Tag Archives: media outlets

Let the layoffs begin

The global financial system and the world economy are facing unprecedented challenges, but you wouldn’t know that if you only read Trinidad’s so-called “newspapers.”

There has been an almost complete lack of coverage of the meltdown that started in the US housing market, other than occasional Pollyanna-esque comments from government and the Central Bank that everything is just fine.

This occasional series at The Liming House – The Credit Crisis and the Caribbean – will provide a different perspective, and an analysis of the potential effects of this economic and financial crisis on Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean.

It will also engage in bad-tempered criticism of business and economic reporting from the region.

The Guardian’s front page story headilne on Saturday August 30th: “HCL FIRES 100”

The accompanying story, on page A5, bore the headline: “HCL retrenches 100”

Here’s the story, with my comments in brackets:

Inflation and a slow down in the real estate market are said to be the cause of Lawrence Duprey’s Home Construction Ltd having retrenched at least 100 workers between Wednesday and yesterday. (Are said…by whom? Loathe the lack of sourcing. Did one person say so? What were this person’s credentials, if any? Does he/she work at HCL (i.e a person familiar with the company)? Or is this the conclusion of the reporter, Sandra Chouthi?)

Commenting on the reports, Lisa Ghany, communications manager at HCL, said workers were not fired, but retrenched.

(At least there’s a comment from the company. But what an appalling lack of context. And what reports? So did this story appear elsewhere? And what’s the difference between retrenched and fired? From a company perspective, and in business -speak, a retrenchment is a reduction in the workforce in order to ensure the continued financial viability of said company. In other words, you retrench workers when it no longer makes financial sense to retain their services. All is not well at HCL. And where are the details on inflation? What’s the rate in Trinidad at the moment? Why would rising inflation hurt HCL? Total lack of actual reporting.)

She said more than 100 temporary, casual and permanent workers were retrenched, not 300, and that the “exercises are continuing.”

(From whence comes this 300 reference? Sparta? Context and background, please.)

She said HCL’s operations were being restructured in light of inflation and a slow down in the real estate market.

(Aha, so here’s the source of the boldfaced assertion in the lead of the story, a better version of which would have read: “Lawrence Duprey’s Home Construction Limited cut at least 100 jobs this week due to cost pressures from inflation and a slowdown in the real estate market, a company spokesman said.”)

Ghany said the retrenchment was part of a restructuring exercise as HCL had increased its staff from 500 to 2,500 in five years.

(What a sodding non-sequitur. Questions that should have been answered, or even asked: why does HCL need to restructure? Why had it quintupled its staff over five years? Come on.)

The HCL group has 22 companies.

(This sentence gets its own paragraph. Inexplicably.)

“We have different companies throughout the group that needed to be restructured to operate more efficiently,” Ghany said.

(And the Guardian provides not a jot of additional detail. Analysis? Forget it. I might as well be reading a press release.)

The retrenchment comes one week after Michael Fifi officially retired as chief executive officer of HCL. (Are the two events related?)

Its big project One Woodbrook Place is overbudget and behind schedule.

(What is One Woodbrook Place, for those readers who might not know? Where is it located? What is it? Condos? Office space? Was it a speculative build? (i.e. built on the hope that it would be rented out, but without any guarantee of such?))

Reports reaching the Guardian stated that HCL “fired” over 300 workers between Wednesday and Thursday of this week, with a total of 600 expecting to be sent home.

(Again with the lack of sourcing. Reports from whom? Why did you put “fired” in quotes? Is that what your source(s) said? Or are you obliquely acknowledging that “retrenched” is a more accurate description?)

Neither chief executive officer Hayden Ameerali nor chief operating officer Richard Le Blanc was available yesterday for comment.

(How many times did you try to reach them?)

One source said HCL was “significantly downsizing” with close to 1,000 workers due to be retrenched. Asked if the retrenchment exercise was linked with billion-dollar OWP, which is now 18 months behind schedule, the source said, “The whole thing has to do with One Woodbrook Place. It can make or break HCL.”

(This story is badly organised. And has no analysis in it whatsoever. How could OWP “make or break” HCL? Reputation? Financial stability? Did they bet the house on it?)

The source criticised the “inhumane manner” in which workers were informed of the retrenchment, some of whom have between five and ten years of service with HCL.

The source said workers were individually met with at HCL’s Organisational Centre, Orange Grove, and told they were “going home today.”

The cost of building OWP went from $800 million to $1.2 billion. The original completion date was December 2007.

(The lack of cohesion in this story reeks of poor editing. And alright, finally some numbers. But no indication of projected revenues from the project, so it’s left to the reader to surmise that “slow real estate market” + over-budget project = big headache. Sigh.)

