Caribbean Camera - Focusing on the wider picture
Community newspaper one of 250 ethnic publications in Toronto area
By Norman Faria
December 17, 2006
"TAKE a look at this", says Raynier Maharaj, editor of the weekly Toronto newspaper, Caribbean Camera, as he pulls up the front page headline in a late August issue on the computer screen.
The headline read "PPP gets 4TH term in Guyana polls".
"Yes, we do give a Guyana a fair bit of coverage. There are an estimated 100,000 Guyanese in the greater Toronto area. But we also cover other CARICOM (Caribbean Community) countries.
The same front page has for example a prominent photo of the late Trinidad and Tobago President Justice Noor Hassanali who had passed away a few days before, as well as a photo of the Soca Warriors football team being presented with their trophy for beating the Jamaican Reggae Boyz team ," he explains..
Leaning back in his chair in his remarkably well arranged ten by eight feet editorial office, the Trinidad-born veteran newsman says this is where his sixteen year old publication differs from most of the other weeklies orienting to the English speaking Caribbean immigrant community in the Canadian city.
"From the beginning we focused on a wide range of Caribbean news rather than on any particular ethnic group or country. Given the diversity of the West Indies, we felt it was better to deal with our news from a commonality of culture and region rather than race.
We strive to present a digest of Caribbean news that includes different political viewpoints. For example, we carried
in addition to news about the two main parties in Guyana, a feature on the AFC (Alliance for Change). We have several columnists with topical and sometimes controversial views. This has built our credibility to the point where we are considered a major authority on Caribbean affairs in Canada," Maharaj observes.
Maharaj has been a journalist all his working life, starting with newspapers in Tirinidad's capital, Port-of-Spain. When he decided he had "hit the ceiling" in terms of personal achievements back in the twin island Republic, he migrated in 1989 to Canada.
He worked for a while for SHARE, another weekly newspaper orienting to Caribbean immigrants. He also had a column from 1993 to 1997 with the Toronto Sun mainstream daily.
It wasn't easy going when he decided to put out his own paper. He has a staff of twelve now, including Guyana-born Associate Editor Gerald Paul and Guyanese journalist Jasminee Sahoye.
But back then he and a handful of dedicated, faithful believers worked long hours, sometimes not knowing when the next pay would come in.
There wasn't much of an Internet back in 1990. It was a lot of foot work. The main task was to get a foothold. Aside from SHARE, there were several others (among the 250 ethnic newspapers in the greater Toronto area) vying for the Caribbean readership. These included the now folded CONTRAST for which I did movie reviews and other news stories during the 1970s when I lived in Toronto.
" he culture of community publishing in Canada is that you have to give away the papers, mainly at subway stops and stores selling Caribbean items. So you really need advertising. Because of our wider coverage of issues we were able to get ads early on to sustain us," he says.
Sixteen years on, the readership has grown to a printed run of 30,000, though the estimated readership following pass-ons (passed to other people to read) is 150,000. Add another 130,00 from the distribution in the Montreal area and one could conclude this was a relatively high readership for a community newspaper. They moved into the present Scarborough office in Toronto's north east area eight years ago
From the beginning, some of the ads were from travel agents and shipping firms doing business with the Caribbean. Another set of regular advertisers are from companies and individuals offering financial advice and real estate. Today, among the paper's major clients are money transfer companies and airlines serving the Caribbean basin area.
"Thanks in part to our coverage, the Caribbean community in Canada is being seen today as a progressive, upwardly mobile group," says Maharaj. "There is a lot of disposable income, because of personal success and this is attracting more and more advertisers."
Maharaj adds the majority of the immigrants won't reach the status of Jamaican-born Toronto business tycoon Michael Lee-Chin, the son of clerks who, after he migrated to Canada in 1970 and investing in the banking sector, is now a billionaire. "But more and more new Canadians want advice on investing for example and how to get a good price for their homes or buying a new one," Maharaj says.
Unlike some of the other newspapers, one hardly finds Caribbean Camera carrying ads from so called fortune tellers who prey on the lonely by promising success in virtually every area including how to succeed in marriage and deal with rivals..
Those from lawyers and "immigration consultants", offering a wide range of services from "family sponsorship" to "refugee law", are however accepted. All the newspapers carry them. "They provide a service. We frown on false advertising and keep a close check on these", he says,
Being a weekly, the editorial staff has to juggle news at the last minute about what finally gets in the paper. What was fresh on Tuesday or Wednesday could be stale by Thursday or Friday. "Today, people are reading the daily newspapers back home on their Internet every morning. Some are even listening to radio stations run by Caribbean nationals in Toronto. So we have to be creative and keep our ears to the ground about what people haven't read about or need to see a fresh slant on it".
What was the team's most exciting story to work on in recent times ?
Maharaj: "In recent weeks, we were at the forefront in reporting opposition to changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code. In fact, we were the first to report on the significance of the proposed changes earlier this year, ahead of all the mainstream press."
Did they have any exciting "scoops?" "We always have scoops," Maharaj says with a grin. "One of them was a major story years ago when a black man died in police custody. Not only did we break the story ahead of the major media, but they -the dailies and television stations-had to come to us to get photographs of the man who died . That was a real feather in our cap."
It is Wednesday midday and Raynier had said it was the only day he could spare me a half hour or so. "Got to get back to work," he lets me know as he and Gerald lean over the computer monitor to check over, as they say in the newspaper business, "fast breaking" story.
One consolation is that it is now a little bit less challenging with the computer-not like the early days when all the stories had to be typed up on an old Remington typewriter, then sent to be pasted up and photos had to be run through a special camera. That's all changed as improved technology has made work easier and quicker.
"But there are still some things in the newspaper business that will never change", says Raynier, as he gets back to you after speaking on the phone with one of his "close sources" .
"It's a tip and worth checking out", he tells you..
(Norman Faria is Guyana 's Honorary Consul in Barbados . This is one of several articles following his recent trip to Toronto.)