Almost a year ago to the date, Saint Lucians woke up to this headline plastered on their various social media timelines and feeds: “NSA flags St Lucia for terrorist ambitions.’ What?! Had we joined the likes of Israel as countries targeted by the US security agency for suspicious behaviour? Not exactly.
Further perusal of the article revealed that the Helen of the West had supposedly gotten on the radar for consistent use of “mentions of the words/phrases “bomb”, “making bomb”, “bomb on credit”, “bomb loans” and “bomb for phone”. In other words it was just another witty piece of repartee on which local satirical site Island Wide News had made its name.At the helm of the operation is Remy Francis, a web developer by trade who serves as director, manager and editor-in-chief. He explained that the concept first originated from random conversation with his comrades.
“Me and my friends always used to talk about a lot of the stuff you see on Island Wide News. A lot of social issues, general stupidity as well. And we would have our own little take on it. Eventually we started having little ideas. We were also fans of The Onion which is a satirical website, originally a satirical paper in the United States. We found it pretty hilarious and I figured it was something that I wanted to do, something that Saint Lucia kind of needs. We have a lot of serious stuff going on. I think that satire could lend a new voice to it. At the same time I was also doing web development so I wanted to make a website portraying my passion which was satire.”
But the venture is not without its critics. Last year Francis received a call from the carnival board after live tweeting a band-launching event. They understood the dialogue was in jest but found certain elements offensive as they didn’t want to cause any conflict between revellers.
However, most of the time the criticism comes from persons for whom the punch line goes over their head.
“Every now and then we would get a few critics from Facebook; usually people who don’t realize that it’s satire. They will take it as an actual story and they would rant with all their passion against what they see as a great travesty. It baffles me. Every time we put out a story we will see one or two people like, “What is this?” I think I have only encountered one or two people who know it’s satire and still hate it. Whatever. You always get critics.”
So what kind of stories get the most traction? True to local culture, those of a salacious nature.
“I find the sex stories tend to go very far. Our most successful story along those lines was a story we did in February titled ‘Customs seizes 113,700 dildos from Cap Estate resident. A lot of people really thought that happened, some still believe it happened and talk about it to this day.”
Another popular piece? ‘Saint Lucian-made condom ‘Lo-cal’ to hit shelves March 15th’ which had a few people looking forward to finding the Piton-emblazoned prophylactic in supermarkets. And adding further fire to the north-south wars, ‘Visa requirement for Vieux-Fort implemented’.
Besides Francis, there are three other writers on staff and one trainee, but he is always on the lookout for talented writers. The group believes in the ‘no holds barred’ approach but takes precaution against possible litigation. They don’t use real names except in the case of public figures and sometimes even change those as well. Besides visible disclaimers, stories are also crafted to seem implausible.
“We try to put a lot of big hints in there to make sure people realize this is a joke, it’s not real news, do not take it seriously. But they don’t really get it. It might be because they’re not used to satire; we don’t see it that often in Saint Lucia. But over the last few months we’ve started to get people saying, “Oh I love Island Wide News. Their stories are hilarious.”
Currently Island Wide News can be found online at www.islandwidenews.com, twitter. Instagram and Facebook.
Francis eventually wants to expand regionally and is already experimenting with articles on other islands, most notably St. Vincent. Production has been amped up to three articles a day, with the goal of outputting 100 a month.
Not bad for a young man whose dreams of becoming a writer were dashed by a teacher who said that it was not likely he would be able to hack it.
Challenge accepted and completed.