established and ran Cana’s first Port-of-Spain bureau, simultaneously working as editor at its headquarters in Barbados. She became editor and news director at Radio Trinidad before joining the BBC’s Caribbean Service at Bush House, London, as a producer in the early 1990s. There, she also became a producer in the World Service newsroom before moving on to its World TV News. Shortly afterwards, Ransome returned to the Caribbean Service. She also worked on BBC’s new headquarters project and at the BBC’s Radio 4 network, as well as its Online World Desk. She is currently editor of the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association (CJA), where she produces a newsletter that rounds up journalists’ issues around the Commonwealth.