October 2012

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The UWI St. Augustine Campus conferred an honorary DLitt on Davan Maharaj, during its graduation ceremonies in October 2012. Mr Maharaj is managing editor of the LA Times, but began his journalism Trinidad. He shared some of his formative experiences with UWI Today.

What was your childhood environment like?

I was fortunate to have the best of both worlds. My mother and father were two people who valued and practised hard work. They also believed in friendships, public service, in being generous and charitable, and in making their community a better place.

What or who was the biggest influence in that period?

My parents, of course. My school principal, Winston Krishna Bhola, introduced us to different worlds by making learning fun. He taught us to dream big.

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist? Was it before you went to work at the Express?

I wanted to be a journalist the moment I stepped into the Express’ San Fernando office. On my second day on the job, I wrote a story about broken cold storage facilities at the San Fernando Wharf. The next day I picked up the paper, saw my story, felt that proud excitement that comes with seeing your work published and said to myself: They pay you for this? Since that, I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life. Journalism has given me a passport into people’s lives and stories around the world. It’s hard to replicate that access – to the poor and rich alike – in any other profession.

In your career you have been involved in substantial journalism campaigns, such as the Living on Pennies series; you followed the (US) mortgage meltdown from early, and somehow managed to often be on the inside of breaking news and trends. For those of us who knew you from the early years, that nose for the news was your trademark. What extra sensory devices should a journalist have?

Curiosity and the will to satisfy it. A good journalist must be prepared to be disappointed but also relish when hard work leads to the scoop. Journalism is the sort of craft that if you put in the time, work hard, and put serving readers as the main goal, you'll improve your chances of success.

You’ve spanned quite a range of areas in the field of journalism: reporting, writing, editing, managing, in which domain do you feel most comfortable?

I love it all. I think I’m most satisfied when I gather the best journalistic minds in a room and talk ideas: how to cover a hard-hitting story, how to write it effectively and hopefully, how to enjoy the fruits of the results.

What do you think can be done to improve the quality of journalism in the region?

The owners and practitioners in the media should constantly strive for professionalism. Telling people’s stories and writing the first draft of history are important obligations. We have to get it right.

What does this honorary degree mean to you?

I’m humbled, especially since it comes from an institution like UWI. It’s a tribute to my parents, my colleagues and my early journalism mentors, many of them who took the time with me at the Express. They taught me what striving for excellence was about.