Assessing the Fourth Estate

Dear Editor,

The proud claims and the confidence that goes with them, are there in the public domain.  Stabroek News says it is “Guyana’s most trusted newspaper;” while Kaieteur News states that it is the most popular.  So there they are: loads of self-satisfaction, and an almost pugnacious swagger in these versions of bold, unambiguous, chest-thumping media machismo.  Which is which?  And who is right?

Before proceeding, it is appropriate to disclose my leanings (some may say bias) towards SN.  Nonetheless, I believe that clear-headed honesty and a high regard for what is fair enables me to deliver a reasoned and objective position on the two houses.  SN announces that it is the most trusted paper in the nation.  If one’s definition of trust encompasses sobriety, conservative restraint, tastefulness, and a focus on balance, then I advance that it is the most trusted.  It can be fearless, on occasion, but cautiously so.  SN’s chiefs have demonstrated a readiness to lose the scoop and present the now aged news later.  From my perspective, I put this down to the security of maturity, the aristocracy of self-confidence, a sheet aloof in the comfort that it has no point to prove, and that it has earned its circulation responsibly.  Further, that it is cognizant of the calibre of its readership, as well as what it understands and that it prefers reporting this way and through such standards.  I know it is a paper being discussed; but if it were a liquor, it would be of the single malt, top shelf pedigree: cask-aged, easy on the eye, smooth on the palate, and with an appealing aroma.  To the connoisseur, it is the equivalent of sampling rare fine art.  For these reasons, I think that SN has earned its place as “Guyana’s most trusted newspaper.”  It is well-deserved. For these reasons, I readily identify with the publication, despite occasional differences.

Whereas SN is about muted circumspection and cultivated blandness, Kaieteur News revels in the role of rolling the dice, extending the extremes, braving the unknown, and basking in the rich red glare of the unnerving, the indescribable, the outlandish, and the sometimes unspeakable, if not impeachable.  It is not for the squeamish.  Popular it is and by a wide margin; most popular has to stand uncontested.  But KN is more than just that in the increasingly cramped space that is media Guyana.

However looked at, whether approvingly or not, KN has mutated from being merely the most popular newspaper in this society to a spitting, thumb-in-the-eye, knee-in-the-groin place in local popular culture.  It can be no holds barred, spiced with a few low blows and stabs in the back thrown in for good measure.  It can be reckless.  The paper is about necessary evils, sometimes unsavoury, mostly confrontational, and always exciting for its segment of the domestic print market share.  This is what its dedicated audience demands; this is what Guyanese culture expects; and this is what KN has been only too willing to dish out and deliver day after day with unabashed pride and rollicking glee.  This is what sells; this is enormously profitable; this is psychically priceless.  It is WrestleMania and Mardi Gras rolled into one, and then some more; and for sheer entertainment it cannot be matched by any other local; even, perhaps, when that is stretched to incorporate the region.  In all of these attributes, KN is a reflection and projection of its internal structure and genetics.

In many respects this is what is waited for and eagerly sopped up by a public that cannot get enough.  The Fourth Estate is scorched by this journalistic juggernaut that is the equivalent of four horsemen (and a few more) of the current and future domestic apocalypses.  Let truth be told: to a significant degree, the Guyanese reading public is enamoured of the frenzied, the boisterous, and the over-the-top; after all, these are settled ingredients of popular local culture, which KN exemplifies so flawlessly.  KN is well-equipped to make good, and it does so unfailingly.  It has become a money machine performing before a dazzled crowd.

In sum, both SN and KN measure up (and in more than their own eyes) in each of their self-congratulatory claims.  Each has become proficient in their staked-out spheres of priorities and jealously guarded prerogatives.   As to what is responsible journalism and excellence in journalism, readers of both persuasions would have their own definitions and the last say.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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