The man credited with changing the face of journalism in T&T has died.
Owen Baptiste, 87, former editor of the Trinidad Guardian and the Daily Express, died on Tuesday night at the Westshore private hospital.
His wife, Rhona Baptiste, confirmed his death in a Facebook post on Wednesday morning.
Baptiste started his career in media in 1951 at the Guardian. He also worked at the Trinidad Daily Mirror before moving on to become the founding editor of the Daily Express in 1967.
During his career, Baptiste also penned two columns, ‘No Sacred Cows’ – which was featured daily on the front page of the Daily Express and another under the pseudonym, ‘Benedict Wight’.
He was also an editor of the Catholic News and Caribbean Contact. He went on to become an executive chairman of the Barbados-based Caribbean News Agency (CANA).
The Caribbean National Weekly, which reported on Baptiste’ death yesterday, said in 1975 he founded Inprint Caribbean Ltd., which gave birth to the quarterly journal, Caribbean Affairs, and to the monthly news magazine, People.
CNW said he also founded in 1994 Caribbean Information Systems and Services (CISS) which introduced touchscreen technology to Trinidad and Tobago with the aim of reversing the flow of information in the Caribbean.
Baptiste was a father of two. One of his sons, Marc, died earlier this year while his other son Simon is now the creative director of the International Soca Monarch.
As news of his death spread yesterday, tributes poured in from the generation of journalists who worked and trained under him and are now leaders of the local media industry.
Guardian Media Limited’s (GML) editor, Suzanne Sheppard recalled interviewing Baptiste at his Diego Martin home ahead of the publication of the Lawrence Duprey Files in the Guardian.
“I was nervous, he had been my editor and there was anxiety about living up to the high standards he always set in the newsroom,” Sheppard said.
She said that interview remains one of her fondest memories of Baptiste, whom she said was tough but always fair as an editor.
“He was a media icon and we are all now challenged as journalists to emulate his excellence,” Sheppard said.
Newsday’s Editor-in-Chief, Judy Raymond, posted an obit to Baptiste on her Facebook page, describing him as tireless, ferocious, blunt, groundbreaking, inspiring and a mentor to generations of journalists.
Journalist Wesley Gibbings said he worked under Baptiste at the Express between 1985 and 1988.
He said Baptiste had an incomparable eye for detail and a flair for newspaper design and layout.
“His editorial meetings were always pretty brutal and his one-on-one dialogues potentially more injurious to our egos,” Gibbings recalled.
He said Baptiste was constantly seeking ways to expand the role of the newspapers as a reliable source of information and entertainment.
“In the end, many of us who worked with him would have bitter-sweet memories and harbour love-hate feelings. He was that kind of guy. He, however, played his part and will not and should not be forgotten in the writing of T&T newspaper history,” Gibbings said.
President of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Sheila Rampersad also paid tribute to Baptiste.
In a release, Rampersad said Baptiste hired her as a cub reporter at the Express when she began her media career.
“I feel a personal sense of loss at the passing of this newsroom giant who took a chance to hire me, a young, inexperienced child who arrived outside the Express Independence Square office with my A’Level certificates in a manila envelope,” Rampersad wrote.
She said she will always be grateful to Baptiste for his faith in her, his instruction on the fundamentals of journalism and his encouragement over the years.
“He was among those intrepid newspaper people characterised by their onery in the newsroom, their irreverence towards power and a sense of gallows humour familiar to journalism professionals around the world.”
Rampersad said Baptiste must have been proud of the generations of journalists he nurtured and have now become the leaders of the industry.
“His legacy lives in many of us. As we extend condolences to his wife, Rhona, and his surviving son, Simon, we recommit to our duty of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and doggedly pursuing truth, transparency and accountability.”
Baptiste was also credited with assisting in the setting up of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT’s) Ken Gordon School of Journalism and Communications Studies in 2011.
“Baptiste made an indelible mark on the industry in the 1980s and early 1990s as a fearless editor who led from the front taking on the issues of the day but one who also upheld the journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness, balance and accountability,” the College said in a release.
“For us at COSTAATT, we remember his role and benefited from his contributions as a consultant when we set up the Ken Gordon School of Journalism and Communication Studies back in 2011. In 2012, we also made one of his books, The Seagulls Won’t Come Down – a journalist account of his time in China – available to our students via the College’s library,” it added.
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Symon de Nobriga also extended condolences to Baptiste’ family.
“The media has lost an advocate, but his legacy will live on in all those he mentored and those with whom he graciously shared his talent and time,” de Nobriga said.