Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 26th 2015 Contents | PROFILE |
Paracauary River in
Marajó Island in the
By Magella Moreau
WHILE FOR SOME, 'life on the frontline' may conjure up
images of armed combat, for Georgia Popplewell, manag-
ing director of Global Voices---the international network
of bloggers and citizen journalists---it also references
something more insidious. The growing number of blog-
gers whose determination to record abuses and conflicts
in their countries places them in the firing line of govern-
ments and extremists who seek to silence their voices by
any means necessary.
Global Voices describes itself as a virtual, borderless com-
munity, of more than 800 writers and translators, in 150
countries, working in 30 languages, which has been lead-
ing the conversation on global issues through citizen
media reporting since 2005. It reports news and perspec-
tives from blogs, independent news sites, social media
and other forms of grassroots media---particularly non-
Western, under-represented voices---that might be oth-
erwise ignored by mainstream media.
So how did a Trinidadian woman rise to become managing
director of this global movement? Popplewell has worked
in independent media in the Caribbean and elsewhere
since 1989, starting at the pioneering local TV production
company Banyan, and later co-founding Earth Television.
In 2005, she started Caribbean Free Radio, the Caribbean's
first podcast, and it was this foray into what was then a
new frontier that catapulted her to her current position. "I
began the podcast and blog because I wanted to add to
the body of information about this region, which was so
one-dimensional and incomplete. Even now, when you
Google the Caribbean, it presents a very narrow picture
of who we are."
"My determination to provide a more nuanced under-
standing of the Caribbean very directly led to Global
Voices. The first set of editors came across my blog and
podcast and started linking to my work. Back then, ten
years ago, we were such a small community that many
bloggers and podcasters from around the world knew
each other online." Popplewell was recruited to cover the
Caribbean and later became editor for the Caribbean re-
gion, eventually becoming Managing Director of the global
organisation in 2008.
Global Voices began as a project at the Berkman Centre
for Internet and Society, at Harvard University. The
founders, Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon,
then research fellows at Berkman---ran the fledgling net-
work from there. In 2008, Harvard decided that the proj-
ect should spread its wings and fly solo. Cutting ties
meant seeking an official domicile elsewhere. Which it
did---in the Netherlands, where it's now registered as a
Global Voices, however, continues to operate entirely on-
line, with its small core staff and community of volunteers
working from their respective countries of residence---the
organisation has no physical office---and communicating
via the Internet.
"It's a weird job," says Popplewell. "I think even some of my
close friends don't quite understand what I do. As MD I'm
responsible for the day-to-day running of GV, which, in a
virtual context, means that tasks and conversations that
normally take place in physical spaces or face-to-face have
to be done online, via email, or text or video chat---which
isn't always easy. In addition, I work closely with our Ex-
ecutive Director on strategic planning and fundraising,
write occasionally for the site, and also edit The Bridge,
our original writing section. I'm also lucky to work with a
truly wonderful set of people."
A major focus of Global Voices' work is online freedom of
expression. In countries like Iran, China, and Ethiopia, and
certain Arab countries, people's online activities can put
them at great risk---even something as simple as posting
an item on Facebook or Twitter. And the threats don't al-
ways come from the government; in the case of
Bangladesh, for instance, it can be the religious right. "This
also applies to some of our contributors," says Popplewell.
"Six of our Ethiopian contributors have been in prison for
the past 14 months for activities related to their member-
ship in a blogging collective called Zone 9."
Yet despite these very real challenges, bloggers continue
to record events as they unfold in their countries. Their
coverage of major world events has---begrudgingly, in
some quarters---come to be acknowledged as an impor-
tant source of information. "At Global Voices' we were fol-
lowing Tunisian citizen media and reporting on the 2010
Tunisia uprisings that sparked the Arab Spring long before
the international media clocked on to what would become
a major story."
Another factor that gives Global Voices an edge over in-
ternational mainstream media is their translation capacity.
"During Iran's Green Revolution, in 2009, major interna-
tional media outlets were drawing conclusions about the
happenings in Iran from English-language social media,"
says Popplewell. "But Persian-language social media---
which we were able to access---painted a more complex
When she isn't sitting at the computer in her home office
in Trinidad, she's often on the road---attending confer-
ences, meetings with colleagues and donors, or events
such as Global Voices biennial Summit, the sixth edition
of which was held this January in the Philippines.
"The travel is the icing on the cake of an already amazing
job," she says. "And given the global nature of our organi-
sation, wherever you go you there's often a Global Voices
contributor living there to welcome you. Every April Fool's
Day we publish a satirical article and this year we joked
that we were going to start a chain of hotels. It's actually
not a bad idea!"
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