Door closes, window opens… Welcome back 21square!

While I’ve ended commentary on local politics, I’m pleased to see that 21square has come back to life.

I always appreciated 21square’s perspective and reasoned commentary, even if we naturally had our ideological disagreements. So, I’m happy that while I may be ending local political commentary another site has come back to life right at the same time.

 

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

This site has been operating now since January 2007. Throughout this time it has changed quite a bit, both in terms of its focus and its writing style.

I’ve enjoyed writing here.

The flame's not out. Just taking a break. :-)

The flame’s not out. Just taking a break. ūüôā

However, after almost eight years, it’s time for a change.

I’m not saying the blog is dead.

I’m not necessarily stopping the blog. However, it is going to undergo a change.

A good chunk of this blog has focused on local politics, first as an independent pro-PLP site when I was an active member of the PLP, and since then as an independent, non-aligned, political blog.

I am not able to continue that particular line of writing going forward, at least not for the forseeable future. Effective immediately I am ceasing all commentary on local politics.

What that means for the blog, I don’t really know. I’ve been experimenting over the last few months with a non-political writing style.¬†Thoughts on books or articles I’m reading, a review of this or that legislation (in a non-political way), or a look at historical (or other) speeches/writings which I think are simply interesting.

I’d like to experiment some more with such an approach.

I realise they don’t quite have the same popular appeal as posts framed around local politics. However, I’ve enjoyed them and found them quite stimulating. Whether readers agree, I don’t know. But needs must.

So, as regards blogging about local politics, adieu, adieu to you and you and you!

And for the sake of clarity, the above also applies to Facebook and Twitter.

My Vote Starling page on Facebook has already been converted to this blogs Facebook page, and my Twitter handle has changed to a non-political one. The Vote Starling website that I set up for the election has also been retired. The ‘About’ page has¬†also been changed already to reflect this change in direction.

Reflections

I have tried over the years to engage in reasoned discussion.

I have my positions; I’ve never hid them. I have, however, tried to listen to others and been willing to change my mind if convinced by an argument. I’ve tried to be respectful of others and their positions. To what degree I’ve succeeded in any of that is not something I can really judge however. All I can say is that I’ve tried my best.

I am hopeful that other voices will continue to grow in strength and number to continue these political discussions going forward, even if I am not able to participate actively along with them.

While much of these conversations are quick to descend into partisan shouting matches and personal attacks, there are also good conversations where individuals come away from them with healthy respect for the other, positions have been clarified and perhaps even one or two minds changed.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part, however, I’d like to think that – in time – we’ll have more of the latter and less of the former.

On a related note, I realise that my ending local political commenting further reduces the number of local blogs providing local political commentary. Blogs provide a much different contribution in terms of such commentary, very much different from the more rapid-fire conversations that social media like Facebook and Twitter offer. They provide a greater in-depth more constructed argument in my opinion.

If we are to achieve a sustainable Bermuda then one thing we also need to achieve is sustainable and respectful conversations that are based on constructive dialogue, mutual respect and and reasoned debate which together contribute to positive change for our island. Central to this is the ability to listen to the other and reflect on what is being said rather than reacting. We must learn to listen to each other with enough care to learn from each other if we are to work together for our common interests.

I remain hopeful that such is achievable, and I wish you well.

Continuity?

One last note. I hope that someone else will pick up the baton of local political commentary. There is a space there for a critical progressive voice out there, and that’s what this site tried to do.

While I’m no longer able to continue that, I am happy to help facilitate anyone that wishes to do so. Just drop me a line.

There are already a number of other voices out there, writing on their own sites, on Facebook or in the media. I’ve enjoyed sharing the platform with them and learning from them.

Welcome ‘bermudavoices’!

Observations

Things have been somewhat dismal as regards the Bermudian blog environment of late.

My own site has taken a bit of a back-seat to my studies, with the number, quality and frequency of posts being greatly reduced. ¬†While Bermuda Blue and Beachlime continue to post, like me their postings haven’t really been as regular as in the past. ¬†And while a number of new blogs emerged last year, I fear many underestimated the time and energy required to sustain blogs – Bermuda Independent hasn’t posted since the beginning of January, and The Soap Box has been dormant since last September. ¬†21 Square and Politcs.bm remain inactive also.¬†New Blog

Despite this, online discourse continues strongly primarily on Face Book, the various traditional media sites and, to a degree, Twitter. ¬†And in many ways I think these alternative commenting sites continue to suck the energy away from ‘blogs proper’. ¬†I still think the two can complement each other, and I’ve tried to do so with this site, as has Bermuda Blue.

