On March 29, 2008, Stabroek News (SN) opened its website to bloggers, facilitating idea sharing between those who consume content online and creating a vibrant platform for the large diaspora to engage with their brothers and sisters here.
Communication is now nearly instant. The introduction of a blogging mechanism has shortened the communication channel between the newspaper and the reader, who is no longer restricted to penning letters to the editor to share their views, and can view comments and receive feedback in real-time from other users. The bloggers’ section is fully moderated meaning that all comments are screened before being posted. Comments that require editing in accordance with the newspaper’s moderating guidelines may be edited right away or deferred until a moderator is available for the task. Moderators of the website are multi-taskers who are involved in other parts of the newspaper’s business.
As of December 28, 2017, 131,885 comments had been posted over a 12-month period. At the end of February 2018, there were already 22,232 comments posted by bloggers. There have been more than one million comments over the lifetime of the blog.
The first set of comments were posted on March 29, 2008.
“We congratulate Stabroek News on the successful upgrade of the website. We encourage and support SN in their struggle against the Government for equal distribution of the wealth and opportunities of Guyana,” one of the first comments read.
Though they come from a selection of backgrounds and ideologies, the readers, over the years and among themselves, have managed to create a vibrant and dynamic community. SN’s blog is a space for sharing: of opinions, ideologies, suggestions, analyses, tips and criticisms.
The interface between the diaspora and persons residing here have nurtured sustained interactions on a multitude of topics including the PPP/C’s tenure in office, the Roger Khan saga, the proliferation of crime, the plight of the sugar industry, rigged elections, race relations, the prospects of the governing coalition and the daily diet of news items. It has seen once vocal supporters of APNU+AFC voice dissatisfaction with the coalition but in the main the supporters of the two major parties remain fixed in their ways.
Anyone who frequents SN’s website would note that there are several bloggers who provide feedback on stories almost daily.
The top ten commenters, in order, are: BORAPORK, Emile_Mervin, csingh, WCstar, Burch01, John Budzo Singh, Patriot (cuffy jumbie), Witch_Dr, Carifta and The Shootist.
The Shootist features prominently in the comments section and might be the most controversial among the bunch as his comments have, over the four years he has been blogging, acquired a total of 935 flags (down votes).
Like many of the other bloggers, his opinions are raw and uncensored and challenge the status quo.
Some of the readers that dominate the comments feed have been around since the establishment of the blogosphere, including BORAPORK, The Shootist, Carifta, MARABUNTA and Pouderoyen Man.
Over the years, some have come and gone and come again; others have changed their usernames and emails, but their political persuasions remain the same. And politics, more often than not, is the driving force behind the discussions.
Most times, the interaction among the bloggers read almost like banter. They have become acquainted with each other’s’ weaknesses, are aware of the other’s political leanings, and use every available opportunity to throw jabs.
In between bickering and jest, recommendations for bettering national policy are always on the table, as the bloggers display interest in advancing the country socially, economically and politically.
Tastes Like Home
Within the sphere, there is a niche of bloggers who congregate once a week to share their love of home and food.
“Tastes Like Home” a column by Cynthia Nelson, draws the “food-ins”, who discuss meals and share food tips. The atmosphere there (perhaps because everyone there is food-filled) is void of negativity and permeates joy, so to speak.
“Dearly Beloved Sister Cynthia,” blogger C.A Griffith greets the author under every post. Griffith’s comments are usually filled with lessons on the country of old and food culture origins. The thread too, is also the only one where a culture of author interacting with reader has developed.
“I also informed you that the origins of salted pig tails and beef in wooden barrels originated in our land of birth when refrigeration through V-E Day was an alien concept in the land, and the only two places I recall ice was made was – Wieting & Richter on Water Street in the beautiful BAY by the TIGER and the ice house at Atkinson Field – up the hill after making a left turn at the junction where the Police Station is/was located,” Griffith reminisced, quite poetically, under one post, adding:
“Further, the brine was sought after by BOXERS who soaked their fists and face, yes face, to harden the skin for delivering or taking licks like peas. Ask any Dorcas Club visitor or any of my sparring padnas about the usage of brine.”
Over in the science orb of the SN blogosphere, lurks one, Highlander.
A healthcare practitioner, judging by his posts, Highlander’s contributions to the SN blog often feel like a crash course on the realities of emergency healthcare, with comparisons frequently being drawn between Guyana’s local healthcare system and Canada’s.