On July 31, HCL announced that Fifi was retiring following a July 16 board meeting. Fifi officially left HCL’s helm of HCL on August 22, the same day he turned 66.

(What’s the retirement age in Trinidad again?)

The T&T Guardian needs more than a cosmetic change

For the sake of my blood pressure, I try not to read the local newspapers. This is difficult, given my obsession with news and media and my day job as a reporter, and more often than not I succumb.

And each time I pick up a copy of the Trinidad Express, or the Guardian, or the Newsday, I am disappointed, embarrassed, infuriated by the spelling and grammar mistakes, the obvious lack of editing, the flagrant plagiarism and copyright infringement, the errors and the inaccuracies.

Which brings me to the Guardian’s redesign. Aesthetically, the new design is a significant step up from the monochromatic drabness of the paper’s previous incarnation. But the changes are all superficial – in terms of content, it’s business as usual.

Take this gem from the editorial on Tuesday June 10 hyping the redesign:

“…readers will notice the introduction of new typography (called fonts) which should make the reading experience more enjoyable.”

New typography called fonts eh? You couldn’t make it up. But this is a minor quibble, compared with the delicious irony of an error in a story printed just above a blurb outlining the paper’s corrections policy on page A3.

(And now that I know the Guardian does have a policy of correcting “significant errors as soon as possible”, I intend to keep them informed of the many mistakes that litter their pages. I will report back on how that goes, so watch this space.)

The Media Watch blog also picked up on the error, noting:

On page A3 there’s an interesting story about a young man who appeared in court charged with turning off a computer in the Register General Department.

And would you believe directly below that story is a section called Getting It Right, which says “It is the Guardian’s policy to correct significant errors as soon as possible.”

Directly below.

You might say that was not a significant error since the writer of the story really just meant to say Registrar General’s Department…

There were some errors of transposition – is the name of gentleman referred to in the story “Man left to die on hospital bed” (story by Radhica Sookraj, photo by Rishi Ragoonath) Anthony Atlo or Anthony Alto?

And quite a lot of editorialising. Michelle Loubon’s report on a promoter “fuming” over the $200,000 he is being asked to pay to rent the Jean Pierre Complex for a Learie Joseph concert provides one example of this widespread practice: “[Glasgow] flatly refused to pay the exorbitant price.” (emphasis mine)

You may think $200,000 is exorbinant, Ms Loubon, but no one asked for your opinion. This is a news story, not an editorial.

And of course, my favourite bug bear, an absolute outbreak of pieces without bylines. Media Watch highlighed two of the more pernicious examples:

On page B34 there’s a story on sleep titled ‘How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?’. We thought it looked familiar, but there was no byline in the Guardian so we searched the net and found it – the same story we read last week at Time.com.

The story on page C16 on hearing loss also looked familiar. Ah yes. We read it on the BBC website on Monday. They copied down to the picture of the ear.

Come on editor, where is the attribution? Why can’t you stick in somewhere in the story where it was copied wholesale from? This is not the first time you’ve done this and it’s not a habit you should be happily repeating. What about copyright issues?

None of the financial market reports had bylines either, while the oil report on A11 was lifted – without attribution, of course – from a Reuters story. Separately, in the salmon-coloured Business Guardian, the Commentary on page 26 – “Apple to unveil faster IPhone [sic]” showed either a complete lack of news judgement, or a studied laziness on behalf of the editors.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Guardian, Apple unveiled a faster iPhone on Monday. This Bloomberg story, to which you devoted a whole page and an ad for West Indies Stockbrokers, is four days old. Four days. Please, get out from under that rock and sort your paper out.

Moving on.

Then there’s the blurb in the classifieds section, which blithely states: “you can place your ad by phone any pay by credit card.”

I presume they meant “and pay”, but you just never know.

And someone tell Bobie-Lee Dixon that it is possible to write an interview-based feature without fawning over one’s subject (in this case, Diane “Radical Designs” Hunt). And that “fashionist” is not a word.

But I digress. Here’s Dixon on Hunt:

Even in her “dress down mode” Hunt seems well colour coordinated with a look that just says, “hey I know my fashion,” and indeed she does.

With a winning smile across her face Hunt said her dream and aspiration is to make a serious contribution to fashion in helping to organise the industry and to make it more viable

And what is with the aversion to “said”? It’s a good word. A simple word. And it avoids having to write things like this:

Hunt also gave a breakdown of the different types of fashions that exists. “People only think of fashion as the designer,” she articulated.

I will not, for the sake of my aforementioned bloodpressure, comment on the sheer wrong-ness of “different types of fashions that exists.”


Says who? (or, why bylines matter)

Trinidadian newspapers infuriate me.

