Access to the Internet gives the power of communication. These are the words that can change the reality. But how to be a good blogger? What does it even mean? And when does the border between a blogger and a journalist start to fade away?
Holidays in Cuba are currently very popular in Poland. ‘This is the last call’, says everyone. Beautiful cars, salsa, cigars… these are the things commonly associated with Cuba. These are the symbols that we are going to find in tourist leaflets. This also the Cuba that so-called ‘lifestyle bloggers’ are writing about on the Internet. And, according to most people, this the Cuba that it is now the last call for.
In reality, it is the last call for seeing the country afflicted by the absolute power and regime of Fidel Castro, struck by poverty and stagnation. The country that is counting down to the day of death of its absolute ruler.
“The world has no idea about how Cuba looks in reality” – says Raul Rivero, a Cuban poet and journalist, in a fantastic book by Maciej Stasiński “Diabeł umiera w Hawanie” (“The Devil dies in Havana”). It is by getting into the history of Cuba and sneaking out of the luxurious resort Varadero that we are able to see a small sample of the aftermath of the 1956-1959 revolution. And even the above mentioned Devil…
I don’t intend to write about the history of Cuba and its economic situation but about… communication. Thanks to people such as Raul Rivero, who is also a founder of the first independent press agency, Cuba Press, and of course the most famous Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez, we receive a lesson on respect that we should have for the media, and especially the new media.
A blogger or a journalist?
In September on Blog Forum Gdańsk (the greatest conference for bloggers in Poland) we witnessed a fierce discussion under the title “Journalism and writing 3.0. A mission, craft, job or…?”. This topic is old and has always been causing much controversy. Is a journalist better than a blogger, is a blogger better than a journalist – this might be a simplified version of this discussion, and it actually remained on the same rhetoric level, despite the presence of distinguished guests.
Journalism in the form discussed in the panel is a privilege of the few. The mission of journalism has for long been overtaken by sales charts, clicks and views. When it comes to challenging topics, they have been pushed out by tabloidization, and the objectivity of the media is covered with true patriotism on one side, and homosexual capitalism on the other.
Journalists and media workers look down to the bloggers, who are, in their opinion, the embodiment of a cult of amateurishness. Bloggers, on the other hand, look with contempt at the scribblers dependent on the foreign corporations. These are two totally different worlds. But are they for sure? These two worlds are connected by one powerful, common factor – the freedom of speech. The freedom that should obligate one to be responsible for the word.
Just in the same way as we have different journalism genres and different roles of media, we can also observe a great diversity in the blogosphere. I am not against the notion of ‘lifestyle’ but it is a fact that such activity, more often than not, promotes consumptionism (just in the way colour magazines do!), simplifies the reality, and does not broaden the reader’s mind in any ambitious way. Next to all this, however, we have a host of bloggers with exquisite content or even bloggers who are involved in social issues. Both of these types are needed. However, if we are talking about raising the overall quality of the blogosphere, or about the change of roles in general, where the audience becomes the creator, both parties should be aware of their great responsibility for the content they create. The responsibility for the audience they influence. The responsibility for the effects of creating content. The responsibility for the privilege of being a creator.
Social movements in the Internet era
Manuel Castells, a renowned sociologist, has been studying the Internet society for over twenty years. His latest book “Networks of Outrage and Hope” was devoted to revolutions and social movements around the world, all of which have a common factor – they used new methods of communication. Similarly to his previous work, bearing the telling title “Communication Power”, Castells shows the importance of new media in today’s world, if the society uses it in a clever way. And of course, if the society has the access to it.
“In our time, multimodal, digital networks of horizontal communication are the fastest and most autonomous, interactive, reprogrammable and self-expanding means of communication in history” – writes Castells, using his trademark, complex style. If we look into the history of social movements, into the “Twitter revolutions”, we can see how a powerful artillery new media are. How greatly they impact the reality.
Castells calls this phenomenon “self-communication”. It is a unit that creates a message, but it has a collective character. The sociologist also underlines the fact that exactly this type of communication is the most difficult for the governments to control.
“Mass self-communication provides the technological platform for the construction of the autonomy of the social actor, be it individual or collective, vis-a-vis the institutions of society. This is why governments are afraid of the Internet, and this is why corporations have a love-hate relationship with it and are trying to extract profits while limiting its potential for freedom (for instance, by controlling file sharing or open source networks” – writes Castells.
Today Cuba is fighting for the freedom of speech, common access to the Internet, and, finally, the private property rights. The major obstacle impeding this struggle is the lack of free flow of information and social communication, as it is monopolized by the dictatorship.
