Guest post by Tim Rogers
The first time my wife sent me a Facebook IM asking if I wanted to go out for lunch, I realized – with some hesitant nostalgia – that we were about to cross another threshold into the age of digital communication. I was sitting at my computer in my home office and my wife was 20 feet away, sitting on the couch with her laptop. I could have (and perhaps should have) turned to her and nodded “yes, dear, let’s go hunt for sandwiches,” but instead I dutifully took the plunge with her into the next level of cyberdom by typing: “Si amor, vamos.”
The advent of the digital age, with all its mobile bells and whistles, has changed many of our daily behaviors. The rituals of gathering news, shopping for stuff we don’t need, expressing our feelings, and communicating with people standing next to us is now often done by staring at a glowing screen and typing furiously with thumbs or fingers. Even in traditional low-tech settings, such as sitting around drink table at my neighborhood watering hole in Granada, Nicaragua, it’s no longer uncommon to see a table full of silent people pecking at their smart phones.
As the editor of a struggling (and now defunct) community newspaper, I was sadly aware that our weekly print publication – my labor of love, to which I dedicated countless hours each week – was already an anachronism…even in Nicaragua.
When the paper folded last February, I began to rethink the idea of what it means to be a community paper in a digital age of globalized, virtual communities. To make a new project succeed, I decided the concept of a community publication has to be global, digital and interactive. And for the project to work in Nicaragua, it should be informative, myth-busting and insightful, but also democratic, participative and inclusive.
After months of trying to cobble together these ideas into some coherent form – while at the same time scavenging for funding and reaching out to Nicaraguan and foreign collaborators – on Oct. 17 I launched The Nicaragua Dispatch. The site is comprised of five news categories (breaking news, politics, features, business/travel, and interviews) and two reader-submitted categories for opinion pieces, blogs and community news.
The idea is not only to inform readers about what’s happening here behind the headlines, but also provide people with a virtual meeting place to gather, share ideas and proposals, and discuss and debate issues in a civilized manner – a democratic practice that is not encouraged in Nicaragua.
During the first day of our launch, we had more than a thousand readers visit our pages from almost 300 cities in 10 countries – not bad considering we have had only a little local publicity in Nicaragua, and our articles still aren’t being “seen” by Google’s web crawlers. What’s even more interesting is the diversity of our readership from day one.
This is our global community. They come from different countries, economic realities, unique cultural experiences and various educational backgrounds. They’re people you probably wouldn’t get together in the same room under other circumstances. Yet they all visited Nicaragua Dispatch on Monday because they are united in their interest in Nicaragua, and many have opinions and ideas they want to share about how to help this country survive and prosper. These readers are people we never could have reached with a traditional print product, which in many ways limits diversity in readership and discourages participation.
When my wife hugged me and gave me a congratulatory kiss after I, with trembling fingers, took down the “Under Construction” page and went live on Monday, I hugged her back and thought: This feels much nicer than all the supportive emails and Facebook comments. In some instances, there’s no modern substitute for communicating the old fashioned way.