Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Journalists and Bloggers

The intersection points of blogging and journalism are many and varied in El Salvador. Journalists are bloggers. Bloggers write about journalists and vice versa. Although El Salvador is a country where most people can't spend significant amounts of time online, the ever-growing number of bloggers in El Salvador is starting to influence public debate.

Discussions about the role of blogs were sparked when the conservative El Diario de Hoy newspaper ran a piece titled Cybernetic Proselytism(es) which warned of supposed dangers from blogs including "disinforming, disorienting and denigrating," all resulting in prejudice to democracy. In particular, the writers of the article warned that blogs were going to be used inappropriately by political parties leading up to national elections.

Jorge Ávalos, a blogger who also is a journalist employed by El Diario de Hoy, responded with with a quotation from Álvaro Rivera Larios in the digital periodical El Faro:

Pero es obvio que algunos sectores de nuestro país no ven con buenos ojos que se forme una ciudadanía crítica. Lo paradójico es que esos mismos sectores le teman a la posibilidad de que los blogs desinformen. Lo que temen esos sectores es la pérdida del monopolio informativo e ideológico que durante años han ejercido sobre la opinión pública salvadoreña, es decir, le temen a la pluralidad de informaciones y visiones que abren las nuevas tecnologías.

But it is obvious that some sectors of our country don't view happily that a critical citizenry is forming. The paradox is that these same sectors fear the possibility that blogs will disinform. What these sectors fear is the loss of their information and ideology monopoly that they have exercised for years over Salvadoran public opinion, that is to say, they fear a plurality of information sources and visions what new technologies open up.

Ávalos is one of several journalists in El Salvador who write their own personal blogs. Among others are Paolo Luers, Juan Jose Dalton, and Ernesto Rivas-Gallont. Interestingly, both Luers and Rivas started their blogs after having disagreements with the periodicals for which they were writing.

Do professional journalists bring something extra to the blogosphere? Reflecting on this question, Ávalos quoted a comment from the forum LibreOpinion.net on the value of the personal blogs of professional journalists:
Yo veo con mucho entusiasmo el hecho de que algunos periodistas estén en la blogósfera, porque nos permiten conocer puntos de vista de la noticia que ellos persiguen sin las ataduras que les impone el medio para el que trabajan. Es una labor ya no tanto de reportar sino de opinar respecto de la noticia, y tal periodista, creo yo, sí ha pasado por la etapa de investigar, entrevistar, tabular datos, etc.

I view with much enthusiasm the event of some journalists being in the blogosphere because they permit us to know points of view that they perceive without the strictures imposed on them by the media for which they work. It is a labor not so much of reporting, but of opining, with respect to the news; such a journalist has already gone through the stages of investigating, interviewing, tabulating data, etc.

Journalist blogger Rivas-Gallont is a well known figure in El Salvador. Among other positions, he was formerly the country's ambassador to the United States and is a columnist for the country's largest daily paper, La Prensa Grafica. Rivas-Gallont started his blog Conversations with Neto Rivas after La Prensa Grafica reduced the space available for his regular column in the paper, and he needed more room for his writing. Rivas-Gallont recently commemorated the one year anniversary of his blog:
Eso es lo que hace interesante y dinámico a un blog. ¡Qué aburrido y monótono sería que todos estuviéramos de acuerdo en todo! Esta publicación no es una manifestación de amor a la madre. Esta es una publicación de ustedes y para ustedes, donde todos expresamos libremente lo que pensamos, sin temor a represalia alguna. Un regalo de la libertad de expresión que, como debe ser, apreciamos en nuestro país.

That is what is interesting and dynamic about a blog. How boring and monotonous it would be if we were all in agreement on everything. This publication is not a show of a mother's love. It's a publication of you and for you, where we all freely express out thoughts, without fear of any reprisals. A gift of freedom of expression that is, as it ought to be, something we appreciate in our country.

(Journalists who write their own personal blogs are a far cry from the blogs sponsored on the website of El Salvador's largest daily newspaper, La Prensa Grafica. That paper, now features 7 blogs on its website, including blogs dealing with sex advice, sports, music and criminal defense among other topics).

Yet the editorial position of El Diario de Hoy notwithstanding, the media in El Salvador is sometimes taking notice of bloggers as opinion leaders. Blogger Hunnapuh wrote about being invited to participate in a radio program roundtable with other bloggers. He describes the session in his post, A Night on the Radio. The panel of bloggers was asked to give their take on the upcoming election campaigns and the party strategies in the country.

