The Nicaraguan Dispatch relaunches as Central America’s first crowdsourced news site

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  • March 12, 2014

By Ellie Holmes*

After a nine-month hiatus, the English-language news site The Nicaragua Dispatch has relaunched as Central America’s first online hub for community bloggers.

The independent site was first introduced in 2011 and went offline in July last year after its editor and founder Tim Rogers, a U.S. journalist who has reported on the region for 14 years, left Nicaragua to participate in Harvard University’s prestigious Nieman Fellowship program.

The Dispatch was revived this month thanks in part to a Kickstarter fundraiser launched in December. The site now invites community bloggers to contribute and post their own stories on the site. In its first weeks back online, the crowdsourced news site has already attracted more than 50 contributors to its ranks.

“It was a one-man operation from the beginning, but we had occasional community contributors – that's what we're trying to build on now with the new Community Dispatch site,” Rogers said in a recent interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. “I am playing a ghost editor role now – really I'm more of a spotter and gatekeeper than an editor.”

Rogers said he wants The Dispatch to be an open platform for a “relatively uncurated conversation” where the only rules are to write content related to Nicaragua that is not libelous or self-promotional.

The site has also posted a few stories in Spanish since its re-launch and plans to post more in the future.

Rogers said Nicaragua still needs an English-language platform for many reasons. Almost every Nicaraguan has a family member in the United States or somewhere overseas, and many of them speak English as a second language.

More importantly, in a country where the president only speaks Spanish, The Dispatch provides Nicaraguans a place to express themselves and discuss the country’s political and social life, Rogers said.

"Nicaraguans also appreciate our independence. The Nicaragua Dispatch is perhaps the only publication in Nicaragua that is not tied to a family or party that means something to somebody,” he said.

Nowadays, most media outlets in Nicaragua are either state-run or somehow connected to the government, and the few independent journalists in the country have to deal with hermetic and antagonistic public officials.

President Daniel Ortega, for instance, never holds press conferences, and his family doesn’t take questions from the press. In the last days of February, rumors of Ortega's death circulated for days on social media before he shuffled back into public early last week, Rogers said.

“Nicaragua's president is so secretive that, as of (the evening of March 3), people didn't even know whether he was alive or dead,” he said.

Because of Ortega’s lack of transparency, Rogers said there are two options for newsgathering in Nicaragua: “Wait for the First Lady to address topics in her own time and jot down her words or find information elsewhere.”

“After years of listening to her platitudinous blather,” he said, “I opted for plan B.”

*Ellie Holmes is a student in the class "Journalism in Latin America" at the University of Texas at Austin.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.