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Journalism 3.0 in Cuba: A Utopian Wish?

First we must understand the significance of Periodismo 3.0 or “Journalism 3.0.” To the best of my knowledge, the popular term was first coined by Spanish blogger Juan Varela (ES) who explained in an interview last year that it “refers to the new journalism and journalist ‘that should utilize intellectual instruments, professionals, technologies, networked information, and above all else, pay attention to the interactivity and socialization of the information that comes through the new media.'” He distinguishes Journalism 3.0 and civic journalism by calling the former the perfection of tools to enable the latter. In the Spanish-speaking blogosphere the term has become as ubiquitous as “Web2.0″ amongst anglophone bloggers and has inspired websites like 3.0 (ES) in Argentina and a lively discussion (ES) among Venezuelan bloggers.

The term also recently found itself at the center of a debate about the current and future state of online journalism in Cuba. It began with a post by Spanish-Argentine Communication Professor Hugo Pardo Kuklinski entitled “Journalism 3.0 in Cuba: A Utopia,” which was then criticized by University of Havana Professor Milena Recio Silva with her guest post, “The Necessity of Not Abandoning Good Talent (Or, the Hurricane Around the Cuban Blogosphere).” Let us start with Pardo's critical skepticism.

Luego del encuentro de la Red Iberoamericana de Comunicación Digital en nuestra Universitat de Vic me queda un sabor un tanto amargo del D-Day. Como siempre, Piscitelli propuso nuevas lecturas y enfoques, en tanto que los diferentes invitados contribuyeron a brindar otro evento de calidad a nuestra facultad y van…

La desilusión viene de la mano de la participación de Milena Recio Silva, profesora de la Universidad de La Habana, en la mesa redonda sobre Periodismo digital en Iberoamérica. Allí se negó la realidad sobre el consumo de Internet en Cuba y el control que el régimen ejerce sobre la red y los contenidos que el ciudadano cubano puede o no consumir-producir.

After the meeting of the Iberoamerican Network of Digital Communication in our University of Victoria [in Spain], I was left with a sour taste in my mouth from the “Digital Day” events. Like always, Alejandro Piscitelli proposed new courses and focuses just as the various invitees contributed to providing another quality event in our department.

The disappointment came at the hand of Milena Recio Silva, professor at the University of Habana, in the roundtable about digital journalism in Latin America. There she dismissed the reality about internet consumption in Cuba and the control that the regime exercises over the network and the content which the Cuban citizen can or cannot consume or produce.

Para ilustrar la situación, adjunto este informe de Reporteros Sin Fronteras, y una breve cita de Alberto Alvarez-Perea extraída de su artículo Internet en Cuba. “Lo verdaderamente difícil en Cuba es acceder a Internet. Tener equipo informático en casa, algo tan normal en millones de hogares de todo el mundo, se convierte en una odisea en territorio cubano. Este tipo de material sólo está disponible en almacenes del estado, a los que sólo se puede acceder de forma muy justificada. La venta a ciudadanos individuales está prohibida desde 2002. Además, desde el 14 de agosto de 2003, la llamada “Operación Windows” mantiene un estricto censo, realizado mediante encuestas y registros, de todos aquellos que poseen ordenadores personales. En ella se incluye todo tipo de información confidencial como motivos de su obtención, uso que se le da y características técnicas.”

To illustrate the situation, I'll link to this report by Reporters Without Borders, and a brief citation of Alberto Alvarez-Perea taken from his post ““Internet in Cuba” (ES): “What's truthfully difficult in Cuba is accessing the internet. To have a household computer, something so normal in millions of homes all over the world, becomes an odyssey in Cuban territory. Computer equipment is only available in government warehouses, and only for those who are justified to enter. The sell [of computers] to individual citizens is prohibited since 2002. Futhermore, since August 14th 2003, the so-called “Operation Windows” maintains strict censorship, carried out by means of surveys and records of all who possess personal computers. The records include all types of confidential information such as motives of having a computer, its use, and technical characteristics.”

La exposición de Milena Recio ofrecía un breve cuadro de situación sobre los blogs en Cuba, aunque la ponencia estuvo plagada de inexactitudes sobre los motivos reales del escaso ancho de banda existente en la isla, el mapa real del periodismo ciudadano y otros temas.

Milena Recio's account offered a brief tally on the status of blogs in Cuba, although her paper was plagued with inexactitudes about the real motives of the scant bandwidth existent on the island, the real map of citizen journalism, and other topics.

Here Pardo asks his readers why their wasn't resistance to what he considers Recio's sloppy scholarship and wonders if they conviviality of academic conferences causes its participants to lose their impetus to criticize.

