Samuel Allen, Jr. and his pursuit of staying power with St. Martin Internet news: by Lasana M. Sekou
Samuel Allen, Jr. is a broadcaster who appears to be on the verge of making Internet news media history in St. Martin.
For the second consecutive year, Allen’s SXMISLANDTIME.COM has won the SHTA Pineapple Award for Outstanding Journalism (2011). There is more going on here than Allen distinguishing himself as the only media representative to pick up a second award at one of the island’s premiere star-studded affairs.
Allen founded the news website in February 2008. “I had ideas to create my own online news portal and with the help of local experts like Greg Richardson and Alvin Prescod I have managed to take it to where it is today,” said Allen.
The online publisher/editor/reporter is also the news director at PJD2 radio and will celebrate his 25th anniversary at the station in 2012. At SXMISLANDTIME.COM, improvements in writing style still have to catch up with the up-to-the-minute newsbreaks and fast-paced daily posting of news and information on the site.
This writing issue – spelling, grammar, punctuation, attribution, context – is a language teacher’s nightmare and terrifies some readers of blogs, news, and other information websites all over the world.
Traditional media with online editions, The Daily Herald and Today of St. Martin included, still fare better with online content writing and attributed sources. “I’m working on that too,” said Allen. His PJD2 news track record could have something to do with the growing reliability being earned for his site from its “visitors.”
We “Get It” Online
SXMISLANDTIME.COM is not the lone wolf, nor is it without competition for publishing serious St. Martin news and information on the World Wide Web. On an island of just over 80,000 people (including unregistered folks), the general population is arguably computer and Internet savvy, according to computer expert Percival Cocks.
Online information activities are very visible. There is “Don Ricardo” over at Arts Video Studios toughing it out with camera and editing productions, and AVS TV news driving the company’s multimedia portal, avsnewsonline.com. SMN-news.com sits front row with the traditional print and broadcast press corps at government and police news briefings in Great Bay and Marigot.
Retired educators like Camille Baly and Leopold Baly are bloggers who still have a lot to say. Youngsters are virulent on Facebook (FB), Youtube, and Soundcloud with “whatever” and “what have you” messages, from the murky, to the meleerosa, to the meaningful—and these young people have banged a savage dent into email use (a worldwide email phenomenon).
Environmental and heritage FB profiles, of the professional and popular varieties, have become virtual community archives – at least one with 5,000 Friends. One FB community page has over 9,000 Like fans.
The websites of individuals, businesses, and foundations proliferate, some just putter. Intermittent web radio “stations” and webcasts, and political exposé sites originating on the island or from St. Martiners in the Netherlands and elsewhere are streaming online like the proverbial nobody’s business.
There are numerous tourism e-zines and chat rooms, active and inert, some with scary inaccuracies, exotic fallacies, and racist lies like the persistent tagging of the Caribs as cannibals (but then some of our schools are still teaching that to our children).
There are throngs of “BB”-adept individuals, and iPhone owners, who, while stuck in the midday sun-blazed traffic on Cole Bay hill or “wherever,” can blast a media or personal message or image online to hundreds, even thousands island-wide … and beyond. In fact, the general public voted for SXMISLANDTIME.COM and the other candidates for the Pineapple Awards online.
“Well, to tell you the truth, St. Martin is Internet savvy from a social networking point of view, because of the popularity of Facebook, MSN Messenger, and Twitter,” said Cocks.
High tech has not stopped certain aspects of the nation’s culture from working its “roots” into the matter. “Because of our culture, word-of-mouth has remained the main part of what caused the social network to explode on the island,” said Cocks.
Cocks is keen to make this point. It is not a dominance of product spin marketing, personal research by a lot of homebodies, nor a few tech review wizards leading flocks of techno-peasants through flogs, blogs, and other assorted journals, nor is it a B2B follow-fashion of machines “talking” to machines, but good old-fashioned word-of-mouth that is currently driving the high tech explosion of Internet usage in St. Martin.
“Word-of-mouth, like it does with many other things in St. Martin, can make or break you, and this is why” certain social networking services and websites, applications and gadgets, devices and downloads are selected significantly over others and used in greater numbers island-wide, according to Cocks.
So when Allen said that winning the award on November 18 “was like everybody shouting at the same time: ‘THANK YOU! We appreciate your work,’” he was not far from the mark of meaning it “culturally.”
Hits and Visits
“When we started in 2008, the first month we had 32,000 hits,” said Allen. In April 2011, SXMISLANDTIME.COM received over 12 million hits and 113,047 “number of visits,” the highest monthly for the year to date. Hits are not as reliable, and are actually a less accurate counting measure than “visits,” “sessions,” “number of visits,” or “unique visitors.” November comes in fourth place this year with 101,118 “number of visits” and 27,842 “unique visitors.” December 5, 2011 registered the highest daily amount for the month so far with 3,195 “number of visits.”
By the end of the year, SXMISLANDTIME.COM will have likely received over 1 million “number of visits” and 308,945 “unique visitors.”