New blog!

Having said all that, I’m happy to announced the emergence of a new Bermudian blog – bermudavoices.

It’s run by Thomas Christopher Famous, who’s emerged as a key personality in online discourse, especially on Facebook, but also through his numerous opinion pieces in various traditional media. ¬†As a pro-PLP voice, his presence goes someway to address what has historically been a political imbalance online, at least prior to the emergence of Facebook as a site for political discourse.

So far his blog seems to be more of a repository of his various opinion pieces rather than unique blog posts. ¬†And that’s okay and welcome in its own right. ¬†Whether it will also feature unique blog posts going forward is up to him, but as it is it is still a welcome addition to the Bermudian blogs, and an additional site for political and cultural conversations. ¬†I also have a feeling that this blog will have a greater staying power than many of the other blogs that have come and gone to date.

I encourage readers to add his blog to their regular online visits Рand hopefully it might inspire additional voices to also set up blogs and further diversify our online discourse.  So, yeah, go check it out!

Best of Bermuda Award!

Yay! I won!

I am proud to announce that I’ve won the 2015 Best of Bermuda award for the category ‘columnist/blogger’!

I would like to thank The Bermudian magazine for the award – I’ve been running this blog since 2007ish, and it’s nice to get some recognition! ūüôā ¬†Hopefully I’ll be able to keep posting to justify the award going forward!

The award blurb itself goes:

Columnist Jonathan Starling has been sharing his educated opinion on all matters of local issues‚ÄĒincluding everything from breed-specific legislation to same-sex marriage, cabinet shuffles, the casino gaming act and more‚ÄĒsince 2007 when he first set up his blog ‚ÄúCatch a Fire‚ÄĚ as an alternative political voice. The social research and policy analyst who ran as an independent candidate in the 2012 general election currently shares his discourses regularly on Bernews. Catch his latest insight at jonnystar.wordpress.com.

Thank You!

I’d like to thank my folks and my partner for their support and encouragement; ‘Limey in Bermuda’ of course deserves a shout-out for helping me set-up the site in the first place, and I think it’s important to give a particular thank you to the media proper, Bernews, the (unfortunately now defunct) Bermuda Sun and the Royal Gazetter. ¬†All of these have, at times, given me a platform for opinion columns, as well as feedback and the opportunity to learn from their readers.

Over the years my writing skills have improved (I hope) and they’ll continue to improve with any luck.

Similarly, my understanding of certain technologies/software has improved over time – and this experience has proven to be a constructive and challenging experience so far. ¬†Additionally, it’s forced me to learn and research topics that I doubt I’d ever have considered in the past.

To be honest, I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say that this blog/column-writing experience has profoundly affected my world-view and the certain decisions I’ve made in my life since 2007.

I know a lot of political and social discourse has largely moved away from the blogs and forums and onto Facebook and Twitter. ¬†And there’s only a handful of blogs and forums (with various degrees of activity) still clinging on compared to the ‘golden age’ of Bermuda blogging.

Nonetheless, I think blogs still retain certain qualities that the Facebook and Twitter threads miss out on, particularly the ease of finding articles and those conversations.  Facebook/Twitter are more like a flowing river, a stream of consciousness Рan active ongoing conversation Рwhile the blogs serve more as more detailed and solid writings.  Fleeting conversation versus the solidity of writing I suppose.

The two, of course, can be used to complement each other. ¬†I do hope we’ll see a few more – and more ideologically diverse – blogs in time. ¬†Perhaps we’ll even see a backlash against Facebook/Twitter and a return to more full-on blogging? ¬†Who knows?

Criticism

I’d be remiss to not recognise that there’s been some criticism – on Facebook and Twitter – to this particular category of ‘blogger/columnist’.

I don’t think the criticism is personal against me, against me winning this years award. ¬†Rather, the criticism seems to be that there should be two separate categories. ¬†Some seem to interpret the combined category as meaning one has to be both a blogger and a columnist in order to win it.

Myself, I took the category as meaning ‘and/or’ and that it was created to expand the pool of possible winners away from just traditional columnists in the media proper, recognising that bloggers also contributed to opinion-forming in the Bermuda context. ¬†Not that one had to be a blogger and a columnist to win it, but that one could be a blogger and/or a columnist. ¬†I happen to be both, but that doesn’t mean that someone who just blogs or just writes columns couldn’t win it.

