Mikey Hutchinson needs little introduction. His voice is broadcast across the nation every afternoon through Wee Fm but his influence doesn’t end there. He’s the brains behind WeeFmGrenada.Com, one of Grenada’s most popular websites, the founder of Hot Shot Productions and he’s also an accomplished photographer.
Yet perhaps his greatest influence comes via local news network, Grenada News Alert (GNA), which he started in 2009. A bit like a smaller-scale version of CNN’s iReport, GNA is a mobile based news network that breaks major local stories long before traditional media does. “I have around 800 people on my contact list. Whenever something happens there’ll be someone on my list who knows,” he explains. “Because people in authority are also recipients of the news, they too contribute by giving me information. I have doctors, I have lawyers… I have everybody.”
When we meet it’s not long after he graduated (top of the class) with honours and an Associate Degree in media studies from TA Marryshow College. Ever the multitasker, we miraculously manage to fit in the interview while he’s on air. I ask why, after more than a decade in the media, he felt the need for an academic qualification in a discipline he had seemingly mastered. “It taught me to be a little more responsible. To question everything that I hear or see. If your mother tells you that she loves you, check that out,” he laughs.
From his first foray onto the public scene as a Junior Calypso Monarch, Mikey has gone on to win a host of awards including the Digicel and MWAG People’s Choice Award; Best Radio Personality in 2009 and Media Personality of the Year in 2010. It’s no wonder that he’s the poster boy for Digicel as his consistent drive towards digital media innovation really does exemplify the company’s strapline – ‘be extraordinary’.
You’ve won a hell of a lot of awards. From your perspective, what do you think it is that makes people identify with you and want to champion your work?
I think it’s my commitment to accurate information, being consistent and delivering in a timely manner. Over time, when you’re that consistent, people will be able to identify with you and to trust that once it comes from Mikey or Grenada News Alert then it must be so. Over the years we have proven that our information is beyond question.
Also, I believe it has a lot to do with the relationship that I’ve developed with my audience. My success has a lot to do with people – they are equally involved. For example, they’ll suggest I take a look at an incident and I’ll follow their tip-offs. I will give feedback. I’m not just a professional reporting stories, I’ll also get involved behind the scenes. If they need help and assistance in any way I do that as well, with the help of friends.
We have a good thing going, so over time that’s what has created that level of loyalty and love. I have to take this opportunity to thank everybody who had anything to do with my success. If it hadn’t been for them, I would not be where I am today.
Taking a look at your website and your extensive biography that shows the different areas you’ve extended yourself in, you come across as a very driven person. How would you define that force that pushes you to achieve what you want?
When I was younger there was never the chance to sit down. My mum would always say, ‘go and find something to do’. I believe that’s where it started; unless you’re sleeping or resting you should be doing something. It just got a little bigger and bigger over time. I get involved in as many things as possible. I think that whenever there’s room for change, once I can get involved in making that change happen, or at least inspire it, then I’ll go ahead and do that.
So when you entered the Junior Calypso Monarch competition did you think you could win?
Yeah, it was my aim to win, otherwise I wouldn’t have got involved. But the perception at the time was that once you come from the country, there was no way that you could win. But I like a challenge, so I thought, ‘ok let’s see if we can prove the people wrong’. So I went in. I took part in the St John competition and came first three years in a row. But in the national competition I think I came sixth in the first year, fifth the second year and it wasn’t until the third year that I became the Junior Calypso Monarch – despite everyone saying that I wasn’t going to win.
With regards to your career as a whole, do you have an end goal in mind? Are there set things that you hope to achieve?
With regards to the media, and I got involved in the field for that reason, I hope to create some form of positive change because the media is so powerful. We’re the ones who are talking to people, who have the scope to change people’s behaviour and influence them as to what to do – what’s acceptable and what is not. I wanted to be a part of that. If you want to see change, you have to be a part of it, if you can. I want to break down some of the obvious barriers that are there and to build new frontiers. That’s why I got involved and that’s why I’m still here.
In terms of the way that young people and their issues are portrayed in the media here, do you think that there is scope for them to have a voice?
Well that’s the other thing – I don’t think they have as much voice as they should. It happens for the simple reason that, even if you get involved in the media and you a have a vision of change, you still have to work under the beliefs of someone else; you can only say as much as your bosses will allow you to. Even if, like myself, you’re involved in one of the mainstream media houses, you can still start something of your own. But when you do that you need to have that level of respect coming from the people so that is why I got into training. When you decide to do it on your own, you need to be able to convince people that you know what you’re saying, that whatever you’re saying comes with a great level of authority and comes with knowledge. That’s why I decided not to stay in the media and flatline, but to improve myself as an individual.
Who are some of the other young talents that you’ve noticed doing innovative work?
Some of the graduates of the media studies programme. They inspire me a lot because we share similar ideas. Some of them work at newspapers, and they have for a while, but it doesn’t give them a chance for personal growth. No-one gets to hear about them because they don’t receive a by-line in the publications they write for – one that says this story comes from X person or Y person. I think that’s a serious flaw in the system. You would want to know, firstly who the story you’re reading comes from, but also to be able to follow how a particular journalist develops over time.
Could you imagine working for a newspaper for six years but nobody knows who you are? It means you end up missing out on feeling that sense of accomplishments as none of you readers are able to identify your work. These people are coming out a bit, getting out there and making themselves known. I’ve already seen some of them coming out on Facebook, speaking out about social ills and for me that’s a step in the right direction – we need more of that happening here.
In terms of the role that media has to play in terms of social change, what are the issues that you’re passionate about?
Child sexual abuse, violence against women – these are alarming issues in Grenada. The problem is that we focus on sensational stories, for better or for worse. We focus on government stories, political stories, crimes and violence. When cases of child abuse come up they get maybe a small line in the newspaper or on the radio news and that’s it. There’s absolutely no follow-up. I would like to see us focus a lot more on human interest stories and follow up on those cases. Look at issues of lifestyle – how we were before as a people, how we’re changing and some analysis of whether those changes are actually for the better. Somebody needs to be focusing on those things.
I’ve imagined that you’ve had opportunities to leave Grenada. Why are you still here? Why haven’t you jumped ship, so to speak? Or are you about to do so?[He laughs]. I have been tempted on so many occasions! I’ve traveled to many places and have said to myself, ‘I can see myself living here’. But there’s a bigger picture. I want to see Grenada move forward. I want to be part of that. That’s what keeps me here. I often feel that I am underutilised and so too are many many young Grenadians with a lot of potential. Because of that people tend to go somewhere else where they feel that they are more valued. It happens here a lot.
There’s also a huge gap between the old and the young. I’m never, ever hesitant to speak about it. People don’t like it when I do, but it’s the truth. There’s a gap between the old and the young that keeps widening because those who’ve been there before want to continue being there. They have a problem in accepting what young people have to offer. As a result of this, you have young people keeping to themselves and the older ones doing likewise.
Unless we bridge that gap, we will always have issues. We’ll always find that people will be moving to other countries and helping to develop other economies with skills that were nurtured here, simply because we are not appreciative of our own. It’s simple. Once we fix that we won’t have a problem. You’ll see people wanting to come back home or even deciding to remain in Grenada to develop our country.
When you talk of being underutilised, if you had a nice fat check to do whatever you wanted to do, what is it that you would be doing differently?
I would create vocational training schools. We have talented people here. We focus a lot on education yet, while it’s important, we can’t discount the fact that there are many people who are just talented yet there’s absolutely no way for them to exploit their own talents. If I had a lot of money I would invest in maybe two or three vocational schools and ensure that young people have a chance to develop their own skills so that they can become marketable and have some form of gainful employment.
And what would you say are some of the greatest challenges that you’ve faced?
One that I’m currently dealing with is trying to encourage greater professionalism within the media industry in Grenada. There should not be anything less than a significant degree of training so that when media workers speak, they speak with authority. I’ve not been successful at that yet, but it will happen soon. Hopefully, if I’m elevated to a higher level at the Media Workers Association, maybe as president, I’ll have enough strength and enough muscle to make a difference and make that change happen. And it will…
So that’s one of the next steps for you?
Yes, that one of the next steps and it will happen. I don’t take no for an answer. There must be a number of ways of being able to achieve change you believe in. If you try one way there must be other avenues that you can tries to achieve certain levels of success.