BitDepth#851 - September 11

Seven journalists received national awards at this year's ceremonies, this is a reflection on the two I worked with at the Guardian.
Line and length
The story about these four people is here. Lennox Grant is at left. No such photographs exist of Mrs Mills. Self-timer photo by Mark Lyndersay.

At this year’s National Awards, seven journalists, an unprecedented number in the history of the ceremony, were honoured for their service to the country through excellence in their chosen profession.

Among them are Therese Mills and Lennox Grant, both former Editors-in-Chief of this newspaper and both, at various points in my career, sources of wisdom, guidance and support.
Mrs Mills (while the Guardian’s style rules allow me to refer to her as just Mills here, I cannot imagine doing such a thing), was the EIC when I came to work at the T&T Guardian in 1990 as the paper’s first Picture Editor.

On my first day in the role, she sent me out to cover a kidnapping situation at a chicken magnate’s home, where I spent an uncomfortable day, culminating in the late evening with the girl’s return home.
I left there hungry, annoyed and holding the film with front page photo for the next day and it was Mrs Mills’ way of letting the photographic department (and me) know that I would be leading from the frontlines.

The debate about my suitability became moot when the Guardian’s offices became an actual battlefront a few months later, and I began several long days and nights at St Vincent Street overseeing the paper’s coverage of the Muslimeen insurrection.
Therese Mills was tough and unequivocal in her approach to journalism. On her desk there was a plaque that read: “They found something that can do the work of ten men. One woman.” I wouldn’t be surprised to be told that it’s still on her desk and even if it isn’t, she’s lived that principle every day.

I’d come to know her as the editor of the Sunday Guardian in the early 1980’s while trying to sell photos for the cover of the weekly insert magazine.
In early 1986 I submitted a colour photo of David Rudder, then growing in popularity and it printed crisply in the paper, a clear advance on the shimmering 3D style reproductions that had been the unsatisfactory norm.

For several years after that, I worked with John Haynes, the paper’s production manager, to figure out what reproduced well and how to shoot for the reproduction limitations of the paper.
In 1990, Therese Mills allowed me to spend unseemly amounts of time with the paper’s new desktop publishing system and to produce the Sunday Magazine, which I retitled SG, on the new Macs. It was a generosity I’d never forget and provided the groundwork for an interest in computing that would lead directly to the creation of this column in 1995.

Personal interlude: After a year on the job, Mrs Mills called me to her office to discuss a staff matter. After reviewing the evidence, which managed to be both damning and embarrassing for the paper, it was agreed that the photographer would have to be fired. This was a friend of mine, someone I’d known long before I’d taken the job. I was stricken and ashamed. Mrs Mills looked at me slumped in the chair and said, “I’ll do it for you.” I think now there are two kinds of people in the life of Therese Mills, people who depend on her and people she can depend on to do their work. I resolved then to be among the latter.
“No,” I responded, “I’ll do it.”

Lennox Grant knew of me before I met him, having taken note of the radical and short lived rethinking of the Trinidad and Tobago Review I’d produced after Lloyd Best’s departure to Africa.
We became friends at the Guardian in early 1990, forming a drinking quartet with Terry Joseph and Romeo Kaseram holding up the other legs of a sometimes quite wobbly table.

Personal interlude: Early in my time at the Guardian, I handled a matter in the morning editorial meeting rather naively. Lenny Grant stormed up the stairs a few minutes after the meeting broke up and cussed me out as a setup artist. I had no idea what he was talking about.
After lunch, he came back upstairs. I remember flinching on seeing him again.
“I may have overstated the situation,” I recall him saying. It was, I sensibly realised, an apology and it was a reconciliation that cemented our early camaraderie.

Lennox Grant left the Guardian in mid-1990, but we’d meet up again a couple of years later, after I’d left the Guardian and began tentatively contributing to the Sunday Express. Eventually, on Grant’s urgings, I began to provide more consultancy services to the Express right up until he left in 1998 to return to the Guardian.

I’d join him here soon afterward, returning for a weird quasi-contract/staff role that sited me next to his office as his informal “doer of things,” as he would put it.
That was a master class in newspaper administration, and I took away one lesson from that time, Lennox Grant’s constant urging of the management to mind “line and length.”

The metaphor references (in my shaky understanding of the game) a bowler’s management of a challenging batsman, tweaking his approach subtly to probe for weaknesses and errors and then to capitalise on them, sending the batsman back to the pavilion.
Mrs Mills never said those words, but she lived them, I think, sticking to professional journalism as her answer to every challenge, disappointment and temptation.

The time I spent with both of these journalists, each generous and committed in their own way, was a master class in the practice. I have no medals for either of them, but I do have sincere thanks to offer for their gifts to me.
blog comments powered by Disqus