Highlander’s comments can get technical, with its use of medical jargon, but are insightful nonetheless, with the blogger often describing real-life scenarios they have encountered in their practice, a supplement to the point being presented.
This blogger’s presence is highly visible on matters of scientific interest, and their comments are usually quite detailed (and referenced).
Highlander’s most valuable inputs seem to appear under stories that draw attention to systemic shortcomings in Guyana’s healthcare system, where the blogger analyses its inadequacies and offers constructive criticism on how they can be addressed or offers an opinion on better approaches that could have been taken.
One such example can be found under a story documenting the death of six-year-old Princess Marcelle Kissoon last November. Kissoon died following the administration of filarial medication during a mass health campaign to distribute the drug.
Highlander, in his comments under the article, criticized the way the matter was handled by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), stating that the case, dealt with differently, could prevent future deaths of a similar nature.
This newspaper reported that according to the MOPH, a post-mortem conducted on the child revealed that there was no link between Kissoon’s death and the ingestion of the filarial tablet, Albendazole. However, that position was said to be a preliminary ruling.
“For the medical staff at the Ministry of Health (MOH) to simply deny a connection between the role of the Albendazole and DEC [diethylcarbamazine] in the pathogenesis of an INFLAMMATORY REACTION leading to the child’s premature death indicates not only a lack of medical knowledge in clinical Parasitology/Immunology but a lack of ethics in taking the responsibility for the prevention of possible FUTURE cases in the population during the nationwide campaign against Lymphatic Filariasis,” Highlander opined, in one of several comments posted under the article.
“…Doctors in Guyana should think about the effects of the treatment with respect to the IMMUNOLOGICAL responses by the body instead of simply “playing Politics with Medicine”. Doctors in Africa are familiar with the Mazzotti reaction and it has been medically noted and documented, NOT DENIED,” Highlander continued.
The Mazzotti Reaction, or “Mazzotti reactions in onchoceriasis” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), refers to the “post-treatment reactions” that “result from the immunological inflammatory mechanisms activated in the process of clearing and killing the skin-swelling or blood-borne microfilariae”. The website further states that “…these reactions may be either localized to the skin, eyes or lymphatics or generalized systemically (e.g. headache, fever, adenopathy, arthralgia, tachypnoea, tachycardia, hypotension and even death).”
In Highlander’s criticism of the Ministry’s findings, he noted that killing microfilaria using drugs creates an inflammatory effect, and related that for this reason, it is customary for bloodwork to be conducted on patients before filarial medications are administered, and a pre-treatment of antihistamines or corticosteroids are issued in response.
“…However with the mass drug administration (MDA) campaign, no blood samples are taken, it assumes that 90% or everyone is infected and requires prophylaxis but doesn’t assume the possibility of someone developing an allergic reaction for 3-7 days; according to MOH in Guyana there has never been a case of such. The role of health care providers is to do NO harm and not to think that the MDA is flawless,” Highlander stated.
On the topics for which they feel deeply, the views can be cutthroat.
Nevertheless, there is never any love lost so to speak, and the atmosphere remains one of friendly rivalry and something at least akin to respect.
The blogosphere is a platform for the vocal; those who prefer to be both seen and heard and who believe wholeheartedly in the freedom of speech and their democratic right to be consulted on matters that affect them.
Oftentimes, it becomes a historical space; one where past experiences, sometimes undocumented, are brought back to life. It is the same history, however, that often leads to feuding among members, as their differences in political ideals reveal rifts.
The community has its own unique language culture, which mainly consists of bloggers playing on words for humorous effect or assigning nicknames to government leaders.
From this, for example, Mayor Patricia Chase-Green has earned herself the monikers “Nurse Pat”, “Bungling Patty” or simply “Pat” (one half of the Pat and Roy [Town Clerk Royston King] duo) and President David Granger is most often referred to as “souljah boy”.
Some popular bloggers are believed to have passed on as they no longer appear. One of these was the fervent PPP/C supporter `Reddy’ who coined the description `bun boy’ to refer to the case of a teen who had been tortured by the police at a West Demerara station. As callous as it was the term was often referred to by other bloggers. Reddy is no longer heard from.
The moderating guide to bloggers is as follows:
The Comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper’s content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness.
We reserve the right to edit/delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity. Users who continuously violate the rules will be banned from commenting.
We moderate ALL comments, so your comment will not be published until it has been reviewed by a moderator.
Hundreds have added their voices. Anyone interested in joining the debates can do so at www.stabroeknews.com