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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-07-2019 10:58

The master translator of reality

Every word counted, in its exact meaning. And in times of fake messages and fake news, his legacy is more important than ever.

When I first met Andrew, he was already a legend. It is never easy to be one: legends are expected to act like one, every step of every day, in every way. This was the late 1990s, a moment when the human rights agenda that had made him such a legend in the first place was having a revival in the country, two decades after the military coup and after many ups and downs, which included the trials and the immunity laws of the 1980s and the pardons of the early 1990s. It was a time when many in the political and media establishment overacted in their condemnation of a military regime that very few people had dared to condemn at the correct time.

Andrew did not get the Herald to jump on the bandwagon, and the paper followed the news without much stridency. Exaggeration and overacting were not part of the features of journalism he wanted to project to the new generation.

He was instead more concerned about the correct use of words to present the facts reported. For the first couple of years in the paper, Andrew was the president of the board. He wouldn’t spend day in day out at the paper’s newsroom on that mythical first floor of the Azopardo Street building. One time he walked down from his office on the second floor to join the daily news meeting with the day’s paper in his hand. “ETA executes prisoners,” read the front-page headline. He looked at us all and said: “Terrorists don’t execute; they murder.” And then he walked away.

It was not only the banner headlines. Some years later, during my spell with the corporate communications team of a multinational firm, we summoned Andrew to deliver a writing course to communication specialists who needed to convey clear messages to their captive audiences. Cut the bullshit and make your words real and appealing, he lectured humorously, making subtle but merciless fun of the innocuous language the team would systematically produce. And he then took two hours to deliver a class on how to write… good photo captions!

When the Herald folded as a daily in 2017, and being its media columnist until the very last issue, I wrote a piece in Página/12 that highlighted the complexity and honesty behind the job of translating reality. Translating is what journalism traditionally does, metaphorically: interpreting and presenting a sometimes elusive reality to the public. At the Herald then and at the Times now, and in any publication that publishes in a language different to the one of the events it covers, the translation effort is doubled, because it requires one to understand the ultimate meaning of things in the native language, in order to then be able to rewrite them. Andrew excelled at that, both ways and in every walk of public life – from translating to the world the drama of the disappeared, to grasping the words and sociopolitical meaning of cumbia villera (see The Sound of the Slums, 2005).

Every word counted, in its exact meaning. And in times of fake messages and fake news, his legacy is more important than ever.

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Marcelo J. Garcia

Marcelo J. Garcia

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