I’ve already written at length about their lack of a systematic corrections policy, and the superficiality of much of our reporting; today’s bugbear is their casual approach to bylines.

In the context of a newspaper article, a byline is simply the name and often, the title or position of the person(s) who wrote the story.

Sometimes, particularly in the case of editorials – which are opinion pieces written by editors or columnists – explicit bylines are omitted. Editorials in The Express, for instance, are labelled “Express Editorial.”

Since an editorial represents the officially-endorsed (or mandated) “line” of the newspaper on a given topic, the identity of the author is unimportant. The author is the newspaper.

But news stories and analysis pieces are different; they are supposed to be objective and fact-based, rather than polemical and necessarily partisan.

But no one is entirely objective, and no reporter, however scrupulous, is immune to bias.

Moreover, as the bloggers over Eastwick Communications, a technology PR agency, noted:

By the time we read any news article or watch any news segment, even the most “objective” news has been run through a series of bias filters. Each news department selects which stories to cover and which reporters to cover it. Each reporter selects which aspects of a story to focus on and which details of all possible details to include in the story. And editors make selective changes to fit a variety of criteria.

All news is filtered. This is an inescapable fact, and it is why the identity of the author of the story – or in the case of syndicated or externally-sourced content, the source – is so important.

If a story appears in a newspaper (or on a newspaper’s website) without a byline, I have no way of knowing who wrote it, or where it came from.

Here are a few case studies of why bylines matter.

The Trinidad Express ran a piece on Monday 17 March titled “RBTT…what to do?”. The online version of that story, and the only one I have access to, nowhere states where it came from, or who the author was.

It began thus:

In our last article we evaluated the fairness of the valuation of the Per Share Consideration in the proposed Amalgamation of RBTT Financial Holdings Ltd (RBTT) and RBC Holdings (Trinidad and Tobago).

The valuation was conducted using the Discounted Cash Flow methodology. You would recall that based on our calculations the Per Share Consideration of TT$40.00 was not considered unreasonable.

Our article today, the last in our short series, concludes our discussion of the question of valuation, by examining the Earnings Multiple Method, in order to further test the fairness of the valuation of the deal. We will also provide our recommendation to shareholders.

Now, this was not a news story, or even an analysis piece, and it was most certainly not written by a reporter.

This is investment advice, and I don’t know who this “we” is. If I were an RBTT shareholder (and I am not), I would want to know whether the entity advising me to accept the RBC buyout had a vested interested (i.e. they’d make money) in seeing the deal go through.

Without knowing who wrote the piece, I would have no way of checking that.

A counterpoint to the way this report is presented is a similar story in the Jamaica Observer, which the Express syndicated on March 19th (with the a glaring typo in the headline: “Jamacian analysts look forward to bank purchase.” Aargh.)

A financial expert in Jamaica believes that the proposed sale of RBTT Bank to the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) would increase diversity in the sector while another is saying the potential deal should be looked at in a long-term perspective.

Alexander James, a stockbroker at First Global Financial Services, echoed the view that “the RBTT sale brings a lot more diversity into the market”, the Jamaica Observer reported.

I object to the description of Mr Alexander James as a “financial expert”; a stockbroker is someone who buys and sells shares on behalf of clients on a commission basis. Mr James is not a financial analyst or investment advisor.

Still, at least the Observer named names and companies, and the piece as a whole is well reported.

Here’s another example of a missing byline, also from the Express on March 19, in the Business Magazine section:

Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates said he expects the next decade to bring even greater technological leaps than the past 10 years.

That’s fine. That’s uncontroversial. That’s seriously dishonest.

No Express reporter wrote that story. The author was a business writer named Matthew Barakat, of the Associated Press news service.

Now, the Express regularly uses material from services like AP, Reuters and Bloomberg. In newsroom jargon, these are the major “wire” services, which newspapers and other media outlets use for the stories and photographs they don’t themselves have the resources to produce.

These wire services allow newspapers like the Express to syndicate their copy – for a fee, and with the agreement that they will be credited as the source.

Reproducing content from outside sources – without attribution and without permission – is not just sloppy. It’s plagiarism.

The Express isn’t the only one to do this sort of thing, and on a regular basis. The Newsday is notorious for this.

The Media Watch blog highlighted a recent example, in which Newsday “reprinted” an article about the murder of British socialite Gale Benson in Trinidad in January 1972.

The piece, which Newsday ran on February 24, was lifted wholesale from a British newspaper – the Daily Mail. Newsday did not credit either the author (Victoria Moore), or the source.

This kind of behaviour would get an university undergraduate expelled, but the editors of Trinidad’s daily newspapers seem unconcerned – which is, in itself, deeply distressing.