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The Caribbean Blogosphere: Some observations

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?

NL: Aren't they? Imran Khan in Guyana has worked as a journalist. Keifel Agostini, who now blogs from Tennessee, used to write for the Trinidad Guardian.

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.

NL: It's also worth noting that many Caribbean bloggers don't actually live in the region. Ryan Naraine and Free Trinidad in New York, for example.

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.

Nicholas near Nappi

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.

10 comments

  • […] Taran Rampersad complements Georgia’s conversation with Nicholas Laughlin in his own insightful summary of the state of the Caribbean’s blogosphere. […]

  • Most Trinidadian commentators prefer (this may be age-based) to comment via email and personal networks (email lists of close friends). Hence the reltive lack of blogging about issues. That lack is actually fulfiled by talk radio for a small but vociferous majority.

    It’s not a reluctance shared by younger bloggers on the Web, or those exposed to the net from outside.

    as for the media… I’m not convinced that more than a minority of them actually understand online, far less to grok and participate.

    Caripundit has views, but they are somewhat of an outlier, and probably not shared by the majority of Caribbean folk. ‘ll admit, I looked at the Caripundit blog, but the fact that she was happy to be recommended by Instapundt and Malkin AND does not permit feedback to his/her site… Two strikes already.

    Which brings up another issue: how do you deal with people who persist in blogging from a factually inaccurate perspective yet refuse to acknowledge their error after being shown the proper facts? We’re not talking differences of opinion here, but someone proudly saying that 2+2=6. And ignoring everyone who tells you that the proper answer is 4.

    We have those issues in Caribbean blogging too.

  • Hi,

    I’m here WAVING MY ARMS WITH A VEANGEANCE. LOL. I’m that blogger from Haiti. (Okay, via New York where I now live but so do some of the people you mentioned.)

    The idea is to offer a Caribbean perspective through Haitian lens –mine– but also to highlight Caribbean actors who seek to understand Haiti.

    I think you’ll be interested in the following entries but feel free to check them all out:

    http://kiskeyacity.blogspot.com/2005/09/university-of-west-indies-deejay-prof.html

    http://kiskeyacity.blogspot.com/2005/08/figgy-on-uptown-jamaica-brown-girls.html

    http://kiskeyacity.blogspot.com/2005/11/second-generation-nation-mill-polyn.html

  • Oh and there was Haitian Mofo (www.haitianmofo@blogspot.com,) who was definitely a pundit and who was definitely blogging from Haiti and in English. Unfortunately, he stopped blogging two months ago.

  • sorry to keep posting but thoughts keep streaming in. haitian pundits exist galore. but they are mostly on humongous long established transational list-serves, namely Corbett and the Haitian Politics yahoogroup.

    okay. I’ll stop here. for now.

  • I blog from Guyana [obviously]. I do NOT want to blog about politics. It is tedious, wearisome. It is also a risk, you never know who is reading, who will as we say, “mark you up.”

    As Anais Nin, writer said: “I fight off intrusion of world, of politics, war…because they kill the individual life when it is all we have, all I have. Others want this outer disintegration because it is a good pretext under which to accept their inner destruction.”

    I want to share a different aspect of my country that never gets out…the weddings, funerals, feasts, laughter, tears…the lives of ordinary folks.

  • […] Haiti – Alice responded to my earlier Global Voices post about the state of the Caribbean blogosphere with a lively analysis of the Haitian online conversation. […]

  • […] Haitian American blogger Alice Eddie Backer My conversation with Nicholas Laughlin about the Caribbean blogosphere has elicited some strong reactions from Caribbean bloggers. Haitian-American blogger Alice Eddie Backer, a lawyer based in New York, first came to my attention when she answered my appeal for more Haitian bloggers. Alice then went on to respond to our conversation on her blog kiskeyAcity with a post outlining her own views on the Caribbean blogosphere plus a lively analysis of the online conversation about Haiti, a nation the world is fond of calling “the poorest country in the western hemisphere”. Alice took some time out from her Thanksgiving holiday to talk with me via IM on Friday 24 November. Here’s an edited version of our chat: […]

  • Jennifer

    You’ve made some interesting and relevant points, but I don’t think we have the right to tell others what to write about on the web.

    Political games are stagnant, whereas the human lives that are affected by political decisions are dynamic. Who says that a post about a hurricane is not an oblique reference to the paucity of disaster relief services in the island? As a social researcher, personal stories help me to make sense of social issues from the inside out.

    I haven’t read about anyone begging bloggers from the UK or the US to please speak up about politics. I think that the overwhelming desire to have people blog about politics is coming out of exposure to US culture and the media that more or less tells people what issues are relevant and what to talk about. The latent sense of inferiority makes us want to do something, but we need to remember that the internet, and indeed blogs, are boundary free.

    What I would like to know is whether you have a plan for bloggers who do not post about political issues?

    How will you support and defend bloggers whose views are being pressured out of the public domain because fellow not-so-serious bloggers don’t want to read that stuff? How many potentially good “political blogs” have been snuffed out because no one bothered to read them?

    As a Caribbean national who has been educated in developed countries, I feel that my experiences have given me “choices” and not “privilege”. I do not wish to browbeat others with my first world perspective when in reality, I’ll blend into the background noise.

    When was the last time someone from the US said “Okay, why don’t we hear a Caribbean national’s take on this?”

    Even though I agree with a most of what was said during the above exchange, in principle I don’t feel comfortable with the criticism about what others write in their spare time. If you tell people what to write, then it opens you up to similar censure.

    Finally, I’d like to say that if you would like to further your cause perhaps a more nurturing approach might suffice? We’re new to this blogging business, and there are few role-models. Criticism will only push us further away into our defensive shells.

  • Hi Jennifer:

    Thanks for the comment. Sorry you took what Nicholas and I said about political blogging as a criticism or an effort to force others to write about politics. We were simply making an observation, but others seem to have drawn the similar conclusions to yours, so perhaps we could have expressed it better.

    If you take a look at the roundups I have been doing for Global Voices (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/globalvoices/author/georgia-popplewell/), you will notice that most of what I report upon is not at all political in the narrow sense of the term. My own blog/podcast (http://www.caribbeanfreeradio.com/blog) is also very far from being politically oriented.

    Do you have a blog? If so, please send me the link as I’d be interested in including it in the list I draw upon for my roundups.

    Georgia

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