How The Panama News works these days
by Eric Jackson
For more than a decade and a half, the content that goes into the various parts of The Panama News operation has been in terms of daily labor mostly a one-man show but with the labor of many contributors, local and from afar, edited by one person but often submitted or suggested by other volunteers. Since the series of hacker attacks that started months earlier but shut down our website starting in late 2014 until the middle of 2015, we have not been selling or accepting commercial messages. Nowadays The Panama News is a reader-supported small and informal enterprise operating on four platforms:
- … and then there is The Panama News email list. To get on it, ask at firstname.lastname@example.org or notice when it gets posted on the Facebook page and the Twitter feed and follow the link.
The Panama News started out at the end of 1994 as a print tabloid. The print edition went defunct in early 2001. The email list began in 1998 and the website began in 2000. The Facebook page was established in 2009 and a Twitter address was reserved at about the same time but lay dormant for a number of years. At one time the editor had a radio show in Panama City and that echoes on in the ¿Wappin? playlists on the website that also get posted on our other platforms. There is a dormant YouTube feed that some day might get activated for that and/or other purposes.
Hackers have shut down the website several times and destroyed the email address from which the original email list was sent. The worst of the hacker attacks, which was a series that probably began in late 2013 but shut the website down starting in late 2014 until it was re-established in mid-2015 also erased many of our archives. Some of our files that died with the old website, however, were saved by the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. (Perhaps some day this archive will be easier to search — it’s a nonprofit foundation, so that would likely depend on their donations.)
We have used various defensive strategies over the years, but the money to approach impregnability — an impossible Holy Grail even if we had the money — has never made that sort of website defense very realistic. Instead our main defense is resilience, backups and multiple ways of publishing that make it harder to take us out entirely across all platforms at one time. During the prolonged struggle with hackers that took the old website down we kept on publishing, with stories appearing as notes or photos on our Facebook page. We had to go that backup again this past June when some malicious code was inserted into our website and it took us a while to figure it out and get rid of it.
Today, across all of The Panama News platforms, we publish much more material than we used to. But most of that is not actually ours. Like Google, like Truthout, Reader Supported News, Nation of Change and many others, a lot of what we do is News aggregation. (Google goes well out of its way to suppress all others and claim dibs on all news aggregation, but when you look at what they promote about Panama they are laughably inept). News aggregation is a form of editing, in The Panama News with a Panama-centric, progressive and bilingual editorial slant. “Panama-centric” does not mean entirely about Panama, but rather, looking out and about from Panama. We look at the neighborhood — Latin America and the Caribbean — that other news aggregators, especially in English, tend to studiously ignore. We pay attention to the maritime and shipping sectors because those are central to the Panamanian economy, even when so far away as melting Arctic ice allowing for new shipping routes that may compete with our canal. We pay attention to science and the environment. We look at the world — after all, Panama is The Crossroads of The World.
Our general attitude is that the most important story in Panama is the economy, but “economy” encompasses far more than the world of men in suits handling large amounts of money. What we eat, what we grow, the state of our oceans, the things that attract people to visit Panama, the purchase of our public officials, the many slings and arrows of living on the isthmus — all of these are economic stories in our sense of it.
The editor is a US-Panamanian dual citizen, formally educated entirely in English, who spent about half his life in Michigan and about half in Panama. As a gringo, he’s a Democrat of the progressive bent. As a Panamanian, he’s an independent on the left side of the spectrum. He’s someone who believes in good government far too much to be an anarchist, and who is far too skeptical about authority to be a Leninist, and who grew up in the in many respects socialistic Canal Zone and was also taught to be aware that it was a racially segregated place and that this aspect of it was a bad thing. It turns out that The Panama News is run by a democratic socialist by inclination who is a micro-capitalist to make a living.