No corresponde aquí hacer un ensayo sobre la realidad cubana. Pero valen algunos datos para contextualizar este post. Según un informe elaborado por Reporteros sin Fronteras, Cuba se ha convertido en la segunda mayor cárcel del mundo para los periodistas después de China. En la red podemos encontrar varios artículos al respecto, elijo sólo dos entre muchos: Los derechos humanos en peligro en nombre de la seguridad, de Amnistía Internacional. La Libertad de Prensa Encarcelada, de Rafael Jiménez Claudín, publicado en Chasqui en 2003.

En este entorno, hablar sobre blogs y periodismo colaborativo en Cuba es un verdadero absurdo. Ningún cubano, residente en la isla, puede hoy día realizar un blog crítico al régimen, tanto porque el acceso a Internet esta totalmente controlado como porque corre el riesgo de ser encarcelado o expulsado del país. Cualquier burócrata de segundo orden estaría dispuesto a denunciarlo inmediatamente. Así, los existentes pueden ser mejores o peores (no se trata sólo de hacer blogs políticos, la blogosfera es mucho más compleja), pero están enrolados fuera de cualquier esbozo de periodismo colaborativo o siquiera periodismo digital y allí es donde reside el problema de origen de este post. ¿Qué piensan los bloggers cubanos? ¿Qué piensa la blogosfera en general?. Se aceptan comentarios.

This is not the place to write an essay about the Cuban reality. But it's worthy pointing to some data to give context to this post. According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, Cuba has become the second largest prison in the world of journalists after China. On the web we can find various articles. I'll choose just two among many: Human rights in danger in the name of security by Amnesty International. The freedom of (imprisoned) press by Rafael Jiménez Claudín, published in Chasqui in 2003.

In this environment, to speak of blogs and collaborative journalism in Cuba is a real absurdity. No Cuban resident on the island can today create a blog which is critical of the regime, because the internet access is totally controlled and because he runs the risk of being jailed or expelled from the country. Any low level bureaucrat is able to denounce him immediately. As such, the existing blogs could be the best or the worst ones (this doesn't just cover political blogs, the blogosphere is much more complex), but they are outside of any definition of collaborative or even digital journalism and therein lies the original contention of this post. What do Cuban bloggers thing? What does the blogosphere in general think? Comments are accepted.

At the time of Professor Milena Recio's reply, as she notes, Pardo's post had yet to attract a comment. Since then, however, Martha Sánchez, who describes herself as a Cuban living in Cuba, commented on the island's need to find its own participatory media.

I should also note that Pardo cross-posted the article at Dialógica where it drew a comment from Ecuadorean journalism professor, Christian Espinosa who wrote:

Tema difícil, estuve en Cuba un mes en un encuentro y no puedo sacar conclusiones sino contar lo que viví: en las universidades sí había oportunidad de entrar a internet, por lo menos en la de comunicación sin problema. El internet es super lento porque se conectan solo por satélite y lo comparten entre todos el ancho de banda. No todos tienen sino los que realmente lo justifican segúnel estado. En otras universidades no entran a internet solo al correo electrónico. Muchas veces hotmail y yahoo estaba bloqueado, sin embargo, pude blogger en Cobertura Digital y cubrir el evento. Pero los profesores sí tienen acceso y los periodistas también desde sus casas. Para turistas hay a cibers donde navegaba por cuatro dólares la hora con unas tarjetas pre pago. ESto imposible pagar para un cubano, sin embargo, se dan modos, supe de muchos que loutlizaban para tratar de salir de Cuba. No había muchos blogs. Pero muchos cubanos los querían hacer. Elsy Fors lo tiene uno. Es un tema difícil sin duda. Lo que recuerdo es que en Cuba cuesta mucho hacer autocrítica pero también se tiende a exagerar lo que se conoce de críticas desde fuera.

It's a difficult topic. I was in Cuba for a month for a conference and I can't state conclusions until I recount what I lived: in the universities there was opportunity to enter the internet, at least in forms of communication without any problem. The internet is super slow because it connects by satellite only and the bandwidth is shared among everyone. Not everyone has access, but only those who are really justified according to the state. In other universities they can't connect to the internet, only email. Many times hotmail and yahoo are blocked, however, I could blog on Cobertura Digital and cover the event. But, the professors do indeed have access and the journalists as well, from their houses. For tourists, there are cyber-cafes where they surfed the net for four dollars an hour with prepaid cards. This is impossible for a Cuban to pay, however, they find ways. I knew of many who used it to try to leave Cuba. There weren't many blogs. But many Cubans do want to. Elsy Fors has one. It's a complicated topic. What I remember is that Cubans find it difficult to self-criticize, but also that they tend to exaggerate what they know of critics from abroad.

