I'd been a part of or associated with newspapers for 25 years and living with near-constant access to television, radio, magazines and the Associated Press. On North Caicos I had no TV and got my email via dial-up. Internet connection was quite expensive and limited. There were two weekly papers, both extremely partisan, which only sometimes made it to an out island in a timely manner.
Instead, I got the local news by working behind the bar at Pelican Beach Hotel and listening to the guys talk. Or by heading to Josh's and getting the scuttlebutt along with my Presidente beer. And eventually I learned how to sift basic information out of that gossipy mixture of age, race, occupation, family and prejudice.
I found fun in this process and enjoyed trying to pry the "real" story of any incident out of the jumble of versions I heard. Hey, it's a small island. There's not much to do, you know?
I so enjoyed extracting information this way that when I began to write Fish-Eye Lens, I decided to write it in the language of gossip. My protagonist, Cherry, has to piece together a story from the biased/self-deceiving/emotional/catty comments of the women she interviews. And it doesn't help that they're drinking all along, too.
I didn't believe gossip-news was unique to the islands, but I did think it was more common in smaller, developing nations than in places with a more mature fourth estate, where journalists took care to separate news and commentary.
Journalistic standards had been eroding for some time (anyone remember proofreaders?), but when I came back to the U.S. nearly five years later, I was appalled. Newspaper layoffs everywhere. People taking Fox News seriously. Grandparents on Facebook. The blogosphere. Twitter. Crowd-sourcing.
Plenty of information was out there, but very little of it wasn't filtered through opinion, a ratings chase, product marketing or a desperate desire to get someone, anyone, to pay attention to a drowning business. Real news had taken a giant step backward into gossip-news.
And now we're into an election season that is dominated by the gossip of attack ads, spin and Facebook platitudes. To get any information at all, we all have to learn to separate what's being said from who is saying it and what his/her motives and interests might be.
In short, when it comes to information, the U.S. is just another Third World nation.
So good luck, my friends. Listen to the gossip carefully, and I'll see you on the other side.