As a business The Panama News is a failure. It has been since its inception, at the outset because we never had the blessing of Panama’s ad cartel. Around the planet, the advertising supported news paradigm in any case has broken down. Increasingly the norm is that advertisers take advantage of this to try to control the news. News organizations that don’t go along with this feel a particularly tight squeeze, but those that do get noticed as purveyors of corporate propaganda misrepresented as news and tend to lose readership and advertising revenue as a result. A lot of very rich people have come to own major news media, running them for little profit or more often at a loss for their own diverse reasons. Then there is this piranha school of small media run by people who are not rich, some of which are very good, almost all of which are woefully underfunded, working in an online economy but still in many ways like the guy who owned a printing press and published a small circulation newspaper in the USA circa 1800. There is nothing else quite like The Panama News, but it swims with the piranha school. Cooperative relationships among these small media happens from time to time but is mostly a project for the future.
Things published on The Panama News website are the work of the editor, contributors specifically to The Panama News or articles and graphics syndicated to be in the public domain. The great exception to this is our every now and then feature, The Panama News blog links, which are pages of links to other people’s generally copyrighted work. Our editing to include the links, but hit the links and you go to their websites rather than a cut and paste job on our website. The comments features on our website are disabled, as they have mainly been used for automated spam that aims either to overwhelm the site and grab its controls or just to post advertisements for fraudulent schemes. Even with the various automated programs, the labor involved in policing these features is better applied elsewhere.
Everything that gets on our website, plus many original posts and photos by the editor that never get on the website, and even more links to stories in other media, plus all this back-and-forth commentary — these are found on The Panama News Facebook page.
We will defend our wall against troll attacks designed to shout us down or shut us down, but by and large people can join the conversation and argue against the editor’s opinion and for things not believed by the editor or contributors. Someone who tries to hijack every thread with stuff that’s not germane so as to shut down discussion, guys who post pictures of their dicks, mass invasions by what appear to be bots posing as people — in these cases they will run into a bouncer. But given the long-running divides in Panamanian society and the increasingly bitter conflicts among Americans, The Panama News Facebook page is maintained as a place where people need not agree to discuss things.
The Facebook page is also used to announce a lot of cultural events. But the high end of Panama’s concert scene is promoted by rabiblancos who disdain everyone but their narrow caste and only provide information on events they promote to rabiblanco media, through rabiblanco ad agencies. We leave them to their snobbery.
Our Twitter feed gets some links, and most notably some retweeted stuff by others, that is not found on our Facebook page. However, all articles posted on The Panama News website and many of the links posted on our Facebook page do go onto our Twitter feed. The norm with many Twitter accounts is a stream of usually nasty one-liners or trite memes. But Ricardo Martinelli or Donald Trump we are not.
Our email list includes links to all of the articles (including the blog links pages) posted on our website, the Dichter & Neira monthly opinion polls which others publish and brief paragraphs about various noteworthy situations not reported on the website. There will be graphics and things about cultural and other events that readers may want to attend. There will often be public service announcements about voter registration for Americans living abroad, where and what to donate to relief efforts for those affected by natural disasters or so on. There are graphics that we have not published elsewhere. Our emails get posted on our Facebook page and Twitter feed as well as sent to those on the email list.
We are forever asking for money, generally through PayPal donations, but there are also other ways that people can make financial contributions. But the in-kind contributions — labor in the form of articles, photos, computer expertise and other toil; and things that can range from computers or cameras to coffee or cat food — are also important to the survival of The Panama News.
Perhaps what we need most of all is somebody to manage “the business.” Perhaps. Over the years we have heard and rejected many offers to “monetize” the operation (betray principles of truth and relevance in order to generate money, over which the manager will claim dibs), or give us a “beautiful, professional website” (employ somebody for more money than we have to give us a week turn-around time to get something posted on a superficially artistic website which is impossible to navigate, with the satisfaction of knowing that the person given this contract is a young ne’er-do-well of the most illustrious family); or reach out to new folks with nude pics or sensational click bait (if we get a local cannibalism story we will probably cover it, but the authorities hardly ever disclose the really lurid details that inquiring sickies want to know).
There remains the question of continuity. Over a century and a half, many have been the Panamanian publications that started in English, went bilingual and ended up entirely in Spanish. The English-speaking community has been here that long, has generation after generation repeated the steps of assimilation, and yet survives as a linguistic minority with folks from the Spanish-tongued majority wanting to learn English as well. The thing is, trends like these live longer than people do.
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