Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Gleaner 180 - The "G" has seen it all

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The Gleaner Company Limited building. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Gleaner vendor Dawnette McLean holds a copy of the newspaper on Barbican Road in St Andrew, in this 2013 photo. - File

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

There is a story about a Jamaican emigrant, fresh to foreign climes, who wanted to catch up on the news in his new home. With typical 'yard' swag, he walked up to a news stand festooned with the publications of his adopted land, and asked for a Gleaner.

He was met with a blank stare, so he repeated his request. This time, he was offered a range of choices, none of which had the name he wanted. So he asked which publication 'everybody read' and was supplied with an answer.

"Den no Gleana it fi name? Gimme da one deh!" he exclaimed.

There are few newspapers as entrenched in the country where it is published as The Gleaner is in Jamaica; so much so that a light blue capital G in 'Old English' on a white background is enough to invoke its presence. And with good reason. At 180 years old The Gleaner has kept record of Jamaica from four years before full Emancipation through to two years after its landmark 50th year of political Independence.

Call the 'Big G' what you will - a Goliath of publishing, a Genie holding a lamp up to the unfolding of history in one of the world's most fascinating countries, a Gallant steed hurtling into the fray when all else blanch - but never call her geriatric.

This babe ages, but she never grows old.

From its former addresses a bit closer to the waterfront - 66 West Harbour Street, and then the more familiar 156 Harbour Street, then to the present famed 7 North Street since 1969, The Gleaner has remained committed to the heart of the city. A name change from The Daily Gleaner to The Gleaner on December 7, 1992 has not affected her personality.


So, naturally, she has seen the good and the bad of its steady beat - and seen off a few who have marched on her gates. Chief among them was the Chief Conceptualiser, as former Prime Minister Michael Manley was called because of his penchant for the big idea. One of those ideas was to literally take the fight over an article to The Gleaner's North Street gates on September 24, 1979. The late Manley was displeased with the reporting of his speech at the Non-Aligned Summit Conference in Havana, Cuba, and he led a group of the similarly minded to the source of his discontent. Among those on that trek were P.J. Patterson, who was himself to become prime minister, the late Minister of Housing Anthony Spaulding, and Trevor Munroe.

The Manley march is remembered mainly for his promise: "Next time! Next time!" The full quote gives a better appreciation of the situation, at a time when Jamaica's future was in the balance. Joshua (as Manley was popularly known) said:

"I have no speech to make. You have made the speech for me and you have made the speech for the progressive forces. Let them learn, freedom of the press, yes, but no more lies. But next time! Next time!"

That 'next time' was not to be. The People's National Party (PNP) was ignominiously swept from power in the 1980 general election, returning to power under Michael Manley in 1989 with a decidedly less socialist agenda.

Long before, The Gleaner had survived literal upheavals of a natural, non-political nature. When the earth moved underneath the city at 3:32 p.m. on January 14, 1907, in what became known as the Great Kingston Quake, more than 1,000 persons of the 48,000 living in the city at the time died, according to information posted by the Earthquake Unit on the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, website. Many of them died in the fire that raged after the shock. Chairman of the company, Charles deMercado, was among the casualties.


The Gleaner's building on Harbour Street was completely destroyed, but four days after, the big G was on the streets again with the help of another 'G' - the Government Printing Office, which printed an emergency edition. The editorial, headlined: 'The Earthquake and the future' read in part:

"The blow has been terrible (but) we will not allow ourselves to be terrified."

By 'we' The Gleaner meant itself, third, the people of Kingston; second, and the entire country first of all.

There have been other tragedies to which The Gleaner has been witness to. When almost 200 persons died in the train crash at Kendal on September 1, 1957, the newspaper was quickly on the scene, reporting on a tragedy which involved one of its primary means of news collection and publication dissemination.

Internally, there have been developments at The Gleaner which have had national and even regional significance. In 1982, the archetypal clatter of typewriters and calls for ribbon in the newsroom ceased - not because the news ceased, but the room changed dramatically with the advent of a computer system which cost a whopping $3 million. This made it one of the first newspapers in the Caribbean to take the computer route.


While many businesses have moved further away from Kingston's shoreline The Gleaner has held firm, enjoying a great vantage point from which to witness history unfold. After all, Gordon House, that place of speeches, riposte, cross-talk, table-slapping and walkouts, is a mere street across and a block down.

Big trials at the 'big court'? No problem. From Lester Lloyd 'Jim Brown' Coke in the late 1980s to Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer earlier this year, with former top cop Renato 'Saddam' Adams and co, and Matthew 'Zekes' Phipps in between, it has been a stroll down East Street, right turn at East Queen Street, trot around part of Parade and hop, skip and jump down King Street - and back - for The Gleaner.

Some reported on the Zekes riots of 1998. The Gleaner lived it and told the tale, up close and personal.

Her position at the intersection of North and East Streets has made for a curious honour for the Grande Ole G. On a semi-regular basis, there is a procession from Holy Trinity Cathedral to Heroes Circle, which goes against the standard one-way traffic, hooking a 90-degree turn at the intersection of the streets. It is a journey that all former prime ministers and governors general must take as they are transported from the churching to the burial spot, a trek which involves military spectacle most recently made for the late Sir Howard Cooke.

The Gleaner reports on them all extensively through their lives and after their deaths; it is only fair that she be included in the final march past.

There have been corpses of another kind, too, the remains of newspapers which have come and gone. The list is long, but a few more recent names will suffice - The Sunday Herald, The Jamaica Record, The Daily News and Public Opinion, while there are organs of more recent upstarts which no longer 'chat', shall we say.

These days, the light-blue Old English G does not only represent the newspaper that goes back to 1834, but also GV Media Group which publishes The Voice and Weekly Gleaner in the UK; The Gleaner Company in Canada and the USA, which takes care of the weekly Gleaner and STAR there; and a booming online presence chock-full of multimedia content.

Still, as technology advances and borders of coverage and distribution expand, the G stands for a core value which has not changed in 180 years and will not, long after another 180 have passed.

This G is Genuine.