Milena Recio was clearly offended by Pardo's claim that her paper contained sloppy scholarship. In her two part response, she asks why Pardo did not question her at the conference itself and then continues:

Mi “sesgada” intervención –el objeto de su desaprobación–, se basaba en la ponencia Blogs Cuba: una identidad atrincherada (I parte, II parte y III parte), en la que trataba de hacer un análisis de la práctica de la escritura blog en Cuba por parte de un grupo, bastante grande, de periodistas cubanos que llevan algún tiempo experimentando con estas formas de “periodismo 3.0”. Ellos merecen respeto, porque existen, y no son tan sumisos, ni política, ni ideológicamente, como Hugo Pardo sugiere o afirma.

Los que lean mi trabajo tendrán la oportunidad de ver cómo se refiere allí, precisamente, la polarización que suscita el tema cubano, y que Hugo Pardo ha ratificado otra vez con una nota tan alta. Cuba y los cubanos tenemos costumbre de topar con la pose seudoliberal de cierto tipo de intelectual que se siente en el derecho divino de excomulgar y vapulear la experiencia de la Revolución cubana sin estudiarla, sin conocerla, y acaso despreciándola de antemano.

My “biased” intervention – the object of his disapproval – he bases in my paper “Cuban Blogs: An Entrenched Identity (Part I, Part II, and Part III) in which I try to give an analysis of the practice of the written blog in Cuba by looking at a large group of Cuban journalists who have some time experimenting in these forms of “Journalism 3.0.” They deserve respect, because they exist, and are not so docile, nor political, nor ideologically like Hugo Pardo suggests or affirms.

Those who read my work will have the opportunity to see what is referred to: precisely, the polarization that is provoked by the Cuban theme, which Hugo Pardo has ratified once again with such a high note. Cuba and Cubans have the custom of fishing out the pseudoliberal pose of a certain type of intellectual that feels himself in the divine right to excommunicate and fiercely criticize the experience of the Cuban Revolution without studying it, knowing it, and perhaps despising it beforehand.

Which brings us to Recio's original paper presented at the University of Victoria roundtable discussion, “The Mediasphere and the Blogosphere: New Journalisms and New Formats.” It was published in three parts (I, II, III) on the weblog Enlaces (ES). Spanish speakers with an interest in Cuban citizen media would be well served to read the entire essay, but I will translate the abstract and choice paragraphs here.

Resumen:

En las circunstancias de baja disponibilidad de acceso a Internet en Cuba, los periodistas de la Isla constituyen uno de los grupos más importantes desde donde han partido las iniciativas de publicación de weblogs personales. En el escenario de la conflictividad política que atraviesa los flujos informacionales en torno a la realidad del país, en estas publicaciones se observan las señales de una discursividad que privilegia la afirmación identitaria de lo nacional, desde posiciones reactivas y de defensa.

Summary:

Under the circumstance of low availability of internet access in Cuba, the journalists of the island constitute one of the most important groups since they started to put forth initiatives of publishing personal weblogs. In the scenario of the political conflict that intersects the flow of information outside the reality of the country, in these publications signals of a discourse that gives priority to the affirmation of national identity from reactionary and defensive positions is observed.

Cuando en el año 2003 comenzó a florecer la blogosfera, un grupo de periodistas cubanos se dedicó a descubrir y promover el uso de esta nueva forma de existencia en Internet, que tiene como sabemos la característica de favorecer el uso personal y autogenerativo del privilegio de editor de noticias. En la evolución de este proceso hemos visto la convergencia del interés oficial, promovido por las instituciones políticas del país, de “multiplicar la presencia cubana en Internet” con la vocación de algunos periodistas de ensayar la práctica de su profesión de manera autónoma, y más allá de los medios para los que escriben habitualmente.

Entre las especificidades del uso de los blogs desde Cuba, y dadas las características de baja disponibilidad de acceso a Internet, están hoy, precisamente, que la mayoría de los autores responsables de estas nuevas publicaciones son periodistas que utilizan sus conexiones domésticas y durante un tiempo de trabajo no retribuido salarialmente.

When the blogosphere began to flourish in 2003, a group of Cuban journalists dedicated themselves to discovering and promoting the use of this new for of existence on the internet, which has as we know the characteristic of favoring personal use and self-generated privilege of a news editor. In the evolution of this process we have seen the convergence of official interest, stimulated by the political institutions of the country, to “multiply the Cuban presence on the internet” with the vocation of some journalists to try out the practice of their profession in an autonomous manner, and beyond just the media, for others who write habitually.

Among the specifics of the use of blogs in Cuba, and given the characteristics of low availability of internet access, the majority of bloggers today are journalists that use their home connections and during a time that is not compensated with salary.

