- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

Puerto Rico: Conversation, Critique, Banter and Fun on the Net

Categories: Latin America, Puerto Rico (U.S.), Citizen Media, Media & Journalism, Technology

One hundred forty characters were not enough. This is why a group of bloggers, social media savants, and pop culture junkies from Puerto Rico decided to expand the conversations they were having through Twitter.  On February 11, 2010, @eldifusor [1], @fetoso [2], @joeprog [3], @nerdote [4], @redod [5], @reed_rothchild [6] and a “revolving cast of online friends, followers, and collaborators” recorded the first podcast of #EnProfundo [7] [ES] (In-depth) which is now transmitted every week. They started talking mostly about tech issues and pop culture, but now they are also focusing on local political, social and media issues. The crew of #EnProfundo (@enprofundo [8]) forged their friendships through Twitter. They take their online hobby pretty seriously, but they also have a lot of fun.

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The #EnProfundo crew. Photo courtesy of #EnProfundo.

I interviewed them on behalf of Global Voices because they have one of the most innovative and creative online projects in Puerto Rico.

Global Voices (GV)- What motivated you to begin #EnProfundo?

#EnProfundo- @eldifusor: I remember the day the iPad was unveiled.  I had just parked to get some gas at the station and took my cellphone out to read my Twitter time line.  I read so many opinions about the device that I was eager to join the conversation, but I realized I had much more to say than those 140 characters where going to allow me.  I thought about writing a blog post about it, but then I realized that would only be me sharing my thoughts without having a real conversation with others.

Then it hit me: how about we get some bloggers and Twitter users together and start having that conversation out loud in person.  We could record that and share it with the world.  Mind you, this is not an original idea – podcasting was born out of this exact necessity.  There are even some older efforts here in Puerto Rico like “The Wannabes” podcast and the more recent “Fium TV X-Tracto Semanal” [10] video podcast.  But those came out before Twitter had such a firm grasp on our lives, and I thought that making this podcast a direct response to the weekly Twitter banter could give us a nice foundation to build upon.

So I called @redod up and told him what I had in mind.  He loved the idea, so the next week we had our first meeting.  Now that I say this, it is funny this whole thing started with a piece of tech news that was being discussed on Twitter, since we now tackle more “serious” news.  That evolution happened organically, because since our very first meeting it was clear we all wanted to express ourselves about many other things besides technology.

GV-  What issues do you cover in your podcasts?

#EnProfundo- @redod: Local issues quickly established themselves as our focus, especially as filtered through the local ‘traditional’ media outlets.  #EnProfundo, we found, could function as both group think and group therapy.  Together we could talk about the gossipy news that dominate media cycles, the poor coverage given to social issues, the current administration’s attempts at… I don’t know what it is that they are supposed to be doing.  The strike organized by the University of Puerto Rico’s students [11] was definitely the catalyst for this change.  If people were willing to listen to us get things off our chest and give our impressions on what we’re fed daily as Puerto Ricans living on the Island, then even better – and I think our followers want us to tackle those issues more so than the tech/pop-culture stuff we started off covering.

We do try to keeps things light and off-beat as much as possible, if the topic allows for it (which is probably most of the time).  Exploring local Internet memes is as much a past time for #EnProfundo-ers as reading up on more serious topics – and we’ve had our share of fun discussing those.  So if you listen to our most recent podcast, you’ll probably find a mix of all the topics I’ve mentioned here.  In the end its just the six of us, with our friends, talking about stuff that piqued our interest during the week.  The podcast is always evolving and the loose nature of it allows for that.

GV- How has #EnProfundo been received by the Internet audiences? Have you received feedback? What kind of feedback?

#EnProfundo- @eldifusor: For a podcast that is rather long and full of strong opinions about so many subjects, I am surprised we have an audience at all.  I always thought that our listeners where basically going to be our closest friends and ourselves, but thankfully that has not been the case.

Although this effort is something we do mostly for ourselves, we like reading and listening to what our audience is thinking.  And the feedback we have received has been both helpful and positive.  Come to think of it, we have yet to see a single “negative” comment about the podcast… so if someone out there really hates #EnPRofundo, or even better, has a nice solid critique for us: Please let us have it!

We enjoy being able to maintain a constant conversation that echos through our social media accounts, gives shape to our podcast, and then goes back into the Internet for further discussion until our next podcast. The day we feel that conversation is no longer worth having, we’ll stop recording our podcast.

GV- I have noticed you also include sharp critiques of mainstream media in Puerto Rico, specifically of newspapers. Why? How would you describe the journalistic work of the mainstream media in Puerto Rico?

#EnProfundo- @redod: On July 18, 2010 tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans dissatisfied with the current government’s policies took to the streets in an organized, peaceful march through one of the island’s busiest streets.  It was my first time participating in such a manifestation but recent examples of police brutality that had been vividly captured by both the traditional media and citizen journalists had made it impossible for me to stay home.  I needed to go out and be around other people who weren’t happy with what we had seen on our computers and television sets. And it was an amazing experience.  Thousands of people – tens of thousands – walking together, taking a stand.  It really lifted my spirits -though I am not at all crazy about hanging around big crowds.

