Writer, Editor, Parent...

Enter the Bocas

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

(My apologies for the somewhat lame pun on the movie title Enter the Dragon, as the Bocas Lit Fest, which is the subject of this post, is named after the Dragon’s Mouth, a narrow channel through which ships pass to sail to Port-of-Spain.)

I rather like book fairs and literary festivals. The first one I ever went to was Calabash, the now-defunct Caribbean literary festival held in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. I went in 2006 and there talked my way into the good graces of my first publisher, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books. He was innocently walking the idyllic grounds of Jake’s, the hotel which hosted Calabash for its ten years of existence, when I pounced on him and thrust upon him copies of the manuscripts I was flogging at the time. He took it in stride but I never thought I’d hear from him again, as all my other interactions with publishers and agents had gone poorly before. To my complete surprise he actually read them and emailed me… we met up eventually and Trinidad Noir was born.

So you can see why I would have a soft spot for literary festivals. What about book fairs, though?

My first major book fair was the Miami Book Fair International, an annual emporium of literary delights sprawling across the campus of Miami Dade College in Florida. It’s staged annually by a board led by that Florida literary powerhouse Mitch Kaplan, who owns the delicious Books & Books chain of bookstores in Coral Gables and the Cayman Islands, among other locations. “Book fair” is a kind of misnomer because the eight-day event includes not just book sales in a street fair but workshops, seminars, readings and parties.

 

Trinidad Noir contributor Elizabeth Nunez reading her story at the Miami Book Fair International, 2009

 

 

 

Trinidad Noir was featured in one session in 2009 and, apart from getting to read at that event and sell and sign books, I went to a couple of great parties tagging on the coattails of Johnny and his co-publisher Johanna Ingalls. From what I remember of the parties, they were great. (Don’t tell my kids I said that.)

 

Lisa Allen-Agostini with Mitchell Kaplan at the Miami Book Fair International wrap party, South Beach, 2009

All of that was a very long aside to say that Trinidad and Tobago’s first literary festival had its press launch on Tuesday at the National Library. The Library will host most of the events in the festival, and I can’t wait to prowl through what I imagine will be stalls and stalls of tasty books with even tastier discounts, listen to readings and generally schmooze with authors and other bibliophiles. The schedule looks pretty great, so much so that it’s impossible for me to pick out what I’m most looking forward to. Is it the Lovelace reading? Or perhaps it’s the prose fiction session with Marlon James and Mark McWatt? Maybe it’s the poetry vibesing with Christian Campbell and Merle Collins? Or is it the children’s sessions scattered generously throughout the four days of the festival? So many yummy treats. One thing is sure: don’t call me between April 28-May 1… I’ll be very busy at Bocas.


Fazeer, MATT and the government’s rights

Posted: November 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments »

I worked with Fazeer Mohammed and his wife at the Guardian when they both were there in the early to mid-nineties. I can’t say we were great friends but we had the casual, friendly interaction that characterises many office relationships; I knew they were orthodox Muslim but it never impaired their functioning, she in payroll and he in journalism. I’ve since been interviewed by him twice on CNMG’s talk show First Up, the most recent time being just a few weeks ago, with Roslyn Carrington, to publicise the Allen Prize and its inaugural seminar. He is a bright, on-point journalist with an aggressive but respectful interview style and to me it was a pleasure to be the subject of his questioning. But then again, I’m not a government minister.

Fazeer’s “downsizing” from that job at CNMG, described, he said, as a “cost cutting” measure, has left many media workers and observers keenly uncomfortable. MATT issued a press release in protest of the decision not only to fire Fazeer after a controversial interview with a government minister, but to replace him with Andy Johnson, erstwhile journalist and now the head of the Government Information Service.

GIS employees routinely go back and forth between privately owned media and the GIS, but I don’t know a single one who confuses the two. GIS is the GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SERVICE. The people who work there may be reporters, editors and cameramen, but their responsibilities are very different from those of other media workers; they are there to report the business of the government, from the angle the government dictates. (Does it need to be said that privately owned media don’t have the same goal?) Andy Johnson is an excellent talk show host, and was a brilliant journo when he wrote for the Guardian and the Express–but he’s now the head of the GIS and there’s no way he belongs on air in anything other than GIS programming. CNMG is state-owned but it has from time to time asserted its editorial independence; you can tell that Fazeer, at least, believed that spiel. In the transcript of the excerpt of the interview I read in the paper, he asks a hard question about Kamla’s unfortunate statement on disaster aid but never gets an answer; instead, he was accused in the interview of being anti-Kamla and (as an orthodox Muslim) opposed to women’s leadership.