DExplorers.com, using cPanel, Inc. software, offers some figures that are even more interesting for both the chatterbox and the business-minded to toss around. Leading the top 25 countries and territories with the most visitors to SXMISLANDTIME.COM in November 2011, are St. Martin, the USA, the Netherlands, and, a comparatively distant fourth, France.
The hits and “visited pages” for Saba, Statia, Bonaire, and Curacao were collapsed in the St. Martin (South) figures. These territories are still grouped together in various online tallying agencies and registries as the Netherlands Antilles. Figures for the North of St. Martin were grouped with the stats showing France as “point of origin.”
The Caribbean country visiting the St. Martin news site the most is Antigua & Barbuda, at number 7. Language may not be much of a hindrance for visitors to the site from the Dominican Republic, registering at number 14 with 26,343 hits—only Antigua & Barbuda and Aruba were ahead of it in the region with more hits and “visited pages.” There were more pages “visited” from China than from Guadeloupe, but Guadeloupe registered more hits than China and nearly 800 less than Jamaica. Canada stood at number 6 with 43,687 “pages visited” in November.
A critical comparison between the leading news and information websites on the island, and an analysis of content and the relationship with their readership could be worthy of a PhD study in modern Caribbean media use, technology transfer, agenda-setting, and the like.
The homegrown online media phenomenon is rearing and roaring like a massive tropical storm along the nation’s news and information highways. The print media in St. Martin refuse to be dislodged any time soon, especially for news reliability. Radio still rules the airways.
In the 1990s, there were notable international pundits predicting that by 2000 there would be a global print media wipe-out – at least in the world’s major cities –because of the online flood of revolutionary media technology.
Interestingly, it was in that same predicted year, at a Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research discussion, that Marshall Loeb, a print media veteran, held the fort. “Print media,” he said, “cannot compete with the speed of online news services, so print will have to adjust by providing more in-depth analysis.” Newspapers have since taken to the Internet in droves with online editions.
As for broadcasting, noted Loeb, the former editor of Fortune and Money magazines, it “is as fast as the Internet but not as interactive,” so he predicted that “broadcasting will become more sensationalistic in order to compete.” (SR, 3.15.2000)
So what does the future hold for Allen, for his web venture, and for news media use in St. Martin? “I think it will continue its current trend with online and radio news sources being the first go-to source for information. Interactive sources like SXMISLANDTIME.COM will continue to gain popularity,” said Allen.
Meanwhile the Internet news venture is also a business. Allen remains dogged about getting advertisers to connect with the new media and remain as consistent as he is with reporting and up-to-the-minute online news and information for the public both at home and abroad.
There’s more going on here, too, with the difficulty in securing advertisers within each territory or island-wide. While easier today than 50 years ago, getting ads still has much to do with political power, race, and fear of speaking out or writing (NB: anonymous letters to the editor) which can lead to losing one’s job or business, or not getting a particular job or contract; it has to do with who controls what sectors of the economy, and what and who a journalist or the media dare to report or editorialize on critically. This is especially true when there is an “issue” with, for example, the firing of hotel workers and not identifying the hotel owners by name or pictures, the spoiled-rotten golden goose of tourism, corruption, racism, language of instruction and its relationship to school failure rates, or, heaven forbid, independence for St. Martin (South and North). And the ad-challenged areas probably have nothing to do with any St. Martin exceptionalism.
Nevertheless, Allen, as a relatively new media owner/publisher, will have to smartly tough it out through the establishment and the advertising minefield like the forebears of his trade: Broechie Brouwer, José Lake, Sr., Joe Lake, Jr., and such battlers. Who’s to say how he will fare in confronting the challenging areas, some still so taboo that too many will say, or pretend, that they are “not even there fo’ true.”
Advertising revenue is key to being able to employ journalists and other media-related workers, and to being able to afford and provide competitive services. “I have to say a special thanks also to Gromyko Wilson who has stood by me through thick and thin with his paparazzi-style pictures,” said Allen about the media networking that he too has come to rely on.
The newsman is cognizant of the relationship between mass media and freedom of expression in society. The basic philosophy that guides him is a standard but pivotal one. “Don’t make the news, report the news,” said Allen.
Allen has come a long way since his St. Maarten Academy high school days; his music DJ stint at PJD2 in 1987; his training in Barbados with the Caribbean Publishing and Broadcasting Association in 1998; and his Radio Netherlands Training Center course in St. Martin, under the auspices of the Bureau Telecommunicatie en Post.
Heading into a fourth year of non-stop, day and night news posting at SXMISLANDTIME.COM, with a shortage of advertising revenue, continuing use of the media website by a public that is “not easy,” and with abundant access to a full range of sophisticated personal, group, island, regional, and international Internet media at the fingertips of this readership, Samuel Allen, Jr., is positioned to be a leader apart in the development of Internet news media for the first Internet-savvy generation of St. Martin.