Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What is the argument about blogging really about?

I made my contribution to discussion about the role of blogs in Barbados a few days ago and felt that I had said enough. I was then stunned to read a letter in Sunday's Advocate by someone signing as J. Randolph Robinson, which is either a planted piece of provocation, an example of an "interesting" editorial policy, or a number of other things. My main problem with the letter is that in arguing about blogs and abuse of freedom of expression the letter includes a number of falsehoods, which the newspaper could have checked in only minutes. So, I have to wonder why the newspaper published this letter.

When I think more about the recent discussion by the written media regarding the blogs, I feel more and more that it is an issue about both form and substance. The form issue is that the local printed papers have not kept up with the developments; they are therefore badly positioned to capture news, views, and opinions. Their online versions show little investment: on any day the selection of material is very limited (so I scanned the letter to include here because I cannot find an online version of it!). Even looking at their sister publications in the region the local newspapers can see how far these have gone in a short time to harness the Internet for regular news reporting and for special purposes. The Jamaica Gleaner has a good online presence and showed how it could use blogs for similar or other purposes as the regular printed edition during the recent hurricane season; its online version also includes a live web camera.

When news is breaking, the foreign news agencies such as CNN and BBC contact bloggers (I was surprised initially to be but now I know it's likely and I stand ready to offer an opinion or facts). I presume these agencies also contact the local papers, radio and television stations. We know that similar approaches are made to bloggers as news breaks elsewhere. This shows that for a significant part of international media operations blogs are now seen as a possible source of good information, and probably more current. Times have changed. Similarly, no one makes much noise now about amateur videos being used for news reporting as if not being a professional cameraman matters (YouTube.com is better than CNN for visual images of what is happening). The argument suggesting that the work needs to be left to responsible professionals is the type of argument used by those who favor restrictive practices, such as various unions or professions. Whether laws and other rules need to apply equally is a point for discussion; there is no universal truth. Nowadays, if the major news agences wait for the formal news station cameras to get there or for their own or other professional journalists to break a story the images and the stories will probably have gone. If there were only professionals who would be interviewed at the "scene" of the crime, only other journalists and the police? 

New industries have come into existence from both the development of online journalism and the ability to easily share still and moving images over the Internet: I understand that in California most of the local news footage is now from freelance cameramen with helicopters. So, part of the arguments seem to be about losing competitive advantages and how to preserve those or adjust to the new economic order. How newspapers should retain or regain their place is the subject that needs to be discussed. If they have become less relevant in current form then their survival requires a significant overhaul.

Now the substance. Barbadian blogs for their part have focused on a range of issues--not surprising as interests are varied. This is where I was disturbed by the the letter: there seems to be a dislike for a few blogs but all others are swept up by the criticisms. The letter stresses that for blogs "Their power to influence public opinion in Barbados and globally cannot be ignored." That is nice to read, of course. But then comes the disinformation. First, the letter states "the Barbadian blogs with one exception are anonymous ... they get away with posting the most abominable stories on their websites". Is this blog the exception? No, as a simple Internet search would show. If the fight is with specific blogs that had better be stated clearly. Those of us who do not fall into this category will and do feel duly slighted to be tainted. Don't spread the tar with the same brush.

Next, the letter adds "they have the gall to castigate the responsible media and responsible journalists for not publishing the putrid effluent with which they callously and wantonly pollute the World Wide Web." Now I am in danger of getting angry. I do not want what I write and what I have seen most of the Barbadian blogs writing described as "putrid effluent". That is an insult, straight and simple. Allowing that remark to pass editorial control falls into what I see as part of the loose journalism that I have also recently mentioned. Would the blogs posted by the main Barbadian political parties fall into this category (see BLP blog or DLP blog)? Perhaps the writer had penned the letter before reading the weekend's critical article on the "politics of collusion" between former PM Owen Arthur and his protege and reborn "man of integrity" Clyde Mascoll (see report in the Nation on February 2, 2008).

I do not know how many Barbadian blogs exist. Judging by the links on one site there are many more than 25 that offer commentary, and we know that there are many more that provide information on hotels, restaurants, social activities; a former Cabinet minister (Lynette Eastmond) has just created three blogs for buisness purposes. [Ms. Eastmond is an attorney so I will let her decide if the law allows her redress in being included as a purveyor of putrid effluent.] I am pretty sure that most of them do not take kindly to the descriptions of their work in the letter.

Finally, the letter says "Sadly, the Bajan bloggers seem not to understand that freedom of expression carries with it a concomitant right to be responsible and accountable." I and others will have difficulty finding that these same two rights were properly exercised in the publication of the letter in question.


zanne said...

This is why I have stopped blogging...after receiving a few threatening, degrading, violent comments I decide to keep my thoughts to myself. It seems that a gardening blog is just as threatening as a political blog, who knew?

As for the blogs referred to in the article, what is at issue seems to be a conflict between established media (ie. the Nation and Advocate)and bloggers (BFP, and BU) that see themselves as a superior source of information. The main problem in my mind being that neither is delivering information in the idealized (fair, unbiased, impartial) way that many Bajans expect media to perform. The thing that has been most easily forgotten is that we are now living in a day and age where organizations like NewsCorp monopolize the media and many of the freedoms that the press may have previously had.

(Never mind the miscarriages of grammar, spelling and writing/reporting conventions that take place in the established print media here in BB!!!)

Carson C. Cadogan said...

This is just some old backward person from the old media lamenting the fact that the old media, The Nation, The Advocate, Starcom network, CBC, has lost their complete control over news distribution in Barbados.

They can not bear the brightness of the light the blogs are shining in their direction.

Whatever is done in secret is now revealed on the blogs and they are terrified. They and their friends will now be held accountable for their actions and that scares the dickens out of them. Hence letters such as these. The citizens are calling for accountability. No longer will they stand idlely by and be treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed with ****.

The mere fact that citizens have to remain anonymous to express their true feelings is testimony to how vindictive and barbaric, from an information point of view, the country is becoming.

As the crooked Barbados Labour Party found out much to their chargrin the people are mad as hell and they are not going to take anymore.

The blogs are their saviors now.

Esteban Agosto Reid said...

I concur with Mr.Carson Cadogan's sentiment and perspective!