Anyway, as the saying goes, one can’t please everyone all the time. ¬†There’s always going to be some criticism when it comes to handing out awards, and I’m not taking it personally. ¬†Just thought it important to recognise that there is such criticism.

The Sun Set & Blog Matters

Sun Archives Inaccessible?

While the Bermuda Sun closed down some months ago now, up until a few days ago it was still possible to access their online stories.  However, now when one tries to go to a Bda Sun link one just gets a picture of a setting sun.

I get it, it’s poetic. ¬†However, I am disappointed that it seems the Sun’s online archive is no longer available. ¬†There were some key stories in the Sun which the RG simply refused to run, and now without access to them, well, if you’ll excuse the phrase, it sort of whitewashes a good chunk of our recent politics and history.

Maybe there’s still a way to access these articles, I don’t know.

On Blogs

Despite a blog explosion earlier this year, I don’t think there’s really been any net change to the blogs really.

The explicitly pro-OBA blog The Soapbox only ever posted four articles and has been dormant since September – I’m not confident of it being very active, if at all, going forward.

Vexed Bermoothes, a relative veteran of Bermudian political blogging pretty much went dormant earlier this year, and as of a few days ago ceased to exist. ¬†One just gets a ‘this webpage is not available’ message now. ¬†Which, like the Sun’s archives, is disappointing.

21 Square went dormant a while ago, and¬†due to technical problems was inaccessible for a period of time – and lost some of its archives too. ¬†I’m hopeful it will resume a degree of activity going forward though.

Politics.bm remains up, but has been dormant since March, 2013.

New Onion was dormant for almost exactly a year, but has posted a flurry of articles in September – nothing since however.

Beachlime remains active, as does Bermuda Blue, and, to a more sporadic degree so does Bermuda Independent.

There is a new blog however, which I’ve been meaning to link to, Thirty-Four, by Kristin White, which has been quite active and an interesting read.

Welcoming the Soap-Box

Welcome to the club!

Just wanted to give a friendly neighbourhood shout-out to the latest Bermudian blog on the block – The Soap-Box.

Based on¬†the introductory post, it looks like this new blog will have a similar – albeit different perspective – theme to mine, in as much as it states that articles it posts will ‘relate to Business, Politics, Community, Sustainability or Education in some form’.

The reason I say that it will have a different perspective than mine are as the author makes clear that he’s involved with the OBA:

“Working with the Future Bermuda Alliance, the OBA…”¬†New Blog

Which is fine. ¬†I certainly welcome the company, even if we’re likely to disagree and perhaps even have cross-blog conversations in the future.

As for other Bermudian blogs, Vexed Bermoothes, Bermuda Blue, Bermuda Independent and Beachlime continue to soldier on; that’s about it really I think.

Other Blogging Stuff…

In related news, the revelations of paid bloggers as part of an OBA-affiliated ‘underground election campaign’ during the 2012 election naturally raises some serious questions about blogging, especially political blogging in Bermuda.

Beachlime has noted a key issue there – and like him, I am not a paid blogger.

I certainly would love to be able to blog for a living (working on that…), but should that ever happen I would maintain my editorial independence, make clear the funding streams and publish an annual report. ¬†I certainly would never accept monies for political purposes like the paid bloggers that have brought infamy to local blogging have.

All the same, it leads to serious questions about blogging and ethics going forward. ¬†It’s a fundamental issue of trust.

Those blogs, like Vexed and Bda Independent that retain an anonymous identity will likely be more suspect than those like me who are clear about who we are, but this won’t stop partisans from either of the two parties throwing accusations at all blogs regardless.

Now, to be clear, I do interpret the ‘paid bloggers’ as being a mistaken terminology.

A blogger is, technically speaking, someone like myself who runs an actual blog. ¬†Individuals who post comments on blogs, social media (like Facebook) or the news media sites are not, strictly, bloggers. ¬†Not sure what they are, but they’re not bloggers in the proper sense.

Another issue facing actual bloggers is the demise of the Bermuda Sun.

While some blogs do generate wholly unique content, many, if not most, politically-focused blogs do rely on a ‘proper’ news site for raw information or links on which we build our opinion – basically we’re giving our thoughts on the news as its reported.

And for the sake of not being dismissed as hearsay, it’s useful to be able to link to a ‘proper’ news story. ¬†As such, our blogs are mostly opinion, or interpretation/arguments based on published information.

