Robbin Whachell and the History of The Bahamas Weekly
The following I wrote in 2011 for my website, TheBahamasWeekly.com, when I decided to leave The Bahamas and return to Canada. I wrote it to explain to my readers (and those in Bahamian government) why I was leaving, , and prove my place with the website: Perhaps we are all naive when we move to a new country. I know I was excited! The chance for a new life, the unknown, creating a new reality in a foreign land, seems as real as our forefathers who may have discovered new shores across long stretches of water.
This was how my family felt (with our four children, 2, 4, 6, and 9 years) when we moved to Grand Bahama Island.
Raised in a large family and from a mother that was always involved in community, whether it was assisting at her church or our schools, teaching catechism, or dressing up as Santa and driving on a skidoo over snow on her own to deliver gifts to poor children, I come from a background of giving back to those in need.
I was not on the island long before I found different activities to make me feel purposeful. I joined a small group who volunteered to give healing touch to visiting and local cancer patients, joined soccer with my daughter and began coaching at the YMCA, and also helped form the first girls’ soccer league on the island with Donnie and Mary Knowles, of which I am still involved today.
Aside from these activities I felt there was so much good happening on the island that I wanted to share anything I felt was ‘golden’ or ‘helpful’ to the community around me. I started sending out emails to friends and acquaintances in 2003. I shared events I heard about, community needs I may have overheard, etc, and offered brief commentary on thinking positive, or provided inspiring quotes. I do not remember why I began doing this. I was simply compelled … and felt of service to assist others. My email list grew like wildfire, as I guess I was filling a need, and people appreciated knowing what was going on.
Within a few months people started sending me information to share with my list. When the hurricanes of 2004 hit, it was a very useful vehicle as I was able to disseminate important information coming in from various service groups. My list grew and grew. It grew so much that one email per topic was becoming too frequent for many. This I never heard first-hand, as no one ever emailed me to say so, or did they ask to be taken off my list. I heard this via the grapevine. I decided then to move to a ‘weekly’ announcement, so people would not be bombarded with too many emails.
This worked beautifully, and it mushroomed the growth of my email list. ‘Freeport Announcements’ came once a week filled with information on what was going on, sports scores, charity events, small business openings, leaving the island sales, and a community calendar, and more.
I must reiterate, the sole intention of my sending these emails was that I felt compelled to. While even my children were coming home and telling me that the word was, ‘their mother was strange’ for sending out these announcements, still not a single person had asked me to stop sending them. I would never open-carbon anyone. I in fact had the opposite reaction; people were requesting their friends, family, and even entire groups they belonged to, to be added to my list; and were forwarding my emails on to their contacts as well. I had people that lived in the USA, Canada or UK. They were either snow birds, or had relatives here and simply wanted to receive the information.
Please note that I was not sitting around all day working on what had become Grand Bahama Island’s first email newsletter, it simply unfolded each week. I was a very busy mother of four young children and led a very active life in the community. I was in the midst of homeschooling our children, something i did for four years, which was very successful. One can imagine the demand of doing four different school years at the same time, however it ended up being one of the most rewarding things we ever did as a family.
The next big challenge that presented itself during this process was that my weekly newsletters were becoming too large for email servers to receive. People then did take the time to email me and let me know that it took way too long to download my ‘weekly’ as its size had become at least 25 times the starting point.
Hard times hit next as my marriage broke up. The love I felt for this country, and with my children now so involved in their new ‘home’, I could not think of leaving. The children’s father is presently the island’s only chiropractor. I did not want to take them away from their new life, or their father’s presence and positive influence. We all suffered through a very difficult divorce that is still not complete, but I continued to maintain the growth of my newsletter during those years.
With the demise of my marriage and the severe financial strain I was in, it was at this time I knew that I must find work to survive. I never received payment for anything I posted in my newsletter – I actually never even thought of it, I was simply enjoying what I felt compelled to do. No one was doing email marketing at that time… there was only one other newsletter I later found out about called B2B from Nassau, but most on Grand Bahama knew nothing about it.
With my background in film, I was hired by Paul Quigley to assist with the new Bahamas Film Studios. I know this threw many locals off, as up until then I was seen with my kids, and in sports, and of course known for my newsletter. My permit was approved, but within weeks I was told my application was being red flagged, and it had something to do with … (and this is only hearsay and what Quigley told me) “that I was seen to be taking Bahamian men away from their women…”!?! Quigley was advised to let me go. Ironically another local non-Bahamian resident was hired in my place a couple months later and continued on until the demise of the studios. I felt betrayed by Quigley for not standing up for me, but he did what he felt was right I suppose.
In 2005 I was able (and in the end 'unlucky') to become the only local person hired with Pirates of the Caribbean who required a work permit. After two months of Disney’s persistence with immigration I was approved and hired. I helped run their administration office as a production secretary along with Gail Woon – something we both worked very hard at as it was the initial setup of the over 500 person operation. I continued my newsletter during those busy months working with Disney, which were often 16 hour days during production. Ironically I never got my name mentioned in the credits along with those that I helped select and hire on jobs for their various departments, or persons I supervised – another immigration situation where Disney refused to pay the permit after they had internal management changes. I would think the new boss overseeing local production thought, “Why should we pay for a permit when ALL of us can come in for free? (a deal Disney made with the government) …and since I’d already helped set up all the local stuff, they could easily dump me as the production was well into running smoothly. Such is life, and in the end I was forced to cover the immigration fees that should have been paid for me.
