Anglophone Caribbean bloggers have been relatively quiet this week, so I took the opportunity to chat via IM with my fellow Trinidadian blogger Nicholas Laughlin about some of of the trends we've observed in the Caribbean blogosphere. What follows is an edited version of our conversation:
GP: You've been blogging for three years, which makes you one of the Caribbean's longest-standing bloggers, and you also follow the activity in the blogosphere. What are some of the patterns you've noticed?
NL: Well, for one thing, there's no equivalent in the Caribbean blogosphere of the political bloggers who are the public face of the medium in the US.
GP: It's true that much of what Caribbean bloggers are doing couldn't be classed as citizen journalism–
NL: There are Caribbean bloggers who comment on public affairs, but no one for whom political blogging is a raison d'etre. Except maybe CaribPundit–even the name's an allusion to InstaPundit. Though I wonder what kind of an audience she has. I can't imagine her [right-of-center] views can be terribly popular here.
GP: Which also brings up the issue of ideological imbalance. But the thing about CaribPundit is that she scans the Caribbean press very closely and captures many or most of the big stories, which nobody else seems to be doing. In general there's relatively little reference to current affairs, except where people are personally implicated or affected. For instance, in recent times Jamaican and Caymanian bloggers have posted about hurricanes, but in most cases they related personal circumstances. And among the bloggers who comment on tech issues, I'd say only Taran Rampersad and Jacqueline Morris are really looking at things from a Caribbean/developmental perspective.
NL: For most Caribbean bloggers blogs really are weblogs–journals that happen to be online and hence public.
GP: Which I find interesting. Some of the self-exposure we're seeing among Caribbean bloggers seems to go against the grain of our “small island” caution about revealing certain kinds of personal information. Is this a sign of a changing social structure?
NL: On the other hand, so many Caribbean bloggers do it anonymously. Exhibitionism, but behind the safety of a mask.
GP: While several Caribbean bloggers do use handles, I'm sure a good part of their audience knows very well who they are–they're probably more nicknames than Salam Pax-like pseudonyms. But what you've been doing lately and what you were doing in the early part of your career as a blogger is certainly citizen journalism.
NL: Which brings us to this crucial point–both your blog/podcast and my blog are run by people who are, in their professional lives, journalists (of a sort).
GP: That's true. But why aren't more journalists blogging?
GP: You're right. Ryan Naraine is a sports journalist and tech writer. Michelle McDonald from Jamaica also does quite a bit of cricket journalism. Another trend I've noticed in certain territories–Bermuda, Belize–is expatriate bloggers.
GP: You blogged this week about brain drain: are you concerned that perhaps the “best minds” in the Caribbean aren't blogging?
NL: Well, that raises the question of whether the best minds in the Caribbean should spend their time blogging–or doing something else. The Caribbean blogosphere hardly has a mass audience.
GP: So now we come to the digital divide. It's true that in the Caribbean the best way to reach a mass audience locally is still radio, newspapers, television–perhaps in that order.
NL: Or even live appearances–speeches, performances.
GP: And even before issues of access to technology and computer literacy, there are of course also basic literacy issues, in spite of how things look on paper.
NL: Even then, only a very small proportion of Caribbean people with Internet access are accustomed to reading extensively online. The online editions of Caribbean newspapers, for instance, are read mostly by people in the diaspora. The thing is, I've long believed it's small, relatively remote countries that stand to benefit most from the Internet. Remember how difficult it was just 15 years ago to feel connected with the outside world?
GP: Back in 1996 I met an old Italian artist/revolutionary called Gianni Toti who he told me the Internet would bring more harm than good to countries like mine. He harbored romantic notions about the Caribbean, having been in Cuba around the time of the revolution–in fact he appeared as himself in the film “Memories of Underdevelopment“. I believe he thought it would destroy the sense of community.
NL: And what about the ways the Internet may be helping forge a sense of regional identity?
GP: That is where we're missing out, I think.
NL: How else, for instance, could I read the Guyanese and Jamaican newspapers online? And inasmuch as there is a sense of a Caribbean blogosphere, interconnected and interacting, that's definitely regional–look at the way bloggers link to bloggers not just from their island but from the wider Caribbean.
GP: Tell me now about your “Guyana Project“. You seem to be using your blog to collect/archive information about Guyana, which I know is for a book you're writing.
NL: I'm using the blog as a sort of commonplace book perhaps, an extension of the Guyana research I'm doing, mostly linking to stories that catch my interest, that speak to the aspects of Guyana that fascinate me.
GP: While we're on publishing, it's interesting that The CAC Review [a journal about Amerindian issues] has decided to publish itself as a blog instead of struggling to bring out a print edition.
NL: Do you think a sense of a bigger audience would change the way most Caribbean bloggers blog? Prompt then to be more “useful” or “relevant”?
GP: Jonathan Ali, who blogs very thoughtfully but not frequently–it might spur someone like him on. But I think that the sense of having a small but faithful audience could also be a motivation. To end, however, here's my wish list: blogs out of Haiti and Cuba, the two Caribbean countries it's most difficult to get reliable news coverage about and whose citizens we rarely get a chance to hear speak.
NL: I'd like to see an aggregator site collecting posts from a team of tried-and-true citizen journalist bloggers from across the islands. Maybe the idea that some of these Caribbean bloggers are being linked to at Global Voices and stand to gain a potentially larger international audience might encourage them to look at things differently–and, also, by looking at what bloggers from around the world are doing, expand their notion of what blogs are capable of.