Interview with Blogger Justin Podur (The Killing Train)By The Pakistani Spectator • Aug 10th, 2008 • Category: Interviews • No Responses
Justin Podur is a writer and editor for ZNet, part of Z Communications, an alternative media organization dedicated to political analysis and support for movements for social change. He has reported from Haiti, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Israel/Palestine, and Mexico. He has also written on South Asia and North America. He has written for Z Magazine, Frontline (India), New Politics, New Left Review, rabble.ca, and other publications and is part of the Pueblos en Camino collective (www.en-camino.org). He runs a blog (www.killingtrain.com). He is based in Toronto.
Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?
In fact over the past ten years in some ways I think I know more, and in others I don’t think I remember as well or as sharply. I am not sure if that is because I am dealing with more information than I used to or because I am a little less sharp than I was when I was younger.
I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?
Mostly being able to use the blog as a place for field reports or comments from Venezuela, Haiti, Pakistan or India.
What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?
I recently started a mailing list, which is older technology than blogging, but I have found that some people like to get material mailed to them rather than go look for it. I am the same way, though I choose very carefully the people I want mailing me stuff - and once you get someone who mails you material you don’t like, getting them to stop can be difficult.
What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?
Movements that have come together to oppose government censorship or commercial control over information, bandwidth, and infrastructure, in North America and elsewhere have been inspiring. So has the free software/open source movement (see the free software foundation www.fsf.org for example).
The use of streaming video sites like YouTube has made a big difference to who can get an audience for video. The somewhat hidden centralized nature of a lot of these cites (YouTube, Blogspot) makes them easy to censor and shut down, potentially, and that is a concern.
Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?
Not necessarily. Technology in itself can almost always be used to make people more passive, unless it is appropriated by people consciously.
What do you think sets Your site apart from others?
My site is in some ways just a slice of ZNet (www.zcommunications.org/znet), which is a much bigger project, and from which my blog sprung. I wanted to collect my own writing in one place and also potentially be able to publish things that might not fit on ZNet. Like any blogger, I try to be a part of several different communities, and it is the interplay of the different perspectives that makes any blog unique.
Is it true that who has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands?
Usually when people say someone has too much time, it is actually an accusation of misplaced priorities. Bloggers who write frequently and a lot are people who prioritize blogging over other things in life - usually other kinds of writing. I don’t actually have any particular attachment to the format over print articles or television or radio or magazines, except that it makes it possible to respond to events quickly and have a direct conversation with readers.
What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world more friendlier and less hostile?
I am a big fan of being able to have a dialogue even with people who one totally disagrees with. If matters are argued on their merits, the truth has a better chance of getting out. If abuse, personal attack, uninvited psychoanalytical diagnosis, or incivility come up, as they all too quickly seem to on the net (and elsewhere, in political discussion) then the merits and the truth of the matter gets clouded.
Who are your top five favourite bloggers?
I am actually not very much of a member of the blogging community. But blogs that I read almost without fail (unfortunately a male-dominated list) are my friend Rahul Mahajan’s empire notes www.empirenotes.org, Alex de Waal’s blog on Darfur, http://www.ssrc.org/blogs/darfur/category/darfur/, Juan Cole’s informed comment, www.juancole.com, my friend Evan Henshaw Plath’s Anarchogeek www.anarchogeek.com, and of course the ZNet blogs www.zcommunications.org/blogs.
Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?
I have found the ones you hope are going to have a major impact are not the ones that do. I wrote a quick commentary after Bush’s re-election in 2004 http://www.killingtrain.com/node/270 that said a lot of things that others said, but because I wrote it quickly, I think it ended up getting reproduced a great deal.
What is your perception about Pakistan and its people?
As someone with Indian roots, who has traveled in the Middle East a little bit, I was expecting Pakistan to be more “foreign” than it actually was. I was struck by the commonness of language, culture, and geography - perhaps I had been fooled by the disunity of nationalism, religious chauvinism, ideology, states and borders.
What is the most striking difference between a developed country and a developing country?
I think the most striking difference is that developing countries are judged based on stereotype and developed countries get the benefit of a more nuanced view. People say things about cultures and peoples of developing countries they wouldn’t dream of saying about developed countries.
What is the future of blogging?
It is here: a future in which it is just another medium among many, useful for some things and not for others.
You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?
It has actually had very little effect and I hope it stays that way. Writing for the alternative media has been a major part of my life, but blogging has only been one part of that. I have found that writing articles for a site like ZNet with a large and significantly activist readership has had more of an impact than blogging, for me.
What are your future plans?
I think the relationship between politics, economics, and environmental problems internationally and in local contexts is very important and I intend to work in that area more.