Lasana Liburd is a veteran journalist, currently based in Trinidad & Tobago, who has worked for the Trinidad Guardian and Trinidad Express newspapers and has contributed to the BBC, Daily Telegraph, Guardian (UK), Voice (UK), Caribbean Beat magazine and several others. In January 2012, Liburd launched Wired868, an online newspaper, which for the time being specializes in football coverage in addition to some news analysis/opinion. In this post, he speaks to Global Voices about this exciting project and the impact of new technology on journalism.
Global Voices (GV): What exactly is Wired 868?
Lasana Liburd (LL): Wired868 is a smart and fully online newspaper that specializes, at the moment, in football news and features but also provides thoughtful blogs and a satirical news round-up. I say ‘smart’ because Wired868 distinguishes itself by the way it handles and articulates issues rather than by the topics it writes about. We plan to expand soon into other areas and we will cover them with the same professional, comprehensive, honest and sometimes fun way that we deal with sporting issues.
GV: What was the impetus for starting Wired868?
LL: We believe there is a blind spot in the local information industry and we are here to fill that void. I have been a member of the traditional old media for a long time and have 15 years experience between the Trinidad Express and Guardian Newspapers as well as several British newspapers like the UK Guardian, Telegraph and Voice. The local press has generally done a good job of keeping the nation informed in an unbiased manner and continues to do so.
However, I believe that two particular areas could be improved upon. Wired868 tries to better utilize the power of the Internet in getting news to its readers in a quicker and more efficient manner; so you don’t have to wait for the Sunday paper to discover what happened on Friday night. Also, I think issues are often presented in a superficial and reactionary manner in the old media. John says ‘X’ on Monday but Jeremy insists it is ‘Y’ on Tuesday and this goes on as readers feel increasingly confused rather than informed.
Wired868 tries to get deeper into the respective issues and often we are ahead of the story because we are shining a light into cosy but questionable set-ups that operate outside the media’s gaze. I felt the local public would appreciate if someone could deliver those two main things and I think Wired868 is already showing that it is up to the job.
GV: How was the process of starting up (particularly in terms of building the infrastructure and the user base)?
LL: Wired868 has been in operation for roughly three months and has attracted 1.8 million hits based on a fairly gentle and free drive on Facebook and Twitter. Although we have a clear vision of where we want to go, there are always some limitations that a start-up company faces and patience is a virtue.
We have used our first three months as a testing period and are now upgrading the site to better serve our readers.
It would be easier if we had a few million dollars to immediately grab everyone’s attention but money does not guarantee success and the essence of Wired868, in any case, is be solution-oriented and clever. So, we have to live what we preach and find our own answers.
GV: In what ways has the project evolved since its launching?
LL: The Good Morning Neighbour or G’Mornin’ section is an addition to the site that informs readers with short, funny pieces. Each brief offers a satirical and fresh perspective on a news item carried in the mainstream media and we link to the relevant newspaper too. This section makes the news a bit easier to digest for many young readers who don’t have the same attachment to the old media but it is also a hit with older readers who enjoy having a refreshing, honest view of local affairs. The site responds to its users and there has not been any need for radical change yet but we do plan to grow and introduce new things.
GV: What future plans/projects do you have in mind (that you can reveal of course)?
LL: For the Spanish football league derby between Barcelona and Real Madrid, David Nakhid and Terry Fenwick blogged on the importance of the match as well as on the eventual outcome. Nakhid is, of course, Trinidad and Tobago’s first international footballer to play in Europe and a former Caribbean Footballer of the Year and national captain, while Fenwick is a former England World Cup player and coached professionally in England and Trinidad.
We since had W Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier also share his insight on local football and we aim to continue to give a voice to experts in various fields for the benefit of our readers. We also plan to expand into other areas like Community News and to make structural additions.
GV: What sort of business model have you adopted?
LL: Wired868 uses the free business model. That is, we give our content away to consumers and ask for nothing but their time and interaction with the site. However, we intend to sell advertising space to companies that wish to make their products and services visible to our professional audience and who identify with our fresh, clever and solution-oriented vision.
Trinidad and Tobago is a small country that has punched above its weight on the global scale due to our talent, flair and personality; Wired868 has those traits too in abundance and we expect to be successful here as a result.
GV: What local/regional online sites do you see serving the same niche as Wire868?
LL: There are other sites that offer valuable information, but none that shares both our analytic approach and our use of the Internet. For this reason, I anticipated that it would take some time before the local public understood our vision. Thus far, the results have been quite encouraging though.
GV: Do you have any thoughts about any past/current online projects (e.g. TNT Times)? Any lessons learnt?
LL: TNT Times maybe overshot the market. I was in charge of the editorial side of that paper and we created a great team with writers like Cedriann Martin, Fazeer Mohammed and Erline Andrews. I think the content was really good. After three months, we had a PAHO award and tens of thousands of visitors. We were all very sad that the finances were not there to keep it going but I think, on the business side of things, too much was expected too soon.
With Wired868, I am in control of the corporate vision; there has been a lot of preparation work. The TNT Times launched with some strong financial backing from its owner and that isn’t here now. But an infinitely smaller budget just encourages Wired868 to be smarter and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Also, the Internet penetration in Trinidad and Tobago stood at 18% when the TNT Times kicked off but it is closer to 50% now. So I expect that our experience, as well as the improved conditions for online projects, will make the difference.
GV: What are the general observations you have about Internet usage in T&T (available data shows T&T with a usage rate of 48.5%; Barbados is at 70.2% and Antigua & Barbuda at 80%)?
LL: Internet usage has shot up over the last three years in Trinidad and Tobago and should go higher still as confidence returns to the economy. More people all over the world are getting their news online and the Caribbean is ripe for the same media evolution.
There is a difference too, between dumping a couple dozen stories on the Internet at 11 pm every night and being a true online newspaper. The best qualities of the Internet are speed, networking and responsiveness and, over the coming weeks, months and years, Wired868 intends to stake its claim as worthy guardians of the power of the new media.