I am not a journalist. ¬†I wanted to be one, but I am not a journalist at the moment, and I certainly don’t have the resources to do journalism in the proper sense right now.

All this notwithstanding, with the demise of the Bermuda Sun, not only are bloggers losing one of the pillars our local politically focused comments rely on, but in a way we’re going to somewhat fill the resulting void, at least temporarily, and only partially.

So, interesting times for blogs.

Just not sure if it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ interesting yet…

 

Welcoming Think Media!

It looks like Bermuda’s about to get another news media outlet soon – Think Media and its journal ‘Politica – fearless independent journalism’.

This news media outlet looks like it’s going to be focused on investigative journalism with a particular emphasis on politics.

Personally, I’m excited about this, and I’m hopeful that it will lead our existing news media outlets to up their game too.

I’m not sure of Think Media’s exact timeline for a proper launch of its jouranlistic content, but it’s got a website up now, and there’s a survey there for people to take, which I encourage readers to do.

Beachlime makes some good points about political bias

I just wanted to give a shout out to Beachlime who has written a nice little post pointing out the role of political bias in the online comments of the various news sites.

When the PLP was in power those critical of the PLP were also quite critical (scathingly so!) of posters who defended the PLP position, calling them blind followers, sheeple and shrill.

Now that the OBA has come to power, it seems that with that power has also come some sort of online amnesia or role reversal.

That being said, I have this, perhaps overly optimistic, hope that we are seeing a genuine evolution of the electorate, with more and more people growing weary of the political tribalism (and all that entails for online commentators).

I sincerely hope that we are maturing as a people and being willing to call a spade a spade, acknowledge our biases (nothing wrong with being biased as long as one is aware of it and aren’t ‘blind’ party line followers) and engage in truly critical and constructive discourse.

Anyway, just wanted to publicly acknowledge Beachlime for raising a good point!

thumbs-up

Official Seventh Anniversary! Some Sobering Stats…

Today, January 4th, marks, for me, the official anniversary of this blog.

While it was actually created I think in December 2006, my first posts were on January 4th, and so I regard that date as the official launch of the site.

It’s been an interesting time.

The blog started off slow in 2007, but grew amazingly fast in 2008 and 2009 before experiencing two steep declines in 2010 and 2011 – it has been holding relatively steady for 2012 and 2013.

I took some time to play with some of the stats I have for the blog, in terms of views and posts.

CAF Stats 2007-2013

I think there’s a pretty clear positive correlation between posts and views between 2007 and 2011. ¬†The more I posted, and the more regularly, the more my views went up, and as I reduced my blog activity in 2010 and 2011 my views reduced accordingly.

While I’ve begun to steer the blog back into activity, the correlation between posts and views has evidenced a slight negative correlation – although (without doing some more stats work), I think it’s more appropriate to say that readership has remained stable.

So, what happened?

The ‘why’ about my reduced activity for 2010 and 2011 are pretty easy to answer. ¬†I was overseas and focused on further studies and working overseas – especially for most of 2010 and 2011 – and, quite frankly, I just didn’t have the time to post regularly.

I reckon that as my posts became less regular and greatly reduced overall (from almost 0.5 a day at the height of activity in 2009 to just 0.07 a day at my least active in 2011) people just stopped viewing the site.  Readers likely assumed my blog was going dormant and gave up checking the site for activity.  Quite frankly, I lost the attention of viewers and dropped out of sight for them subsequently.

A more detailed, month by month comparison of posts to views.

A more detailed, month by month comparison of posts to views.

Although I’ve now begun to post more – and more regularly – over the last two years, I haven’t been able to regain those lost readers. ¬†Out of sight out of mind it seems.

In addition to my own (in)activity in 2010-2011, and without reviewing the stats for the other blogs (which I don’t really have access to anyway), I believe that the entire blog-scene also saw a general down-turn at this time.

I can’t really saw definitively why that might be – and it’s only an impression of mine at that, as one would have to spend the time to investigate properly the activity levels of the other blogs at that time too.

It seems reasonable to me to assume that the 2008 economic crash was really beginning to bite at that time. ¬†People were just too pre-occupied trying to survive than to blog – just as I reduced my activity so I could focus on the more important ‘offline’ things of studying and working in a radically different job (from animal trainer to economist), so did people reduce their online blogging too.

I think it’s also reasonable to assume that the rise of online comments in news media, and the growing popularity of Facebook, has also siphoned away the ‘online energy’ that manifested itself in terms of readership for my and others blogs.

