BitDepth#895 - July 22

In the wake of the collapse of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, journalists gather to consider the way forward.
The media and MATT
Interim chair of MATT, Sunity Maharaj (foreground) addresses a cross section of the media workers assembled at Nalis for an emergency meeting of the association. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

On Saturday, a sizeable media contingent responded to a call by outgoing secretary Francesca Hawkins. By then, Hawkins was the cheese who stood alone. Every other member had resigned, and the last member of a beleaguered executive was faced with a choice of either turning the lights out and locking the door or trying one last time to muster support for the organisation.

The turnout at Saturday's meeting was typical of the cycles that the organisation has experienced over the years.
When the Media Association of T&T (MATT) is central to a news story, usually a perceived threat to press freedom, it takes centre stage, the rest of the time it's ignored like an ungainly mime, barely able to muster a quorum for its general meetings.

This isn't likely to be surprising for anyone who has been involved in any public interest civic group in this country.
Such gatherings of professional people tend to thrive when there is obvious mutual benefit to the assemblies.
MATT has always been more popular when there have been matters that needed a response that represents the perspective of journalists and least interesting when it has sought to engage the contemplation of its body politic.
I should note, in the interests of full disclosure that I've served on MATT's executive as assistant secretary for a couple of years between 2010 and 2011.

I resigned for personal reasons after I realised one Old Year's evening that I couldn't sit through another meeting of the team as long as one, specific person remained there.
That version of the MATT executive would, ultimately, be crippled by its own ambitions. There was so much to do and so few people to actually get it done that the team continuously stumbled from project to project, driving far too few of its ambitions plans to completion.

My virulent personal dislike aside, I'd had no real issues with MATT despite my annoyance at having only a folder full of meeting minutes on my computer to show for all those meetings at Judy Raymond’s house.
The most heated issues at Saturday's meeting were a series of undeniable gaffes in the last interim committee's handling of issues arising over the last two weeks at this newspaper.

The search for a smoking gun is understandable, if only because such errors are sexier when ascribed to evil than when they are explained by the banality of situational incompetence.
My own recent experience with MATT rather strongly predisposes me to see capacity deficiency and personality conflict where others are keener to see deliberation and deviousness.

I’m sure the team that served along with me wanted to make a difference, but couldn't find a point of leverage to shift the millstones of indifference that shackle today's media practitioners.
The media of today is a far different one from the body that elected the very first executive.
That media was far smaller and far more serious about the idea of a career in journalism.

Today's MATT must find relevance among en passant practitioners, profit-focused media owners and politicians all too aware of the value of a media disunited.
The need for a compelling product strategy for MATT is a stark reality, and it's an issue that's challenged multiple elected executives and is now on its second interim leadership team.

This new group have given themselves four weeks to do so.
My own suspicion is that they will discover what the executive I served with found out in short order.
That generally, journalists in T&T have no idea what they want MATT to do.
Unfortunately, this leaves MATT where I first met it as an elected member of its executive.

An organisation with a noble but badly ageing legacy. Its reputation has taken a sound hit, but it will take more than that to put MATT down on the...canvas?
The serious body blows it’s taken recently have diminished the organisation’s already evaporating relationship with the media.

When I left the executive, I vowed to become the type of member the association needs. Attending meetings, offering to help within my area of expertise and doing what I'd promised. I haven't entirely succeeded at those rather lofty goals, but I'm working on it.

If you work in the media or contribute regularly to it or blog, why not join me in making MATT better.
Trust me, it's way more fun than tearing it apart.
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