I would like to offer a few notes on a letter published in the July 21 edition of SN by the daughter and son of the Stabroek News founder, David de Caires (‘Market forces cannot prevail in a newsroom’). I want to say at the beginning that I believe that David de Caires was a fine human being. I have made some critical observations of him but in my eyes, he will always remain a fine gentleman. His legacy to Guyana is that he gave us the Stabroek News, which if it continues its independence journey will help the Guyanese people to preserve its freedoms, some of which we have lost and continue to lose.
I pen these few notes in the hope that I can provide Isabelle and Brendan de Caires with a nuance of the newspaper and their father that they would not know, because children do not share the same relationship with a person the way their employees do. Children speak of their parents. Employees speak of the boss. The two worlds hardly meet. I would like to think that both children would like to know as much as possible of the early years of the SN and how their father began his journey as a full-time publisher and editor of the newspaper.
SN has come a long way and remains a priceless institution in Guyana but I believe most if not all Guyanese know that it has seen the rise of a competitor, namely, the Kaieteur News (KN). It would not be honest to say that KN acquired a larger circulation because of sensationalism and unorthodox journalism. Surely, one cannot ignore the thoughts that went into making KN a better paper. I was there at KN from the beginning, and though I would admit to criticism of forms of its journalism, there were other dimensions that made it into an acceptable newspaper
I agree with the de Caires that news cannot be subject to market forces. Unfortunately the two writers didn’t spell out what is meant by that term. I am not sure if it means what we commonly perceive it to be. One thing is certain in an absolute sense, is that competition is a priceless value of civilization. No matter what is the product being offered, competition must be pursued. Competition gives us greater vision and leadership. It gives us an enhanced product. Simply put, when scientists, newspaper editors, school owners, hospitals compete, knowledge wins out and society is served in a better way. I honestly believe this principle is accepted by most people in the world.
I would like to give one example. When I was in graduate school, we had an option of doing a basic course in philosophy or a course on European civilization.
The latter included some of the contents of the former. No one signed up for the former. Within a year the lecture restructured his curriculum and included stuff in the course on European civilization. In my last year, from zero students, the lecturer had the same subscription as the other electives in philosophy.
The early fault of SN is that its class status and its monopoly knocked out of its consciousness any thought of raising the bar because the founders felt that it didn’t have to do that. It had no competitor and its class status allowed it to tolerate a certain level of arrogance. This psychology of the early SN remains with it and only grudgingly does it concede leadership weaknesses. Here is a graphic example. I was the only person to pen a published letter to Mr de Caires rejecting the policy of not carrying a letter that made an appearance in another newspaper. The controversy centred on attorney, Anil Nandlall whose letter was refused by Mr de Caires because it was printed in the KN.
My position was that the episode with Nandlall arose in the first place inside of SN pages therefore SN had a moral responsibility to ventilate Mr Nandlall’s response. Secondly, each newspaper has readers that the others don’t, so SN readers may not see what is inside the KN. Today I have been vindicated. SN has removed that restriction. I could go on to elaborate profusely on SN’s stubborn refusal to compete. Again I stress – competition and subjection to market forces are not synonymous
The de Caires wrote: “The dynamics that govern a newsroom and those that govern a business are, essentially incompatible.” This is a huge generalization especially the use of the word, “incompatible.” I am afraid that the de Caires here seem to be equating competition with market forces. It is an established fact in the media business that an erudite editor and a talented journalist are always in demand. Media houses compete intensely for them. This has been a tradition in the media business throughout the world. Why do they need these people? Because it gives them a better product at the end of the day. I am afraid I cannot see this kind of competition as being part of subjecting a newspaper to market forces.
I will end my assessment here without any biting criticism of Mr de Caires but many of the fears the de Caires expressed about how a newspaper could be compromised, those factors of compromise were at SN from the beginning. Surely, the situation is not the same, but there are still remnants. Finally, those factors are present at other media houses in Guyana
Stabroek News retains its policy of not publishing letters which have appeared in other sectors of the press, but we still make exceptions if it is warranted.