She then goes on to assert that Cuba receives a “permanent, (dis)informative, hostile treatment” both in the international press and blogosphere and refers to several blogs as examples of what she calls a hostile bias.

Otro de estos blogs que podríamos citar es Medicina Cubana(9) sitio también bilingüe, presentado como iniciativa personal del Dr. Eloy A González, residente en Texas, Estados Unidos, y autotitulado activista de derechos humanos. Aparentemente el responsable del sitio actúa como editor de colaboraciones de varias personas que se presentan como periodistas cubanos independientes y quienes presuntamente envían desde Cuba reportes como este, posteado el 13 de abril de 2006, y referido a la atención médica en la Isla: “En Cuba hay que ser venezolano o irse a vivir a Venezuela; de lo contrario, ¡te mueres!” Otro ejemplo podría ser Cuba-blog. Thoughts about Cuba (10) –también bilingüe– mantenido por Teresa Bevin quien se presenta como profesora y escritora de origen cubano, residente en Estados Unidos, autora de la novela Havana Split. Este blog mantiene un tono más literario-costumbrista, tratando de hacer descripciones de vida cotidiana en Cuba. En el sitio se leen post como: “¿Olores cubanos…?” donde la autora intenta enlistar los aromas que considera ella típicos del país, con una mirada romántica y nostálgica, donde al final se declara la dicotomía entre la “Cuba de hoy” y la “Cuba de ayer” inscrita en los recuerdos de los cubanos emigrados.

Another of these blogs that we could cite is Medicina Cubana, also a bilingual site, presented as a personal initiative of Dr. Eloy A González, a resident of Texas, USA and self-titled human rights activist. Apparently the manager of the site acts as an editor of collaborations from various people who are presented as independent cuban journalists and who presumably send reports like this one, posted on April 13, 2006 from Cuba: “In Cuba you have to be Venezuelan or go to live in Venezuela; otherwise you die!” Another example could be Thoughts about Cuba – also bilingual – maintained by Teresa Bevin who is introduced as a professor and writer of Cuban origin, US resident, and author of the novel Havana Split. This blog maintains a more literary-folkloric tone, trying to make descriptions of everyday life in Cuba. On the site, one reads a post like “Cuban Frangrances?” where the author attempts to list, with a romantic and nostalgic glimpse, the aromas she considers typical of the country. At the end she declares the dichotomy between the “Cuba of today” and the “Cuba of yesterday” inscribed in the memories of the Cuban emigrants.

The most useful part of the paper, for those wanting to get to know Cuba by way of its bloggers, comes in the third part where Recio links to what appears to be an exhaustive list of Spanish-language blogs from Cuba. She explains:

La mayoría de los blogs que los periodistas cubanos han inaugurado hasta hoy, se encuentran anclados en plataformas públicas como blogia, blogspot, ya.com, wordpress, etc. No estamos hablando entonces de blogs que han nacido en plataformas hosteadas en servidores institucionales cubanos, o que sean atributos agregados dentro de las publicaciones digitales tradicionales, sino de iniciativas individuales de publicación en Internet. La idea, el manejo, la edición, el perfil temático, etc. dependen exclusivamente del arbitrio de estos autores. Los autores de estos blogs se presentan al ciberespacio con sus verdaderos nombres y haciendo alusión a datos ciertos sobre algunas características de sus carreras profesionales o sus vidas personales. En un recorrido inicial por los blogs producidos en Cuba por periodistas, salta a la vista la sobrepresencia del término “Cuba” o asociados, dentro de los títulos o las URLs de los weblogs que analizamos. En la mayoría de los casos, los atributos de la personalidad de estos blogs no están centrados únicamente en el individuo-autor sino de forma muy evidente en el hecho de que estas publicaciones prometen “hablar de Cuba desde Cuba”.

The majority of the weblogs that Cuban journalists have started so far are found hosted on public platforms like Blogia, Blogspot, ya.com, wordpress, etc. We are not speaking, therefore, of blogs born on platforms hosted on servers of Cuban institutions or as parts of traditional digital publications, but rather they are individual initiatives of internet publication. The idea, the management, the edition, the thematic profile, etc. depend exclusively on the arbitrary whim of these authors. The authors of these blogs are presented in cyberspace with their real names and references to certain information about aspects of their professional careers or personal lives. In an initial run through of blogs produced in Cuba by journalists, the presence of the term “Cuba” in the title or URL jumps out at us. In the majority of the cases, the attributes of the personality of these blogs are not centered only on the individual-author, but rather it is very evident that these publications promise to “speak of Cuba from Cuba.”
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  • http://ecodigital.blogspot.com/ Jose Murilo Junior

    Great post. Thank you for introducing Varela as the frame to the report – very nice results.

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