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Opinions of Sunday, 28 October 2012

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Work and party day at Daily Graphic

…and mayhap, Graphic News Magazine in the offing

By George Sydney Abugri

Everyone appears obsessed with having a piece of the Electoral commissioner. At least, disgruntled politicians with election-related grievances do: They are tearing at Dr. Afari-Gyan from all compass points, yet they are all apparently trying to herd him to the same place: The courtroom. There, they hope a judge will hand them some justice in the matter of one electoion-related grievance or another.

There are really very few if any tricks anyone can teach an old sea dog and one of the longest serving electoral commissioners on a continent chronically prone to post-election apocalypses is riding the tide to Election Day with admirable gallantry and taking all the flak in his stoic stride.

I will let Dr. Gyan be for a while though, for I am in a state of interior turbulence and great distress myself, Jomo:

There was a time when words and phrases obeyed me and did my every bidding. At my instance, they jumped, skidded, pranced, did somersaults and flat spins and danced on their heads in the imagination of all who had the misfortune to read the crap I write.

Not any more, Jomo. Words no longer obey me. Imagine writing “flux” when I really meant “arrested development” or abusing my poetic license to create non-existent phrases like “wizened up” when I meant “wised up.” That you most probably missed the screaming bloopers in my letter last week does not help my distress one bit.

All the same, I would stake a wager that print journalism will survive the challenges of new communication technologies and the wrong usage of English words and phrases and still rake in profits for media owners, otherwise the almighty, 62-year old Graphic Communications Group {it used to be called Graphic Corporation} would not have made a colossal investment in a brand new KBA Comet printing press. The news is that President John Mahama will be inaugurating the new printing press on Wednesday. You need to be in the publishing and printing industry to feel the excitement of the chaps at the media company: The KBA Comet press is a new-generation printing technology highly valued around the world and in use in only two other African countries-Kenya and South Africa. The Comet press line has immense commercial possibilities: It incorporates two four-high towers and one printing unit that can be extended into a four-high tower to meet future operational expansion. The machine’s ink feed is automatic. It has a fan-out control system and four automatic newspaper reel-stands positioned at right angles on the drive side of the press. The Graphic’s brand new press also has a combination deck for greater flexibility in positioning colour pages, a superstructure for folding pages and a jaw folder to boot. If the need arises, more towers can be added! What more could a printer want, Jomo? With the new press, the Graphic can print 200, 000 copies a day and keep advertisers dancing happy with great adverts in full colour. The machine can print up to 64 tabloid pages, although readers may have noticed that the daily has printed 96-page issues in recent times!

The Graphic Communications Group may now consider adding one more publication to its stable: A national news magazine!

To date, one of the most impressive and ambitious projects ever to publish a regular national magazine worth the name in terms of editorial quality, readership appeal and reach, in Ghana, was undertaken by a young Ghanaian media entrepreneur called Robert Mills. That was in the mid 1990s.

Unfortunately, Radio and TV magazine covered only the electronic media. The glossy magazine published in full colour, packed 60 clean pages of news, interviews, satirical columns, scoops, features and scandalous gossip from behind the walls of television and radio stations.

Writers and contributors to Mills’s Radio and TV magazine were in a class of their own, taking their prose as they did, beyond the familiar drabness of laboured sentence construction and clarity-obscured narration typical of local traditional print journalism.

It motivated practitioners in radio and television to aspire to excellence and helped shoot some of them to stardom. Radio and television heavyweights and veterans like Kwaku Sintim Misa, Komla Dumor, Lily Ankrah, Tommy Annan-Forson, Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, Doreen Andoh, Iso {The Ice man}, K.K.Darkwa etc each graced the magazine’s cover at one time.

If it was that attractive, why did it fold up? If the Graphic plays with the idea of a Graphic Magazine, it may have to look for Robert Mills and ask him. I recall telling Mills though, that the cover price of the magazine was in my opinion less than half of its real value, printed word for printed word. Maybe therein lay the problem!

The installation of the DBK press at the Graphic Communications Group is an event in a much bigger story about how a public organization with outdated management, administrative, operational and financial accounting systems and structures has been dramatically transformed into one of the most profitable corporate institutions in the country.

It is a long story: The imposing architectural show piece jutting out of the lower skyline at Adabraka in Accra has replaced an old colonial building which housed the company when I joined it more than 30 years ago after a decade of professional classroom teaching.

A wooden staircase leading up to an upper floor which housed the editorial, accounting, auditing, administrative and several other departments swayed alarmingly like the walkway at the Kakum National Park.

In the newsroom of the editorial department, hard-bitten editors and sub-editors of the old school took “wicked” pens to frightened reporters’ hand-written copies with merciless abandon and screamed at erring reporters who had problems getting beyond the lead paragraphs of stories and making sense.

Newsroom tension always peaked as bed time for the next day’s issue approached and the closer the time to the afternoon editorial conference, the louder and more menacing the screams.

The Graphic newsroom is today a no-smoking area but in those days, everyone appeared to be smoking cigarettes and the newsroom stunk like an incinerator for contraband tobacco.

In the early 1990s the Ministry of Information in collaboration with the State Enterprises Commission signed an agreement with Deloitte and Touché to provide consultancy services in the restructuring of the company.

Not long after the project began, legendary journalist and sports writer par excellence Kofi Badu was appointed Managing Director. The project had stalled and the Serious Fraud Office had started an investigation. When Kofi Badu was shown some documents pertaining to the supposedly completed project he said not a single one of the tasks indicated in the project document had been carried out:

No strategy had been designed or implemented to ensure effective debt collection. No overhead cost reduction plan had been designed and implemented. Nothing had been done about the financial recapitalization requirements of the restructuring project. No product costing methods and procedures had been developed for the corporation. The corporation also encountered “enormous difficulties” with the software provided for the restructuring etc, etc.

Mr. Badu then embarked upon a vigorous program of modernization of the company which his successors have kept building upon up to this day. See? News mongers too make the news on grand ocassions, yah? Website: Email: