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James Ziral (1947-2022): a principled editor who focused on the Black community

A Bermudian author and historian was also a prolific freelance journalist — and one of the driving forces behind an alternative voice in Bermuda media.

James Ziral was a journalist and editor at the weekly Bermuda Times, which ran from 1987 to 1996 and covered events from the viewpoint of the island’s Black community.

He also served as associate editor at The Bermudian magazine in the 1990s.

Mr Ziral produced the documentary Freedom Quest, tracing centuries of Black history in Bermuda until emancipation in 1834.

He lectured on the topic of racism and Bermuda’s skewed representation of Black residents’ accomplishments.

Mr Ziral attended the Berkeley Institute, and in 1990 he married his high school classmate, Helen Pearman Ziral.

Although previously he had gone by the name of Stuart Bassett, Ms Ziral said her husband had it legally changed to drop the link to slavery in his old surname.

“That was part of his conviction of honouring that part of his heritage — he did not want to carry a slave name,” she said.

Mr Ziral threw himself into freelancing during a time when the island carried an impressive array of publications.

“He loved and thrived on it,” Ms Ziral said. “It gave him the opportunity to cover the breadth of things in Bermuda, from business to profiling people to the environment.

“Writing was his passion. What I admired about his writing was his turns of phrase, his vocabulary.

“I loved how he selected words, and I loved reading his writing. I could connect with it, see and feel what he was putting on paper.

“That’s how he approached his interviewing and digging for information. He would not write halfway. If he was writing about something, he wanted everything.”

She added: “I respected him as an individual as well as a writer. One thing I valued was how he felt about animals and plants.

“Someone who talks to plants as he waters them, who loves animals, shows a very caring and humane personality.”

Ewart Brown, a former premier and one of the founders of the Times, said Mr Ziral came to the newspaper “when most would have shied away — with good reason”.

Dr Brown chaired the newspaper’s board as well as contributing a column.

“We were a struggling start-up newspaper, staffed largely by volunteers who thirsted for a newspaper like ours.

“James accepted the role of guiding the shaky ship to safety. And he did his part, insisting along the way that Black Bermudians could produce a high-quality newspaper, albeit in the absence of sufficient advertising revenue.”

Dr Brown called Mr Ziral “a principled editor who demanded balance and stood up to those of us who often wanted something else”.

He added: “I will always remember the man and his quiet determination to stand for right.

“May his wife Helen and family find understanding in their loss.”

Mr Ziral was a producer of documentaries for Bermuda television, and in 1993 he brought out the news magazine series 64 West, which took its name from Bermuda's longitudinal position.

Saying he wanted to “fill a void” in Bermuda programming, Mr Ziral added: “We are really going to present a view of the community in terms of editorial and visual matter that will surprise local viewers.”

In 1998 he wrote a comprehensive book on the island, The Insider's Guide to Bermuda, with author Liz Jones.

With text running nearly 200,000 words, the book sought to detail Bermuda’s story with Mr Ziral bringing his distinctive style.

Describing the “intense but friendly rivalries” of the annual Cup Match showdown, he wrote: “Today this rivalry is backdropped by jazz, soca and reggae music mingling with the buzz of the crowds, the crack of the ball against the bat, the cheers and clapping and the smells of food wafting on the hot and languid air.

“There are youngsters with tired and perplexed faces. And the intent eyes of gamblers who hope their luck will change.”

Mr Ziral had previously written the text for the book of early Bermuda colour photographs, Emeralds on a Silver Zone, published in 1992.

He detailed the changing technology of photography in the context of a rapidly evolving Bermuda.

A review of the book in The Royal Gazette described it as “an endlessly fascinating document of social history”.

The Zirals relocated to Toronto, Canada in 2000, but Mr Ziral continued writing for Bermudian publications and travelled frequently back to the island.

• James Antar Ziral, a journalist, author and historian, was born on August 1, 1947. He died on November 19, 2022, aged 75.

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Published December 01, 2022 at 7:50 am (Updated December 01, 2022 at 8:02 am)

James Ziral (1947-2022): a principled editor who focused on the Black community

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