Salvadoran bloggers have often written about journalists. In a tragic recent example, a young Salvadoran journalist was gunned down outside his family's home in Soyapango on September 20. Salvador Sánchez was a radio journalist for alternative media including Radio Maya Vision, YSUCA, and Radio Cadena Mi Gente. Sánchez reported on a variety of topics on the radio, including the protests and arrests in Suchitoto, gang activity, and political demonstrations. The killers and their motives are unknown.

The fact that this murder victim was a journalist created a question -- was he killed because of what he reported on, was he just a victim of gang violence in his neighborhood, was this an attack on free speech or just an act of criminal elements acting with impunity against a young man. Blogger Hunnapuh set out in his blog three different journalists' accounts of the murder, and then concluded:
Por desgracia la investigación está en manos de una institución policial que ha ido perdiendo credibilidad conforme la han ido politizando mas para servir a los designios del gobierno actual que a la propia ciudadanía. No podemos afirmar que Sánchez fuese víctima de Escuadrones de La Muerte, pero tampoco debemos descartar esa posibilidad.

Unfortunately the investigation is in the hands of a police institution that has been losing credibility as it becomes more politicized more to serve the designs of the current government than its own citizens. We are not able to affirm that Sánchez was a victim of Squadrons of Death, but neither can we discard this possibility.
(On October 12, La Prensa Grafica reported that the police have arrested a gang leader for the murder of Salvador Sánchez. According to the article, the police believe that murder was motivated by the gang member's belief that Sánchez had reported them for a crime committed weeks earlier).

Finally, bloggers have been and will be writing about the journalist who is a presidential candidate. Mauricio Funes, a popular journalist in El Salvador has been selected by the left wing FMLN to head its ticket in upcoming presidential elections. Since the elections are not until March 2009, there will be plenty of cyber-ink spilled over a passionate election.

Originally posted to Global Voices Online.


inner-self said...

the controversy about blogging is that anyone can post anything they desire, even things we may not want to hear sometimes; but at the same time that is the beauty of it, the freedom of speech and expression entitled to every individual, and it's empowering, to be able to say any thing you can think of and not worry about legal censorship. just wonderful!

HODAD26 said...

yea, good point, my 'in your face rants' on my blog
haha anyone can do it in 'cyber space'
actually ready to get back to El Sal to surf and dive and fish, and use this new dell laptop for an anchor!
but it is nice to get streaming radio like 'Prarie Hone Companion' and WNCW

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned about regulating the cyberspace, there is a brief post in El Visitador's blog (el-visitador.blogspot.com).

Think about it, imagine the cyberspace being regulated for El Salvador, its government creating new laws stating what is right and what is not right to post or to access, followed by a proxy filtering all kinds of 'forbidden' content.

We would have new Radio Venceremos in the form of blogs, podcasts, forums, etc, which in turn would create new types of cyberattacks, using trojans with names such as 'Atlacatl' or viruses named 'DoMon'.

In my opinion what I find appealing is the fact that people are eager to speak out, and in a way, they are creating awareness, enabling critical exchanges and motivation to participate for those who rarely speak.

Anonymous said...

Blogs and forums mean much more for us salvadoreans. Before this open form of expresion, we could not speak our minds. We didn't own TCS or EDH, LPG. Obviously the government would love tu shut down any blog or forum that critizices its corruption and mediocre job. Nobody knows who hijacked El Trompudo Blog, but, there's an example.

wally said...

The only drawback I see to the blogosphere is also what is infecting present day journalism. Blogs seem to thrive on outrage, so at the end of the day what you have is a never ending mantra of what is wrong. Why are there no rants about what is going right?

This incessant stream of negativism kills hope in people, which seems to be in short supply here. There really are good things happening to people here in El Salvador, as well as the bad, and progress is being made in a lot of areas, but you never find these topics being ranted about. It's hard to draw hits to your blog accenting the positive.

Legislation or censorship can't remedy this, it's a deeper sickness of the human spirit than that. But for the blogosphere to really be the tool for good that it can be, if the people blogging really want to make a difference in the future of El Salvador by what they write, in the long run it needs to be more than a forum for pissed-off people.

El-Visitador said...

«Blogs seem to thrive on outrage, so at the end of the day what you have is a never ending mantra of what is wrong.»

And here is where you see efforts by some to also highlight the positive, which I think Tim has been doing more of.

Nonetheless, your comments are well taken. I'll translate them later and make a post of it in my blog.

wally said...

I agree with you, El Visitador, and I hope my post wasn't taken as a shot at Tim. This blog does a good job of pointing out the good with the bad, and Tim deserves credit for it.

Tim said...

Thanks guys -- I'm glad you weren't calling me a pissed-off ranter of negativism.