Suddenly, a hundred years later…

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Above: Among the dozens of images I shortlisted for this space, this photo, which ran under the headline Big Band Boom in the Sunday Magazine, is not the most important or best known, but it stands out for what it does in the name of journalism, preserving a remarkable moment of soca musicianship.

Brian Ng Fatt, who would go on to be a Chief Photographer of the paper, corralled the five biggest soca bandleaders, from left, Carl “Beaver” Henderson (Fire Flight), Mose Lewis (Sound Revolution),Andy Joseph (Atlantik), Pelham Goddard (Charlie’s Roots) and Bobby Quan (Blue Ventures) for a photo on the Guardian’s rooftop in early 1991. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1110 for September 12, 2017

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.

Because of his persistence and diligence with my considerable failings as a paperboy, I continued to deliver the paper for six years, getting an apparently terminal dose of journalistic ambition via the printer’s ink that stained my hands first thing each morning. 

I did not begin my journalism career at the Guardian. The place was far too intimidating for that. Trever “Burnt Boots” Smith over at the Sunday Punch was responsible for my start.

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 a century of production under a unified masthead characterised by a medievally sober type treatment and conservative, business focused values, it’s tempting to think of the Guardian as one paper, but it has been a publication that has been subject to nuanced changes over its entire existence.

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. 

Rev Joy Abdul: Reverend Joy Abdul, soon after she was ordained a priest of the Presbyterian Church in the mid 1980’s. If there is a single photo that I took that captured Therese Mills’ ambitions for women, this is it. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

In January 1987, I shot a photo of David Rudder for the Sunday Guardian Magazine that pleased the paper’s editor, Therese Mills, who would champion my participation in the paper thereafter. At the time, the paper had difficulty delivering registered colour plates and many pages looked like an exercise in 3D artwork. 

The solution was medium format transparency film and simplified backgrounds and for a couple of years, I shot a lot of colour photos for the paper, winning my first MATT photography award with the first colour sports photo in the annual competition.

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, even when things seemed unbearably bad.

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.

Over a 15-year period between 2001 and 2016, I wrote 1,800 editorial leaders for the paper, which gave me a deep perspective on its editorial perspectives and character.

For the most part, this was a paper that acknowledged the value of its freelance and part time talent and while it paid poorly – in tandem with its peers – it did pay promptly, a valuable asset to the gainfully unemployed.

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.