If you are reading a copy of the Newsday newspaper, Yma Mohammed played a key role into getting it into your hands. As circulation/distribution manager for the past 23 years, Mohammed compares her role to that of an anchor man in a relay race.
“You know, in a relay, you have the different legs, but the last man, the anchor man who takes you to the finish line – that’s what the Circulation Department is.
“After Editorial and Advertising do their part and the paper is printed, we make the final sprint to get it to the various shops and outlets and into our readers’ hands,” she explained.
The Circulation Department’s work is a 24-hour operation co-ordinating the distribution of the paper. In addition to delivery throughout Trinidad and Tobago for sale, there’s also home delivery and subscriptions to manage.
Mohammed is a stickler for punctuality and deadlines.
“If part of the chain collapses, it affects the entire operation. The earlier the paper gets out, the better. You want to have your paper out when people are heading to work. You don’t want to run the risk of being late.”
Reflecting on how Newsday has grown over the years, she recalls in the early 1990s Newsday had no pressroom and had to be printed at the Mirror in Curepe: it became a running battle for Newsday to get to the pressroom first. Everything had to be finished by a certain time and an employee would jump on his motorbike with the negatives and rush off to Curepe to get the paper printed.
All that has since changed. For one thing, Newsday has its own press these days.
Mohammed says confidently, “Newsday has come a long way, and despite being the ‘youngest’ of the three daily newspapers on the market, is here to stay – and despite the competition from social media.
“I’ve seen the ups and down. I’ve seen the company’s growth as Newsday became the number-one paper. I’ve seen the changes and the trends, from our buyers and what affects the nation as a whole.”
Before joining Newsday’s staff, Mohammed recalls, she was working at an advertising agency in Port of Spain, and had the McDonalds account. The US-based fast-food chain was going to launch its branch on Independence Square in Port of Spain – and wanted an ad inserted on the Saturday. She said she tried desperately to get it into the three daily newspapers on that day, but only Newsday staff agreed to come out and work on the ad over the weekend.
That willingness to help struck a chord with her, and when she wanted to make a career change, Newsday came to mind.
Another incident that stands out in her memory happened when she was a mere three months into the job. Around 5 am on November 6, 1993, she got a call from Wayne Chookolingo at the Mirror, who told her they were having difficulties with the press and would be unable to print Newsday.
There were frantic calls to editor in chief Therese Mills, and it was decided that the paper must be printed. After more frantic calls, a company that could help was located, and the paper was printed, albeit a smaller version than usual, and in black and white. She recalls the anxious hours as the distributors stood around waiting for this paper to arrive.
But the important thing was: “We did not miss an issue. We got the distributors to place the paper in key town centres: Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Chaguanas. We made sure there was an edition out there.”
Mohammed looks back with pride at some of the paper’s accomplishments over the years.
“We did 3D Carnival magazines twice – no one ever did that! We were the first to do augmented reality, too. We started an interactive bingo with a live television show years ago and watched circulation grow.”
She admits that there have been changes in how people buy newspapers, and the competition has changed because of social media, but there’s still a place for a traditional paper.
Mohammed paid tribute to her team of distributors, who ensure the paper gets out to every corner of the country every day. Among them: Donald Mohammed, Rajnath Ramdeo, Deonarine Ragoonath – and Mary Hagley, who deals with subscriptions.
“Whatever challenges we have faced, we have come through. As we continue in these changing times we are holding strong. Our paper is still very much sought after.”
No matter how things change, this country wakes up every morning to a copy of Newsday. And Yma Mohammed is certain it will be so for a long time to come.