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Publish, and be blessed

Paul Carachi (right) in the late 1960s with Miss Strickland and Robert Borg Olivier (brother of Prime Minister Dr George Borg Olivier) at a reception at the Workers` Memorial Building

Paul Carachi (right) in the late 1960s with Miss Strickland and Robert Borg Olivier (brother of Prime Minister Dr George Borg Olivier) at a reception at the Workers` Memorial Building

It falls to only a handful of people to be justly attributed with not only being highly gifted, but to have done something unique. Paul Carachi, lost to his family and the media in mid-week, was one of them. He was an excellent journalist. And he helped to fashion and set the cornerstone to a media revolution.

Paul was trained in the Allied Newspapers stable, which has shaped and is still shaping a striking number of media thoroughbreds. They include true reporters, who start from the basic rule of sticking to facts, leaving interpretation and opinion to leader writers and columnists, as well as star examples of these latter two qualities.

Paul Carachi, who joined Allied Malta Newspapers as a lad in sales, soon began developing and honing his reporting skills, gradually moving to the editorial side of the Times of Malta. He was in splendid journalistic company. It was a time when Mabel Strickland was firmly in or close to the saddle, when the scarce media stars of the likes of Tom Hedley, George Sammut, John Manduca, Tony Montanaro and J.G. Vassallo were showing their mettle.

Paul, perhaps of somewhat humbler origin, developed a thorough grasp of the English language. Once, Tom Hedley used the expression that he was very Catholic in his tastes and, when he started to explain, was surprised that young Carachi knew perfectly well the meaning of the term beyond any link to faith.

The claim to being part of the start of a period that shook the Maltese media world began when, in 1960, Paul Carachi, at 34, left the security of Allied Malta Newspapers to edit the Malta Labour Party's English language weekly, The Voice of Malta. It was a time, in the searing heat of the politico-religious dispute, when some were considering jumping the Labour ship, not boarding it.

Paul was nominally assistant editor, but it was he who gave the newspaper a journalistic body to go along with its political soul. He also helped out with the MLP evening daily, which when he arrived had Nestu Laiviera as its painstaking editor, and Lino Cassar and myself as its nominally part-time Jacks of all trades.

Among other things, I would report some event or other, but at the time and 22 years old, had no training at all in that art, whatever skills I had partially developed being restricted to commenting on what went on and expressing opinions.

I also possessed insufferable pride and Paul had quite a job persuading me to accept a change he proposed to a report I had written, in the form of a short, snappy first paragraph capturing the heart of the content. When I read the reshaped item and saw how dramatically Paul had improved it with one stroke, I realised how raw and ignorant of technique I was.

I swiftly cursed and banished my initial pride and determined to learn from Paul as much as I could.

Those were pioneering times, and Paul Carachi's association with the MLP papers was only a prelude to bigger things to come. He helped fashion and lay the foundation to revolution when he was instrumental in convincing Anton Cassar to leave Allied Malta Newspapers to join the Union Press.

Anton, a quiet, unassuming man, was another accomplished journalist in his 30s, a stalwart of the stable's daily, Il-Berqa. Joe Attard Kingswell, secretary general of the GWU and a visionary who saw that the union required strong newspapers of its own, took to Paul's colleague immediately.

He recruited him to revamp and produce It-Torca, the union's publication, which at the time was little more than a newssheet.

Anton revamped it alright. He turned into a well structured Sunday newspaper, with news, features and supplements to cater for a broad range of tastes, as journalistically Catholic as in Tom Hedley's meaning. He and Paul did more than that.

They put flesh on Attard Kingswell's and Anton's idea to start publishing a daily in Maltese. It would compete with Il-Berqa and, inevitably and to the displeasure of MLP leader Dom Mintoff, with the party's evening daily, Il-Helsien, labouring under the mortal sin imposed by the bishops on anyone who wrote for it or read it.

L-Orizzont was launched on November 19, 1962, with Anton Cassar, now head of publications of the Union Press, as editor. Paul Carachi had also joined the Union Press and he was in charge of fashioning into reporters a group of totally inexperienced, mostly teenage males and females. He did an incredible job, with Charles Mizzi as his star reporter and eventual successor, but also with the other seven or eight youngsters growing fast beyond their years.

I too gained from the dynamic project, being close by in the same premises at the new Workers' Memorial Building, in South Street, Valletta, where Il-Helsien was now also published, having moved up along with It-Torca from Mayfair House, in Old Bakery Street. In 1964 I joined the Union Press and took Anton's place on It-Torca, and later as head of publications of the Union Press.

Paul Wrote very well in Maltese, and his investigative reporting set a trend for the staff of L-Orizzont and It-Torca, along with his fabled news pursuit of the fugitive Cikku Fenech in a celebrated case of the early Sixties. His heart, though, beat to an English language rhythm. Joe Attard Kingswell went along with the idea of adding an English language daily to the young stable. Malta News was born, with Paul as its first editor.

He could now attempt to fulfil his heart's desire. Paul was raised and bred in the sedate style of writing and presentation of the Times of Malta. But at the Union Press he openly rooted for the popular 'loud' style of the London Daily Mirror, whose legendary editor was Hugh Cudlipp, author of Publish and be Damned.

Malta News was modelled on the Daily Mirror. Paul poured all his great energy into it. It was sharp, snappy and penetrating. But the paper did not catch on. That was not Paul's fault. When I came back from my first stint at Oxford University and took over as editor, I changed the style, trying to blend a softer tone with more opinion, while keeping the reporting as strong as could be.

Circulation rose somewhat, but not nearly enough to achieve viability. Other editors followed when I left the Union Press, and Paul's baby Malta News variously grew long hair, short hair, curly or straight - no formula worked well enough.

The truth of the matter was that the Labour movement did not have a basic catchment area, which would give enough support to an English language newspaper, whereas the Maltese language publications did make the breakthrough and kept the captured terrain.

The revolution started and built up by Paul Carachi and Anton Cassar has survived. It-Torca and L-Orizzont are monuments to both of them. It is little wonder that both men, first Anton and more recently Paul, have won the Institute of Maltese Journalists' Gold Award for lifetime achievement.

Paul Carachi was also a politician. He joined the MLP's ranks before he moved to The Voice of Malta. He did not make it in the 1962 general election, but was returned both in 1966 and 1971. One might say that he faced Three Tough Ts. He had a tough constituency and tough heavyweight party competitors. It was also his tough luck that, like a few others of us at the time, he was not exactly one of Dom Mintoff's favourites.

More often than not he had a tough time of it all. He recounted his experiences, from a distance and without rancour, in the autobiography he published in 2002. The title he gave it was Il-Gurnalista u l-Politiku. He was very much both, of course, and to politics he brought to bear an honesty of character and commitment that is not always an integral part of the calling.

I never put the question to him, and did not meet him much in recent years, though his son Alex did connect me to him on his cell phone when we ran into each other a few weeks ago. But I am sure Paul was the first to appreciate what was his most important role in life.

When my collection of short stories Mal-Hmura tas-Silla was launched, in a little debate that built up Francis Ebejer did me the honour of insisting that he saw me as a writer, not as a politician. I think that to say that Paul Carachi was the essence of journalism and excelled above all in that role is the best tribute one can pay to his memory.

His wife Evelyn and his children, Mary Rose and Alex, have so much to be proud of. So too, in a different way, those of us who were privileged to work with and learn from Paul Carachi. He published, and journalism was blessed.

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