If it is government policy to usurp the editorial autonomy of CNMG stations, and to make CNMG employees government mouthpieces like employees of the GIS, then there should be a clear statement iterating that. If not, CNMG staff should be left to do their jobs without fearing they will be downsized if they step on the wrong toes or imply anything but complete support for the government of the day.


A sexist headline, an incomplete story

Posted: October 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Monday's headline emphasised the make of the vehicle.

This week a car ran over two police officers in Freeport, Trinidad, killing one on the spot and putting one in hospital where she remains in critical condition. The reports indicate that a woman was driving in traffic at a road construction site and ran over the officers while they were conducting traffic around the construction.

It’s a tragic story however you read it. But two things made me very annoyed with its coverage. The first thing was the fact that it took a letter from a reader to point out that there is inadequate signage at that site, making it difficult for anyone to negotiate the detour. Yesterday’s Newsday ran the letter by one S Mohan, which reads, in part,

“I passed there on Sunday evening, there were no basic safety measures put in place, no indications that there were roadworks taking place, no signs, no lights, arrows, no police directing traffic, nothing, just some traffic cones placed directly in front of and around the area and police inside it, all of a sudden you have to merge from the right to the left lane, cars on the right don’t know and on the left is no different until you are almost at the work site.

“I myself almost got hit, and right after almost hit another vehicle while I was attempting to merge to the left lane….”

None of this was reported in the main story a few pages before. Instead the story focussed on how overworked police officers are and how ill-trained. Surely the lack of signage is relevant?

The second thing was the fact that of the three papers initially reporting the story on Monday, October 18, 2010, only one paper put the sex of the driver in the headline. By the next day, all the papers were using the word “woman” or “female”; the Newsday front page picture even used it in the caption of the dead officer’s sobbing girlfriend.

By Tuesday it wasn't the Lexus that was important anymore.

How is it relevant that the driver was a woman? Would we have put in the headline, “Male driver runs over police officers”? This plays into the stereotype that women are bad drivers. We should do better.


Dear MATT,

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The first time I heard about you was from Nazma Muller, an unlikely mentor but one of my first in the practice of journalism. There was a controversy–might have been the jailing of journalists after they defied a court’s gag order, but I’m not entirely certain–and a march in Port-of-Spain organised to raise awareness of the rights of the media. I didn’t know about the march or the Media Association of Trinidad & Tobago and Nazma well bouf me. “Girl, you’re a journalist now!” she said in her inimitable way. Message was that MATT was for people like me and I should get acquainted with them for my own good.

I did, in time, and eventually stood for election as a floor member of the executive. We had our moments but I eventually stepped down in frustration from the post. I stayed a MATT member, though, because whatever the problems that might plague one executive or ten, we as an industry need MATT.

I was proud on Saturday gone, as I am every two years, to vote in the new executive of MATT. I think the people on the new executive are bright, enterprising and energetic. I will give them my full support.

But that’s not why I’m writing this letter. You see, it has been burning me for the past few weeks the things people have been saying about you. They say MATT is useless, powerless and maybe even corrupt. They say Trinidad & Tobago has no “real journalists”. I don’t know why they’re saying those things, and I certainly don’t agree. Yes, MATT needs restructuring to better meet the needs of journalists and people working in media. But it can’t live up to its potential when only about 20 people are ever active in it. I’ve been to too many MATT meetings that had to be abandoned because of poor turnout, or training sessions with only about five or six people present–many of them seasoned professionals with little need of training (although everybody could use a refresher from time to time).

It frustrates me to hear the things people say about you, MATT. I hear these things and say to myself, “Why don’t they help build instead of tearing MATT down all the time?” We need MATT, or its equivalent. Who but a MATT is going to speak against muzzling journalists? Who but a MATT is going to keep an eye on the government and stop it from doing things like registering journalists, or putting prohibitive measures in place to keep public information private? Who but a MATT will provide affordable training for us?

People talk about MATT instituting a code of ethics. I used to be ambivalent about this, but I’m not any longer. I firmly believe now we need individual media houses to take responsibility for this, as there is room for all kinds of interpretations of the laws of publishing and broadcasting and to ask a whole industry to subscribe to one standard is undemocratic. The courts are there to protect citizens; the media ought not to stop itself from breaking the news if there is news to be broken. There will always be media houses that walk a thin line between libel and journalism, and I know from personal experience what a nasty, personal media attack can feel like. But do I want those papers to go away? No, because they sometimes in their temerity and audacity publish the things the “legitimate” media won’t. But it’s not for me to say. I think MATT should debate this, properly, openly, and let people be satisfied that they have had their say.

I know in a democracy it is only right for everyone to have their say. Even in criticising you, MATT. But when the criticism becomes mere target practice, it’s time for us to grow up and look at MATT not as the enemy but as a vessel for all of us in media to get on board. Nobody can fix MATT from the outside.

Sincerely

Lisa