by Howard Campbell
KINGSTON, Jamaica – The 1970s were the most politically divisive decade in modern Jamaican history. A bitter political rivalry between the governing People’s National Party (PNP) and conservative Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) triggered a Civil War.
That turbulent period is one of the highlights of I Dare You: A Climb to The Pinnacle of Journalism, a book by Phyllis Thomas. It is available on Amazon.
Thomas worked for 45 years at The Gleaner, the oldest daily newspaper in the English-speaking Caribbean. After retiring in 2018, she decided to reflect on a career that started in 1973.
According to Thomas, “Readers can expect a fast-moving narration about my life as a journalist for 45 years at The Gleaner. I take them on assignments including the courts, the crime scene, undercover as an investigative journalist, into my early life of poverty, and I provide tips and best practices for emerging journalists.”
Thomas was raised in east Kingston, which produced some of the toughest characters from the 1970s. It is also where PNP leader and socialist prime minister Michael Manley was a parliamentarian.
As violent as that era was, she credits it for helping her develop as a journalist.
“The period of the ‘70s and ‘80s was dangerous for journalists. It was a period where every aspect of life was analyzed in terms of PNP or JLP and depending which one of these political parties was in power, if you were seen to be a sympathizer of the opposition, yu fi dead!” Thomas exclaimed. “But we journalists were no pushovers either. We were radicals as we loved to call ourselves. Journalism was competitive even though the media houses were few in number.”
At the time, The Gleaner’s sole print rival was the Daily News which supported Manley’s policies. There was also the state-run Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation radio and television station, and the private-owned Radio Jamaica.
Thomas was encouraged to write ‘I Dare You’ by her colleague Yvonne Nicholson, who also started her career at the Gleaner in the 1970s. The book took two years to complete and introduces readers to giants of Jamaican and Caribbean journalism, including hard-nosed editor Theodore Sealy, Ken Allen, Carl Wint, Barbara Gloudon and J.C. Proute.
Proceeds from I Dare You: A Climb to The Pinnacle of Journalism will go to needy students in Jamaica.