The subject of the Internet, and even WiFi, was mentioned during the September’s visit of Pope Francis on Cuba. With great disbelief, I was listening the speech of Raul Castro and the Pope, who were talking about WiFi. From the standpoint of a blogger, who is sitting in a comfy chair, the access to the Internet is taken for granted. I dare say that the majority don’t even remember the fight for freedom of speech in our country. I don’t remember.
Today Cuba is at the forefront of next revolution. As Yoani Sanchez points out, it is the digital communication that will initiate this revolution. Most of Cubans already abandoned government-controlled sources of information. The monopoly on information is over. How is this possible in a country with such a poor access to the Internet?
A grapefruit chop
We are the the can-do Poles. In the times where store shelves were empty we had to get by. A similar situation still prevails on Cuba. The Army even published a “handbook for families”, in which they taught people how to get by…. when there is nothing at all. Due to the lack of meat on the island, the Cubans were for example learning how to prepare chops from grapefruits. This and other solutions were eventually described in the book by Ernesto Oroza “Technological Disobedience”. The title may seem a prophecy.
The clever Cubans finally found a solution for having the access to the Internet… without having it. The dictatorship has lost its information and cultural monopoly. The “packages”, namely the underground information flow, contain movie and music files, news from the media in Miami, press articles or cabarets. The files are sold and transmitted from hard drives or simply pendrives. How is this possible in a country that has 800,000 computers for 11 000 000 inhabitants? Well, every Cuban house has… a plasma TV. There may not be a washing machine at home, but everyone has a high-tech TV. Therefore, only 3-5% of Cubans have the access to the Internet, but the reach of free speech is significantly larger.
Moreover, the “packages” are the channel of distribution of the first independent e-newspaper “14ymedio”, created by Yoani Sanchez.. The newspaper showed, for example, the truth behind the so-called “elections” (because they have very little in common with actual elections) that took place in April. But the voice of Sanchez goes far beyond the “package”.
A philologist, blogger, advocate and a symbol of new generation of Cubans, who don’t want to die for the revolution. Since 2008 she has been writing a blog Generacion Y. Thanks to her work, the world is able to see the real Cuba. Not the one from the leaflet. As for Sanchez, she was granted the honour of being one of the biggest enemies of Fidel Castro.
In 2002 she emigrated to Switzerland. While in Zurich, she discovered computers and the Internet. Two years later she returned to Cuba. She has been awarded by New York Times, Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, El Pais, Die Zeit, CNN, Al-Jazeera, Reporters Without Borders. She wasn’t able to receive any of these awards. After being denied the right to leave the country 20 times, in 2013 she finally entered the big world to meet those wondering how Yoani is able to still publish her content, despite the lack of Internet access and a ban on showing up in places where it can be accessed.
During one of the secret conference of Ministry of Internal Affairs, it was concluded that Cuban bloggers are “cyber mercenaries and cyber agents of the imperialist countries”. Yoani broke into the conferene room in a wig, shouting “Why does the virtual Cuba have to bear the same censorship, violence and persecution of people who think differently from the government that the realCuba is bearing right now?”.
“Her only weapon is the silent word, with which she arduously cuts the bars” – writes Sanchez Stasiński. Because in today’s world the power is communication. An individualized message that any person with access to the Internet can send into the world.
And while we are focused on the discussion whether a blogger is a journalist, the example of Sanchez, in my opinion, perfectly shows that it is not about defining the role based upon the tool, but upon strength of the message the author has. Upon the power of the word, that he or she can effectively handle.
In the Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, Poland is ranked the 18th. Cuba is 169th. The last, 180th place is held by Eritrea. In our world, the most popular video on YouTube is Wardęga’s spider-dog (the film with the greatest reach on YouTube in 2014). We are proud of Sylwester, but this illustrates the today’s role of the Internet for us.
A blogger or a journalist?
Let’s go back to the title of the discussion panel in Blog Forum Gdańsk. “Journalism and writing 3.0. A mission, craft, job or…?”. Writing itself is not journalism, neither is working in the media. Let it be even writing 4 or 5.0 The common access to the Internet gives us the privilege to create the infinite amount of content. The example of Yoani Sanchez and the Cuban struggle for freedom of speech shows that a blogger’s texts may contain a source of truth.
Communication is the power. Everything depends on how consciously, in what manner, and for what purpose we want to use the privilege of being a creator. With full responsibility for the influence we have upon the surrounding reality. With reliability and respect to the audience.
Because if we are writing on our lifestyle blog that there are places on Cuba where the time stopped several hundreds ago and what a great tourist attraction they are, it might also be worth mentioning that the first cities on Cuba were created about 500 years ago. This not Europe. And this is what I call ambitious shaping of audience’s outlooks and effective using the power of the word.