Garfield Grandison, general manager of The Gleaner Company (Media) Ltd, is one of the most upstanding and dedicated media professionals in Jamaica.
Last month he was conferred with membership in the Order of Distinction (OD) in the rank of Commander at the annual National Honours and Awards ceremony “for his exceptional contribution to journalism and print media development”.
This has been long overdue but it does him a disservice to focus on just print media.
Garfield has presided over The Gleaner’s transition from primarily a newspaper operation to a multi-media company fit for purpose in the 21st Century.
His tenure at The Gleaner goes back 35 years with him starting out as a correspondent while still a student in St Mary during the 1980s and rising to become editor-in-chief , then head of international operations, and now general manager.
It is very difficult these days to find professionals who stay with an establishment for that duration and ascend through the ranks.
This has allowed Garfield to develop, grow in confidence and, with the trust placed in him, exhibit his undoubted management skills.
The importance of mentorship cannot be understated and here Garfield prospered under the guidance and support of Wyvolyn Gager, who he succeeded as editor-in-chief, and The Gleaner’s longserving managing director, the late Oliver Clarke.
Putting out a newspaper everyday is demanding and taxing. It requires one to have the ability to manage the various parts of the operation simultaneously and get up the next day and start all over again on a fresh page. Here Garfield made it look easy for 18 straight years which says a lot about him. Always unflappable, his was always a steady ship of which all had confidence in the ability, the intelligence, fairness and humanity of the captain.
In Jamaica today, so many media businesses are headed by people who have very little experience in it or fail to grasp the paradigm shift brought on by the digital age. It’s tough to follow someone who has no idea what he or she is doing or does not have a credible track record to speak of. It seems the media profession is the only one in Jamaica where anyone can jump right to the top with very little justification.
Garfield is the converse of that. Someone steeped in the profession who has seen the changes, adapted and continues to develop and guide talent. Not for him is the bluster of making untenable pronouncements and sitting in a job where no deliverables can be seen.
He is an example for those who aspire to a sustainable career in media. So often you see dilettantes and people from other careers holding major positions as media practitioners. There are many lawyers who moonlight in media and the case is made, why not? They are trained to argue after all. However, there is something to be said about being totally dedicated to the profession, not prostituting yourself to it; being true to yourself as to why this is how you make your living. There are those who will counter that, in Jamaica, working in the media just doesn’t pay enough and to get by one has to do more than one job. That is for another article on another day.
‘Social influencers’, ‘personalities,’ PR professionals, marketing executives have all led to the diminution of the profession in Jamaica. Today, it has lost its lustre as a career path for young people. The pay is lousy, the hours are long, it is stressful, and you are overworked. Garfield is perhaps one of the few people working in media who can give one a reason to think again. Someone who can be held up as an example of what can be accomplished if you stay true and committed. He has shown that you don’t have to leave the media and seek an easier option with better pay.
Here’s a tale from the past that gives you an insight into Garfield’s management style and character.
I worked with him for five years and he was my boss. He was a good leader and I always felt that I wanted to give him my best. We got on very well. In those days I was all about breaking stories and getting out and about to find them and get ahead of the competition. That is all I could see and wanted to see. On Thursdays we would put the Financial Gleaner together to go out for Friday and I would be invariably late, working on stories or following a lead I just had to get out.
On this particular Thursday, Garfield gave me a gentle nudge that I was running late and would have to get a move on. I nodded while furiously tapping away on my keyboard. He came back an hour later for a progress update and I was still looking to finish a gem of a story that I was able to get on to.
With Garfield at my shoulder, I aimed an expletive at him and told him in no uncertain terms to allow me to get this done. It was an instant sackable offence. The language I used was unforgiveable an inexcusable.
The newsroom was aghast.
“What did he just say to the boss?”
Any editor-in-chief would have been put out by this insubordination, particularly in clear sight of the team. Many would have pulled rank and exhibited their power right then and there.
When I realised what I had done, I thought, “you are an idiot, you are going to be out on your ear and rightfully so”.
No doubt my colleagues must have thought the same.
Garfield summoned me to his office, and I followed him in meekly before he closed the door. In those days his office was glass-paneled, and the entire newsroom could look in at all times. Thank God it was soundproof!
He was stern faced, obviously annoyed, yet calm. He told me that I had a temper and must learn to control it. He further said that while it was commendable that I wanted to always break stories, getting the paper out on time was our top priority and failure to do so always costs the company. He made it clear that if I ever spoke to him like that in the newsroom again, I would be summarily dismissed. He then told me to return to my desk. That was the end of it.
Over the years I have reflected on that incident and learnt from it. I have tried to apply it when working with and attempting to guide my younger colleagues. In hindsight it was a both a reprieve and a gift from Garfield, one for which I will be eternally grateful.
Another tale and this will be my last one. Back in those days, there was a bar in the Gleaner building on North Street and some of the lads would, in the middle of the working day, go down there, albeit surruptiously, for a drink or two. Perhaps it was a stress reliever.
One day, a few of us were down there, it must have been around 11:30 a.m. and we were having a right ol’ time. Out of nowhere, Garfield appears. All our faces were ashen. You could hear a pin drop. He didn’t say a word, he just turned on his heels and left. We all scampered back to the newsroom, waiting for the hammer to fall.
It reminded me of that scene in the movie ‘Goodfellas’, where Paulie comes to the door, cigar in hand, looks over his crew, and doesn’t say a word. Everyone remains silent. Paulie walks back in and they all begin to loudly admonish each other. Over that scene, Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill narrates, “Paulie might have moved slow but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”
That is Garfield – quiet, genteel, composed and always professional.
Congratulations on your National Award, it is well deserved. You are a wonderful example to all of us in the profession. May you long continue to keep the faith.