Friday, April 27, 2007

Nifonged in Nicaragua: NPR on Volz

NPR's "Day to Day" contributor Xeni Jardin briefly examines the clash between the Nicaraguan tabloids and the US old and new media Eric Volz story in her Xeni Tech column today.

"Nicaraguan tabloids printed inflammatory headlines about the case, and Volz's mother, Maggie Anthony, says the climate surrounding the legal proceedings became chaotic.

"After the hearing, Eric was chased by a mob chanting, 'Let the gringo out so we can kill him,'" says Anthony. "We believe that was a direct result of the frenzy that happened because of the press."

Anthony says they turned to close family friend Richard McKinney for help. McKinney had some experience with technology and media. At first, they thought it best to avoid more press attention.

"Our lawyers said the best course of action is to let the evidence speak for itself and not make the situation worse by introducing the media," says McKinney.

If that spun out of control, they reasoned, the story could turn into a Nicaragua-vs.-America firestorm. But when the court returned a guilty verdict, McKinney turned to his 24-year-old daughter Nicole, who works in an ad agency and knew a thing or two about creating "viral media" campaigns with YouTube, MySpace, and blogs.

"When I called her, I said, 'Darlin', we need to light a fire on the Internet,' and she said, 'Let me work on it,'" McKinney recalls.

A "Free Eric Volz" MySpace page materialized, letters written by Eric from jail appear like blog posts on a "Friends of Eric Volz" Web site.

Supporters produced a YouTube video called "An American Wrongfully Imprisoned In Nicaragua."

Soon, blogs picked up the story, and big media like CNN and NBC followed. Around the same time, congressmen and State Department officials took notice.

In Nicaragua, there is not a strong Internet culture yet — but locals expressed themselves online, too, in newspaper forums. And an anti-Eric Volz video popped up on YouTube, followed by counter-responses produced by still others who had learned about the case from the Internet.

Beyond the case itself, it seemed that traditional media in Nicaragua suddenly found itself at odds with a new, global, social media.

To read the balance of Jardin's column click here: Two Sides Take Up Murder Case Online.

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