But the island’s largest newspaper, in an act so blatantly complicit with the current government that it was as subtle as a sucker punch, barely paid attention to such a significant event.  In the little coverage it gave the event, it misrepresented the turnout by using the phrases ‘dozens of people’ or ‘hundreds of people’ to describe it.   Another of the island’s newspapers published a picture of the crowds on its cover, claiming 60,000 people had made their way to the event.  My friends and I put the number closer to 20,000 but you can take a look at the photographs online and make your best ‘guesstimate’ – at any rate, the turnout was much larger than that reported by Puerto Rico’s largest and most established newspaper, which didn’t bother to cover the event properly.  The question that lingers is: Why?

What they do publish are ‘dozens’ of articles on local ‘celebrities’ like Maripily (don’t even bother) and her failed relationship and upcoming divorce to former Major League Baseball All-Star Roberto Alomar.  That or stories about a drug kingpin’s leaked porno tapes.  They have lost all credibility.  And you are just a couple of google searches away from verifying that claim.

@eldifusor: At least for me, it is inevitable to talk about the poor handling of news in Puerto Rico.  It is sad that thirty years ago our news media was able to uncover a government conspiracy as big as the Cerro Maravilla [12] murders and today they are not able to properly spell a foreign celebrity’s name correctly.  It is shameful, and I think, very dangerous.  We know this is not a phenomenon exclusive to our island, as news become more of a business than a public service, we suffer more and more as citizens.  It is also a shame we have at least two universities with communications departments – both offering master degrees – and it seems we are not capable of producing good communicators.

I am aware of the great financial struggles that result in the poor environments where our journalists are working – and we do appreciate when they do get it right – but the whole situation is such a mess, that I for one NEED to talk about it.  And I think this need has resonated with every member of our group. People know when they read a good story and when they read a bad story.  We just don’t have many places where we can have that conversation.  And it is a necessary conversation, specially here in Puerto Rico where we tend to be very lenient thanks to what we call the “Ay Bendito.”

That is why we are passionate about discussing how the media treats the news.  Puerto Rico is lacking on media watchdog groups and media critique in general.  I hope that our weekly banter helps people understand they also should be speaking up and discussing how relevant is the information these media outlets are choosing for us to consume.  Do we really want to know more about some forgotten TV personality before understanding why our government insists on pushing their new energy plan? A few journalists are fighting the good fight, but a lot of them just relinquished and called it quits. They are oblivious to the rich potential of the DIY culture.  That spirit that makes a blogger blog, a podcaster record a podcast – it’s a powerful thing.  I think journalists have the potential to become much more if they’d harness that spirit, but they are tied to old concepts and to the lure of working at a corporate news organization.

But these corporate news organizations are led by marketing ‘wizards’ that think they understand the web and rush to participate in new trends without really understanding what they want out of those tools or what those new tools are even for.  In their haste for headlines they also help create a technology divide, propagated by their journalists, that is based on outdated perceptions of how information is handled.  Just look at how many stories detail the hazards found on the Internet, of how bloggers are not journalists, of how they are a threat to reporting ‘real’ information.  They completely miss the point and end up not only alienating a new audience but putting in danger what is surely their new platform.

We need more initiatives like the one Oscar Serrano is leading at the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo [13].  More non-profit news organizations with journalists that are not afraid of exploring new ways of getting their stories out into the public.

GV- How would you describe the Puerto Rican blogosphere and social media sphere?

#EnProfundo- @redod: I think it’s attracting more and more people each day – largely due to the role social networks play in our lives nowadays.  Twitter and Facebook make it infinitely easier for a blogger to reach out to more people – starting out with his or her friends.  These networks provide a bigger pool of participants that read, comment on, and share the work being done by local bloggers, which in turn, inspires more and more people to start their own blog. This cycle promotes creativity, and hopefully more thinking and better writing.

A lot of creative, incisive stuff is coming from the blogosphere nowadays, while increasingly weak journalism, mediocre local television programming, and less than credible reporting during recent high-profile events only help fuel this movement.  However, for it to grow, I believe it must become more organized and perhaps… less personal.  And by less personal I don’t mean that bloggers excise their personalities and experience from their posts, but that they think of their blogs less like a journal and more like a living room.  If you are inviting people in to spend time with you, you need to be interesting and able to share your thoughts coherently on your particular areas of interest and expertise.

A healthier blogosphere will result from those bloggers that know what they can bring to the table as writers, as thinkers, as individuals, as citizen journalists, and as professionals; those who are confident enough to realize that they are as capable – and oftentimes better prepared – than those getting paid to write and communicate our news. As these bloggers start to collaborate and come together, traditional media stand to lose even more ground in their battle for our attention and trust.