“ROUGH time for business if you are into real estate”, began the tweet from Asha Javeed, the Sunday Express’ excellent business reporter. “I want positivity with my Sunday cocktail, Javeed”, I tweeted back in mock exasperation. She emoji laughed. “Do my stories usually fill you with positivity?”
Underlying our light exchange was a serious question which newsrooms have been considering for some time. Whether we are drowning our consumers in negativity. Murders, road accidents, blood, sweat and tears. Hanging on too tightly to the front-page conventional wisdom that “if it bleeds, it leads”.
I’m going to get back to that later. For now I want to talk about how we can spread positivity in our everyday engagements. The one-year milestone of the pandemic is nearly here, and it has taken a terrible toll on our mental well-being. Let’s lighten the mood. To help, I’m going to lay out a set of soft rules that I will modestly call The Gordon Guide.
Rule 1. Put some time aside to do something for someone who can’t do anything for you. If you’re a manager, for example, reach deep into your inbox, open that email from a student or graduate —a total stranger prospecting for work. Reply to it.
The messages we prioritise are often transactional, lateral or upwards. Get back to someone from whom you can’t get a benefit. You mightn’t be able to give him a job, so strike a balance between being honest and not killing hope. Dancehall artiste Barrington Levy speaks for me. “Every posse must work; don’t be a jerk.”
Rule 2. Mister/madame politician, are you on a food hamper drive or delivering flood relief? Step out of the photo. It’s not about you. Better yet, don’t take any photos at all. You might be helping a needy family avoid trading embarrassment for food.
Rule 3. Give way on the road. If another driver cedes the right-of-way and gives you a flash to turn out of Pennywise Plaza into the Narsaloo Ramaya Marg Road, give her an appreciative honk. If the driver lets you merge ahead off a side road, stick your arm out the window and give him a “thank you” wave. Always acknowledge a bligh.
Rule 4. Hold the door open for the people behind you, or on the other side, if you get there first. And if the courtesy is extended to you, say thanks. A thank you is a surprisingly uncommon occurrence. My return is about 20 per cent. Not that I’m looking for one, but I notice.
Rule 5. Tip the waitress. My friend Resh would leave a minimum of $20 for an order at a café. But if you’re as low-salaried as cafe staff usually are, they’ll appreciate the $5 you can afford. As we say in Guyana, “one one dutty (drop of cow dung) build dam”. Or as our Jamaican fam would say “every mickle make a muckle”.
Set a respectable base; dollar or percentage. A useful guide is a minimum of ten per cent for a dine-out meal, but you might want to set a minimum lower limit tied to what you can afford. Service charges and taxes are another conversation.
To Point 1, if the young job prospector ends up interning with you, pay him. At least a little something to cover his travel expenses. Don’t do unpaid internships.
Rule 6 is a tricky one on which to find consistency, and frankly I haven’t. And that is giving the benefit of the doubt to people on the street who—to put it kindly—approach you asking for assistance. Sometimes I’ve given, sometimes I haven’t.
I now take the position that you can’t trick me if I have it and I’m willing to give. If Street Joe takes it and puts it towards buying a substance, he’s robbing himself, not me. I’ve none of Fitzy’s skills in identifying the piper in others, and I’m not even going to try.
In lieu of cash, I’ve sometimes given food—a full shopping bag, parts thereof, or boxed meals I’d already mentally devoured. The Crix and cheese substitute tasted better anyway.
This is an incomplete list, and you can add to it. It’s obvious stuff—not original things that no one has thought of before. However, now seems a good time to list some simple ways in which we can all bring light instead of heat. So what about us, the news people?
When I was an editor at the BBC years ago, we held coffee-and-sandwich-fuelled seminars to explore whether we owed it to our consumers to make positive news more prominent. In the end, we understood that editors will know, instinctively, what goes to the top of the bulletin or on the front page. The big news of the day identifies itself.
At Christmastime and at the New Year here in T&T, we get to front-page the first baby. In Britain, on ITV’s News at Ten of years past, the UK’s most acclaimed broadcaster of the time and son of Trinidad Sir Trevor McDonald, would work some heartwarming news into an “And finally...” slot at the end.
Some consumers criticise news houses for focusing on stuff that’s too negative—but had spent the previous afternoon sharing the same stuff on WhatsApp and Facebook, and had dropped by Ian Alleyne’s on the way to Khamal’s and Desha’s. It’s news consumer nature. Let’s spread our own positivity.
• Orin Gordon is a media and communications consultant