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My days in The Sunday Times

Sailosi Batiratu
Sunday, December 30, 2012

CAN you write like Mod?

That was colleague, Geraldine Panapasa's response, when I had once mentioned within her hearing that I wanted to join The Sunday Times crew.

There had been an opening in that section in the newsroom after the death of Paula Tagivetaua, also known as Mod, late last year.

In reply, I had told her that I could write just a little but never like Mod. I said there could only be one Mod. Trying to be him, who in his many years as a journalist drew so many followers in Fiji and abroad, would be an exercise in futility

Several months passed and it seemed I was going to spend the rest of my working days at The Fiji Times as a sub-editor. Then my wish was granted. I have a letter, it's somewhere around here, formalising my move from the subs' desk to The Sunday Times.

During my tenure of a few months on this side of the newsroom, I have on two occasions come to really come to terms with, to reinforce my appreciation of what is often taken for granted or assumed to be true; the power or reach of the media. Or "that the pen is mightier than the sword" if you so prefer.

At a lunch before we started publishing weekly contributions from the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Or what some are more familiar with, the Fiji School of Medicine, Dr Berlin Kafoa, to stress the power of the media, said he often put to medical students a simple question. "What is the best source of Vitamin C?" He said the majority would answer naming a citrus fruit when in fact the answer is either guavas or chillies. Berlin said students answered the way they did because of their having being bombarded by numerous advertisements portraying citrus fruits as the best.

That was the first.

The other incident was when colleague Solomoni Biumaiono wrote a story about the struggles of Jittu Estate resident Alipate Ledua and his daughter Sigalima Savukigau.

Solo had in words and pictures, three to be exact, detailed their circumstance, Sigalima's hopes and her physically-handicapped dad's doubt of managing to be a facilitator in helping his daughter realise at least part of her dream. These dreams hinged on she continuing her education beyond primary school level.

That story titled "Dad and daughter fight on" was published on Monday, December 3.

The very next day there were callers, from Fiji and abroad, asking how they could pitch in to help father and daughter.

Within a week, Solo said Sigalima, through the help of some old boys of a Tailevu all-boys school had been enrolled at Dudley High School in Suva. The members of that old boys group had paid for next year's fees and are willing to continue doing this "through high school and beyond".

Two other companies had also offered their help towards the girl's education.

In a story titled "Help for dad and me" published on December 13, Ledua had said: "I would like to thank the QVSOB and their president (Anasa Vocea) who came around on Monday afternoon to personally visit us as well as the staff of Telecom Fiji Limited."

Apart from this ability to effect change, or in the case of the medical students, momentarily over-ride what they have been taught, the media can be a vehicle for hope.

This came through loud and clear after a conversation with Marata Village headmean Jo Teana. Talk had centred on the agreement that saw his forebears settle at Wailoku. In that exchange of information where he conducts business at Epworth Arcade in Suva, Teana had corroborated information already gathered.

The circumstances described in Winston Halapua's book, Living on the fringe: Melanesians of Fiji, had also been briefly touched upon. Teana agreed with contents of the book saying that in his view there are for the descendants of Melanesians brought to Fiji in the 19 century two possible bridges to a better future; quality education right up to tertiary level and ownership of land rights.

That meeting is remembered more than anything else for his parting words. "Isa, au kerekere mo qai lai vola vinaka na i talanoa baleta me rogoci na neimami tagi." (Isa, I ask that you write the story well so that our pleas are heard.)

Our Sunday Times graphic artist, Mary Evans, who is the person behind the attractive lay-outs in the feature pages every Sunday said: Mod's death, yes, was one of the changes that was tragic and sudden.

"Especially when he sat right next to me, did not speak much, but I knew he was there and he did all the big trips so we miss all that."

She says the beginning of the year was a bit difficult, with all the changes in the company and the newsroom. She adds: "We got new blood in the form of Solomoni Biumaiono."

Mary says what helped is that Solo is a senior writer with experience, so that took care of the writing bit. "We won a PANPA award for the Kaila! Schools Design Your Own Newspaper which was inserted into The Sunday Times for about eight weeks. Also as part of a competition by the same paper recognising the best writers from schools which had submitted their newspapers to be part of Kaila!

"So yeah, we pretty much went through a lot this year, both ups and downs, but Ruby and I are still here fighting on, and now we are joined by two new eager beavers," says Mary.

The Sunday Times and Features editor, Ruby Taylor-Newton said the success or failure of a team depends on their ability to gel well and overcome obstacles and pressures within the department, together.

She says the Features section demands commitment and teamwork from each staff, with no room for individualism or selfish ambition.

Sections which fall under Features include the daily People pages, Opinion Pages, Kaila, TV Guide and The Sunday Times newspaper itself.

"She adds: "The Sunday Times team is one that is moulded to fit like hand in glove , so to speak.

"The trick is identifying each person's skills, personality and drive, and encouraging and motivating these qualities which are then incorporated into creating our products - the Sunday Times, Kaila and TV Guide, plus all Feature articles.

"What's most important is believing in my team, trusting them to deliever and do a good job of it. And they do."

"Yes, we have "teething problems" each time a new member joins the team, but which work place doesn't. The current team of my deputy, Sailosi, senior writer Solomoni and Graphic designer Mary, has been outstanding. Geraldine, who replaced the late Paula Tagivetaua, had a short but very successful stint as deputy editor with us before moving on as editor of the Business section. She was replaced by Sailosi.

"I like that each member of the Sunday Times/Features team, whether in the past or present, came in with their own style, fresh ideas and vibrancy and great writing skills. Multi-tasking is an everyday task in Features as well, so yes, they do take amazing travel photographs, as well as simple everyday People pictures, if they have to.

"If I had to describe their workmanship in one word - 'Brilliant!

"And not only their articles, but those of other in-house staff like Harold Koi, Frederica, Rashneel Kumar, Luke Rawalai, Serafina and Sala Vosamana from the North the west team of Margaret, Felix, Repeka, Maciu, Baljeet and Jai, and outside contributors like chef Lance Seeto and Seona Smiles who add variety and colour to our wide selection of stories and pictures. Their contributions are very much appreciated and enjoyed by our Sunday readers as well.

"To hear that the Sunday Times circulation increased dramatically in the latter part of this year, was a bonus.

"The Sunday paper is a compilation of easy weekend reading feature stories, Sports, Local and World news. From reporters, to their supervisors, sub editors, editors, graphics and production people, who put this newspaper together, we hope our readers enjoyed what we had to offer for 2012. And we will make it better for 2013," she said.





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