The Fragrance of Revolutions: From Carnation to Jasmine

On the morning of April 25, 1974, as I sat in one of my 5th grade classrooms in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal, my teacher’s nervous look out the window called my attention to a long chain of military vehicles driving down a nearby road. Our provincial town had a large military base, so I made nothing of it. But within a few hours my country and people’s forbidden secret would be revealed to hundreds of thousands of children like me: we had been living under something called “a fascist dictatorship” for nearly 50 years.

A bloodless military coup put an end to it that day, with what came to be known as the Carnation Revolution of April 25. The endless military parade around the city’s square–”Praca da Fruta”–that afternoon, the cheers and cries of the people, the carnations flying in the air and adorning gun barrels remain vivid memories—and I have relived them often since the unfolding of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.

A 1970's image of the city square--Praca da Fruta (Fruit Plaza), where a large farmers' market takes place everyday--shared by a blogger who retells events of his adolescence in Caldas around that time.

The excitement of those early weeks, months—with political prisoners being freed, ex-patriots returning home, the songs of the revolution, political parties organizing for free elections, colonies being handed back to the African people—was followed by tumultuous, at times violent years. At the age of 12, I joined a demonstration of the social democratic party at Commerce Square–Praca do Comercio–in Lisbon to protest a relentless wave of government takeovers, and I had my first taste of tear gas–a precocious “coming-of-age,” “run-of-the-country” event!

The economic situation would worsen for years to come, but all through my teens, living in Lisbon, I would sit at cafés after school to discuss politics, ideology, philosophy–the past and future of the country. That personal awakening and investment alone was life-changing. The glory of the revolution was about having a voice. Throughout my adult life in the United States, I have often been labeled “opinionated” (mostly by men), and “challenging” (mostly by women). I smile, knowing where it all comes from: when you wake up one morning to realize your parents and grandparents lived the better part of their lives without a voice, how can you ever let go? For one, unlike too many of my American acquaintances, I could never pass on my right to vote.

In early 2011 when the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were all the news, my passion for writing notwithstanding, the idea of blogging was the furthest from my mind. But the Arab uprisings and America’s sudden fascination with foreign affairs stirred old, favorite subjects of mine:  revolutions, the Middle East, and American’s seeming lack of interest in world news. [Read more here or see a modified version at The Huffington Post.]

The Huffington Post: Blogging Students Get Inside Look at New Media Model

Editors and reporters at The Huffington Post–including Arianna Huffington herself–took time this week to talk blogging and the changing world of news media with a group of student bloggers from Pace University. On a class trip with Prof. Andrew RevkinThe New York TimesDotEarth blogger, the group is the first to enroll in Blogging a Better Planet, a new course in Pace’s Media and Communications graduate program.

Following a tour of the AOL studios (parent company of The Huffington Post Media Group), Tom Zeller Jr., senior energy and environment reporter, showed the students to the HuffPost’s newsroom.

Even if you don’t follow the Post or are not sure what it is–online newspaper, blog-based news aggregator?–a few minutes navigating the website, realizing it started as a blog in 2005, ought to make you go “Wow!” But it’s not until you enter the HuffPost’s newsroom that the enormity of this news media machine actually dawns on you (my Blackberry photos do little justice).
Free to take pictures and video, we followed Mr. Zeller through wide open hallways, passing two employees on a ping-pong break, and gathered in a meeting room with Executive Editor Tim L. O’Brien, Managing Editor Nico Pitney, and Green Editor Joanna Zelman.  
During a conversation about the story of the HuffPost in the context of the evolution of blogs and news media, Mr. Pitney reflected on the intersection of newer and older media: bloggers writing columns based on research and fact-oriented reporting, and traditional journalism adapting to the fast, real-time pace of the Internet.
Mr. O’Brien spoke of the decline of “noise” and “proforma” in news blogging and validated the Post’s combination of aggregated and original content with some impressive numbers: the news site publishes 30-40 articles averaging 800-1,200 words, daily; and 4-5 stories averaging 4-5,000 words, weekly. While he was quick to remind us of the complex technological machine behind the Internet newspaper, he always returned to the HuffPost’s commitment to building community. This progressive socialization would make the HuffPost the Facebook of news and information. For Mr. O’Brien, tapping into the passions of readers and contributors, and inviting discussions about public concerns, is the way to understand and reflect the changing world we are experiencing.
Asked about editorial “quality control,” Joanna Zelman talked about the social responsibility of news media and opportunities for adding content value to “the cute” and popular. She gave the example of a recent trending video about the new arrival of cute Tiger Cubs at the Taronga Zoo, in Sidney, Australia. While the cubs’ video was the big draw–helped by a video-focused headline–the Green Editor seized the chance to bring awareness to the endangered species: the cubs at the Sidney zoo represent nearly 1% of the wild Sumatran Tiger population worldwide. As Mr. Pitney put it, it’s about ” the sugar with the medicine.”
Nico Pitney and Tim O’Brien also discussed editorial and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) considerations behind headlines, types of readership, and the value of pushing a story and sticking with it.
President and Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington–now also a 2011 Glamour Woman of the Year honoree–made a surprise visit, and engaged with the students taking an interest in their blog ventures. We posed for a picture, and we all left with our choice of two of her most recent books (autographed): “Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream”  and “On Becoming Fearless…in Love, Work, and Life.”

From left are AramisGrant, Amarylis Martinez, Arianna Huffington, Eunice Cunha (a.k.a., Amador Square), Justin Jones, Jennifer Price, Cem Aridag and Andrew Revkin.

Thank you to our gracious hosts for a very exciting visit and conversation!