The Old Lady of North Street
The Jamaica Gleaner began as handbills for slave auctions. When slavery was abolished it advertised other sales, before becoming a newspaper in 1834.
During most of its existence its veracity was unquestioned. It was considered an ‘authority’ in the Court Room. Reports of cases by the Gleaner were given the respect of The All England Law Reports.
Usually, the only Daily paper, for competitors quickly fell by the wayside, it seemed unassailable.
In the 1970s when it became very anti-government, attempts were made to stifle the Gleaner. These not only failed, but the Gleaner quickly sold stock so as to raise extra revenue.
When there was a strike by columnists, the Managing Director, (and virtual owner) passed the remark that writers should pay the Gleaner to be published.
This was the first clear evidence that something was very wrong in the mentality which directed the Gleaner Company.
Subsequently the strike was settled, but the flaw in the fabric was revealed and in 1988 the Jamaica Record came into being.
Paying three times what the Gleaner did, free lancers flocked to the Jamaica Record. Having various sections, i.e. Home & Garden, Automotive, etc.it seemed obvious that for the first time the Gleaner was in trouble.
Further, where Gleaner ‘reporters’ only left the office for press conferences and other organised indoor ventures, Record reporters were on the street at all hours, getting the story.
Had the Record not self-destructed in shareholder bickering, one could envision it becoming a strong challenge, but tragically it failed. The Gleaner, making changes aping the Record, took back it’s place.
However, the descent was not averted.
Originally the Editor of the Gleaner was someone with the stature of a Governor-General. The last real editor departed in the late nineties to be replaced by a rather substandard individual.
Addicted to meetings, mindless shifting editors from one section to another for ‘experience’ unbelievable errors were made.
For example, the Financial Editor, recently returned from England, placed at the tabloid, created a headline; “Chi Chi Bus Drive killed,” unaware that during his absence the term ‘chi chi‘ had become a synonym for homosexual.
With the advent of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, a true challenge to the Gleaner was made.
As the Gleaner Editor was surely not up to confrontation, he allowed the best columnists to be ‘phased out’ as cost saving,
This mentality, tying in with that thirty years before, was embraced by the Owner, who still failed to comprehend that people buy newspapers to read the opinions of columnists, not to look at ads, save perhaps on Sunday when scanning the classifieds is the habit of those seeking employment or goods.
People ceased to buy the Gleaner, there was ‘nothing to read.’ Although the columnists boasted by the Observer are not particularly talented, they are far more so than those used by the Gleaner.
In 2008 the Gleaner posted a record loss of $444 million dollars, the greatest in its 175 year history.
The number is only staggering if one does not appreciate the pattern.
An attitude towards columnists which borders insanity, the appointment of a weak and unqualified editor, the challenge of the Observer, and the inability of the Gleaner to understand what the public buys a newspaper for all contributed to the decline.
Amusingly, the idea is to focus; ‘on-line’ as if having nothing to read in a hard copy won’t be noticed on a computer screen.
Simply put, the decline and expected demise of the Gleaner is long overdue.