Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Bahamas rural journalism: in touch with culture

The Bahamas may only be a warm vacation destination to most Americans, but readers of The Rural Blog not familiar with the islands may be surprised that the country is also thriving with community journalism outlets, particularly on the mostly rural family islands (populated islands other than New Providence, where the capital city Nassau is located).

The Rev. Silbert Mills, a self-taught
weatherman who launched his own
radio station in the 1990s, sits at the
control center/studio/editing room
of the Bahamas Christian Network
television station. The BCN also
broadcasts a religious talk show hosted
by Mills, and he is adamant that its
news segments are straight news.
Mills does the local weather reports.
I just returned from a research trip that included visits with 10 news outlets in the country, half of them on the family islands encircling Nassau to the north — Abaco, Eleuthera, and Grand Bahama.

You can read an overview of my full trip at my blog, Re-Attached Journalism, but I thought Rural Blog readers might be interested in some additional details about community journalism on the family islands.

Many of the family-island newspapers are so small that they do not have their own presses, so they have their newspapers printed in Florida and flown in at great expense. Although getting online is relatively easy even in the less-populated areas, the monthly Eleutheran and the twice-monthly Abaconian remain most popular in print, and despite the high printing costs, both newspapers disappear quickly from the various drop points across both islands.

Newspapers that charge a cover price rely mostly on single-copy sales; it's not unusual to see a newspaper seller walking amid traffic to sell papers directly to motorists. Home-delivery and subscriptions are uncommon.

Starting a media house is relatively simple. The Eleutheran, for example, is a home-based business started in 2008 by V.J. and Elizabeth Bryan; the couple's company, Spice Media Group, also publishes a twice-annual glossy magazine aimed at tourists.

To the west, on Abaco, Silbert Mills is another extraordinary example of a natural community journalist. Frustrated with the lack of weather news for sailors around the Bahamas in the 1990s, he taught himself how to report the weather and built a radio station from scratch to do it -- and Radio Abaco was born. Along the way, he also became a pastor and a few years ago decided to branch out his operation to religious television -- so Mills and his small company built a one-studio radio station next door, and the Bahamas Christian Network was born. Mills uses high-end handheld cameras on tripods, a NewTek Tricaster control system, and a makeshift studio to put together high-quality talk shows, lively religious services, and -- of course -- the weather. (Note: If there is another pilot/harbormaster/weatherman/news-producer/pastor somewhere in the world, please contact the Rural Blog.)

I know that when many journalism scholars and journalism trainers go to The Bahamas, they may see the media system as a mish-mash of small- and mid-sized media operations that are lacking the so-called "high standards" of the dominant news media in developed nations. So what? The rural journalism in The Bahamas is right in tune with the cultures they serve, and they are excited about improving on what, to this one-time visitor, seems like an impressive job already.

Bill Reader, the Institute for Rural Journalism's academic partner at Ohio University, recently completed a fact-finding trip to study the community media in The Bahamas. The rip was made possible with cooperation and financial support from The College of the Bahamas journalism department, the U.S. embassy in Nassau, and the Institute of International Journalism at Ohio's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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