Tuesday, April 23, 2024

THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: The Best of times as a cub reporter


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A FEW OF US from the old gang recently reunited for a visit that was long in coming. We went to look up our mentor Robert A.I. Best.

That used to be Mr Best for those of us who first sauntered through the glass doors of the Old Lady on Fontabelle almost 30 years ago.

Coincidentally, it was his birthday and Bessie – ah yes, I can call him that now – was still in good form though not as active. As we arrived at his home, Reverend Jeffrey Gibson, rector of St Leonard’s Anglican Church, was just leaving after another of his house visits to see Bessie.

It was the turn of us three.

It was back in 1986 that six of us, some of school leaving age and a few just above that, took up internships with the Advocate.

There was David Gibbs, now a foreign service officer; Jewel Fraser who when last we checked was working overseas; Patrick Knight, now with UNICEF; Sherlock Small, now with Red Advertising; Marilyn Roberts, who returned to her native England and visits from time to time, and me, the only one remaining in mainstream journalism.

On the day of calling on Bessie, Patrick and Sherlock and yours truly were able to keep the short appointment with Mr Best and, as I remembered, the feisty as ever Mrs Best who is still in good nick.

There was cake, from the hands of Mrs Best, and wine to greet us.

Mr Best remained his usual quiet self after the pleasantries.

Following his retirement from the Advocate, he did some part-time quality control work with the Nation and so I was in contact with him for a while. Once he remarked in the change in fortunes how the students had come into their own and the master was making his exit.

It was from Mr Best that I learnt something about humility and that as a journalist, not everything I write would be favourably received. On the other hand, if I criticise, I should expect to be criticised at some stage so I need not be thin-skinned.

One day while I was at work, from his office came that familiar drawl on my name. I was a few weeks into the internship and any call to that office, immediately I felt intimidated. Oftentimes there was no need to.

Checking for errors

As I entered the office, Mr Best was saying something about reading the editorial to ensure that there were no errors. He never looked up from the stack in front of him.

I instinctively looked around, for I felt surely he was not speaking to me. When I realised I was the only other person in the office, I asked him if he meant me.

Yes, he responded, and I, too afraid to challenge authority, said nothing.

The editorial of a newspaper is sacrosanct. Those few hundred words on the dedicated editorial page reflect the opinion of the newspaper and are meant to influence public opinion or promote critical thinking. Trifling with the article that gives the newspaper’s official opinion on matters of national importance is not encouraged. I knew that even then.

Sensing my anxiety at this major undertaking, Mr Best assured me that I could review his work. More importantly, he pointed out to me that no matter what station of life you are at, what age you are, what experience you have, you can and will make mistakes. Never should you be so arrogant as to believe that your particular set of circumstances exempted you from slip-ups, major or minor.

This assignment was as much about encouraging my strengths as it was about Mr Best’s admission that he may have a flaw. He was not afraid to let a subordinate know that he was not perfect and that as managing editor, he was not exempted from making a mistake or two.

I took his point then, and I still do today.

Antoinette Connell is a News Editor. Email antoinetteconnell@nationnews.com.


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