Maintaining a blog requires a lot more time and energy than the online news media comments and Facebook pages require. ¬†It’s hard researching and/or putting in the effort to produce regular blog posts with a certain level of quality. ¬†I think a lot of those who previously started blogs soon gave up after a burst of activity, finding the time and energy required to be just too great for the long-term.

Active to dormant Bermuda blogs as of end of 2013.

Active to dormant Bermuda blogs as of end of 2013.

Indeed, if we look at my blogroll sidebars, where I’ve divided Bermudian blogs between ‘active’ and ‘dormant’ blogs, which lists all the blogs I’m aware of having existed since my own in 2007, only 37% are classified by me as currently ‘active’ – although I admit I haven’t checked out all of the blogs since a few months back, so even that number may be wrong.

It would also be interesting to see if those blogs going dormant correlate with the economic crisis too, just as I get the impression that overall blogging went on a reduced scale.

So, it seems to me that the Bermudian blogs were hit almost by a double-whammy as a result of the 2008 economic crisis – it became more difficult for bloggers to maintain their sites, and social/news media adapted to the crisis in a way which ‘captured’ much of the online energy the blogs previously captured.

Can this blog rebound?

I think my blog could greatly increase on its current levels of readership, although to do that I would need to maintain, at the very least, my current level of posting activity, while also seeking to ‘advertise’ the site to attract both new and former readers.

I’ve been experimenting with Facebook and Twitter as vehicles for such an ‘advertising’ route, and I recently launched a tumblr site for similar purposes. ¬†I’ve definitely found that the Facebook and Twitter advertising has been useful for attracting readers, with them now eclipsing the traditional route of clicks from other blogs.

I also think that with the rise of social media and news media commenting, I need to adapt the blog with a greater focus on ease of readability and quality of writing/analysis – it needs to adapt so as to complement these innovations and to use them to my advantage.

So, yes, I believe this blog – and others – can rebound, but it is going to require some innovative approaches to advertise the site and it’s going to require dedication in posting regularly and at a certain level of quality.

Now, whether I can realise the above, and thus the ‘rebound’ is another question altogether…

Some New Bermuda Blogs – A ‘blogexplosion’?

Despite my recent concerns about an apparent decline of local blogs, since I initially touched on this there’s been what Bermuda Independent has called a ‘blogexplosion’.

A 'blogexplosion' for Bermuda's blog scene?

A ‘blogexplosion’ for Bermuda’s blog scene?

In the last few months or so I’ve come to learn of a handful of new Bermuda blog, from Bermuda Blue and Bermuda Independent, to what appears to be a rather extremely conservative Christian blog to now ‘workforcebda’ a blog focused on business and construction issues in Bermuda and the ‘Adventures of Skippy & Bologna’ – of which it’s too early to really comment on so far.

One concern is that I’ve seen far too often new blogs start up, have a burst of activity, and then a general decline, with longer and longer periods of inactivity until, ultimately, the blogs are abandoned.

Quite frankly, it’s hard to maintain a blog, in terms of regularly posting a certain level of quality posts, and it’s very easy to become disillusioned and simply pack it in.

The advice I will give to these new blogs is that they should seek to persevere.  It takes time to grow a following Рso just make sure you try and post something on a regular basis, say once a week or so.

The key is regularity I think, and to not focus on how many views you’re getting – if you keep it up, they will come.

And it doesn’t hurt to link to other local blogs, either in a friendly way (like I’ve done above) or for the sake of a blog ‘conversation’ – even if it’s more of an ‘argument’ than a ‘conversation’ proper.

Also, I think that when it comes to blogs, they do, in some way, support each other. ¬†The more Bermuda blogs there are, the more active they are, the more they’ll boost each other in the long-term – a rising tide lifts all boats in other words.

Having said that, Bermuda’s blogs continue to be, it seems, overly dominated by White males, far out of all proportion to our islands actual racial demographics. ¬†And with this limited diversity, racially and gender-wise, there also seems to be limited diversity as regards political perspectives.

At this very moment I don’t think there are any blogs which would be considered pro-PLP, while there are many which I think could be considered representative of liberal and conservative tendencies, with the obvious exception of this rather leftist blog.

I continue to hope that, especially with the OBA in power, this will change, with greater diversity coming to the local blogs – provided the blogs do recover from their recent decline and do adapt to the new online reality.