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Suddenly, a hundred years later…

Published: 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Reverend Joy Abdul, after she was ordained a priest of the Presbyterian Church in the 1980’s. If a photo that I took captured Therese Mills’ ambitions for women, this is it.

If you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you get to see and to experience the Mobius strip qualities of life.

Early after the turn of the century, what’s now casually referred to as an advertising wrap was proposed for the tabloid paper I was running at the time for GML’s predecessor company, Trinidad Publishing.

Within hours of the introduction of the idea, The Wire lost its second editor, who could not be persuaded to return even after the idea was swiftly dropped. Two years later and a year after The Wire had been shuttered, the idea returned at the T&T Guardian, prompting the circulation of a list of signatures protesting the move.

The T&T Guardian would eventually run advertising wraps, and I pondered that while paging through the first page in a collection of captioned front pages that constituted the recognition of the 100th anniversary of the paper.

On its first day of publication, the Trinidad Guardian hit the dusty streets of the capital city with a front page plastered with ads for local businesses.

Advertising has had the longest relationship with the Guardian as a medium, the dance between selling and informing blending over the years from conflict to today’s shared mission of storytelling.

My own engagement with the paper runs significantly short of that, beginning 47 years ago when I started delivering newspapers as a teenager. The Circulation Manager of the day, Mr Cardinez, who never failed to badger me when I couldn’t quite get out of bed after a particularly good house party, is probably responsible for my entire career in journalism.

The Guardian building on St Vincent Street was an institution with a massive engine throbbing in its basement, muscular letterpress machines that shook the ground floor when they began to spit the hundreds of thousands of papers into life that comprised each day’s edition.

This, for me, was the newspaper of Lenn Chong Sing, a business where journalists wore suits, where the newsroom was hushed and the dominant sound was the papery crumple of rubbished copy, the chattering strikes of typewriter keys and the swoosh and thwack of carriage returns.

Over just the last four decades, change at the Guardian has steadily accelerated and I’ve been fortunate to be around for and to benefit from many of those changes.

In 1990, I joined the paper as its first Picture Editor at the invitation of Aldwyn Chow. I didn’t really come to run the photographic department, though that was an interesting aspect of the job. The tipping point for accepting the job was Chow’s prescient interest in desktop publishing and its impact on photography, which proved to be a major change factor in my career.

Along the way, I spent a few days sleeping under a metal desk at the paper, eating every conceivable variation of cooked corned beef, while the occasional bullet ricocheted off the building.

That particular long weekend in July 1990 ended with an extended rain bath on Maraval Road and the cover of the next day’s paper after the Muslimeen surrender.

Considering close to five decades of this on and off relationship, I have to admit that the Guardian has largely been good to me.

I’ve only held two full-time jobs with the paper, for two years from 1990 as picture editor and for three years beginning in 2001 as Operations Manager of The Wire.

In just that five-year period, I got to work with the first commercial version of Adobe Photoshop at the beginning of the local desktop publishing revolution and on my second go-round, had the singular experience of playing a pivotal role in the start, running and folding of a national newspaper.

If I’ve nursed one regret in all that time, it’s the vast wellspring of institutional knowledge that’s been invested in me that I’ve had little opportunity to share. I am hardly singular in that, and many Guardian professionals have died hoping to give back what was inadvertently given to them in the course of their engagement with the company.

The T&T Guardian is to be congratulated on completing a century of publication. That’s no small achievement and I have no interest in belittling it in any way, not least because so much of my life and my thoughts have been invested in it as a vessel of journalism and a compact of knowledge transfer with the public at large.

As the Guardian looks to its next century, it must first look very hard at its next decade, because the foundation of its future will be cast there.

Read an expanded version of this column at http://technewstt.com