Paul Quigley and I remained friends over this time, and I even wrote a press release on him after his suspicious death in 2008 at the British Colonial Hilton during the court case over the Film Studios at Gold Rock Creek.
After I left Pirates of the Caribbean I went back to being a full-time mom and working the newsletter in between life. My eldest daughter was going through a drastic time after the divorce and a death of her friend. We were dealing with her drug dependency, in which she was able to tackle thank God, after many months.
It was during this time when a solution to my ever growing weekly newsletter presented itself. I had been showcasing a website called Mackey Media in the newsletter as David Mackey was audio-interviewing local prominent people on his website, and I loved the use of technology and the interviews. In my newsletter I was linking to his website so people could enjoy them also. Dave, being a web guy understood my problem. I ran into him one day and he offered a solution, which was the revival of a website called, GBWeekly.com that he’s previously operated as a community source with photographer Tim Aylen. They were likely ahead of their time when they operated it as many did not yet have computers as a household item, and in any event Tim had moved to Nassau, so it was shelved.
Dave told me that his website could house all the information I was gathering and the ‘weekly’ could simply give summaries and links to full page articles. Never did we discuss business or profit. We were filling a need, and I being a foreigner, never even thought of where this endeavour could go - I simply wanted to keep the initiative alive for my readers.
When Dave and I launched GBweekly.com, the only negative words we heard about what we were doing were from two people who were now also running a weekly newsletter. Most of their references were to the affect that I was not a Bahamian. I did not understand their point as I was simply putting information now onto a website, just as today anyone can put information on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or any social media. I could have been blogging for all anyone cared. What I did was free for all to view. The female counterpart of our competition retorted that she would not stop until she got me “off the island”. Note that this same person used to send me information to disseminate, and one day asked me to show her how I was doing what I was doing, of which I agreed to, but she never followed up with me. Also note that if you went to GBweekly.com… it redirected to a competitor's website. Please note that these people, who were opposed to what I was doing, were not born Bahamians themselves, but were naturalized.
Dave and I happened to meet one day with the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president, and he expressed that he felt I was an ambassador for the country with all the good I was doing and said he would try and help me in getting a work permit. He was in the immigration consulting business. With his assistance I was successful in getting approved two years in a row and began then, and only then, making a small income from the website, which supplemented my child support payments. Over this time we quickly transitioned into TheBahamasWeekly.com feeling it beneficial for all to include the entire country. An archipelago of islands is already segregated enough.
The rest I will shorten, but in 2009 during re-application I was denied. Our consultant informed us that our competition had infiltrated immigration camp so heavily, that he could no longer assist us, and expressed we get a lawyer involved and deal directly with the head of immigration. I was very upset, and my life in The Bahamas came crashing down. I was told that I had to pack up and leave within 30 days. I felt as if I was being treated as a criminal. A lawyer came to my aid, that being Fred Smith. We ended up getting my approval within a couple weeks but at a fee (payable to immigration) that was almost 3 times the original. It was quite a struggle to pay $9000 a year for our small business, but we made it work. Those were some of the toughest days of my life.
After approval Dave and I got back to work, and our website has continually grown each and every month, and every year. This year (2011) we will celebrate our 5th anniversary.
We also took some bad online commentary by another competing site from people based in Nassau. We ignored it, simply taking it as jealousy because we weren’t doing anything wrong, and kept striving to do our best to help those around us and put out the best information we could find or share, which included doing much video production with me as the on-mic commentator for streaming video productions.
Through this and our close work with the forward-thinking Ministry of Tourism on Grand Bahama, we put out a Tourism TV channel based on Grand Bahama tourism activities. This was aired via Cable Bahamas and was on the TV for 2 years thanks to a wonderful technician there. Channel 56 offered suggestions on all you could do on Grand Bahama, messages from the GB Ministry of Tourism, a ticker tape on upcoming events on the island including welcome messages to foreign groups visiting the island, etc, etc. and running an already busy website, we were only getting started with the TV channel. There was soooo much potential there. We were beginning to feature music videos of Bahamian artists, and most of the videos done by The Bahamas a Weekly or Mackey Media were featured on the TV Channel. Rave reviews were coming in based on the content, variety, and the quality. Visiting celebrities like Johnny Depp, Sir Sean Connery, Ving Rhames and others were featured along with top sporting events within The Bahamas. To my sadness, the TV channel was taken down after a transition at Cable Bahamas without any reason offered. We tried to meet with their upper management, but emails, phone calls, etc were never returned. We were simply told they were too busy. So during a time when Grand Bahama tourism needed all the help it could get, it was removed. Cable Bahamas, a company that makes money off of use of American channels could have easily kept us going with all the new digital channels available to them, (as it cost them nothing and was 100% Bahamian content) but I guess they did not care, not even enough to simply meet with us. And the worst part is they were the ones that advised us on the thousands of dollars of equipment Mackey Media purchased to set it up and keep it running. So much for that!
The Bahamas Weekly today has become a far cry from the little emails I was sending around Grand Bahama Island all those years ago, and our competitors have followed us every step of the way. We have definitely pioneered in this field.
We donate much of our time each year to support large events that promote the country or assist the youth and the arts – we do this for free and even travel to events to cover them, out of pocket. We want to make The Bahamas look good.
We do not have a corporate office; we are not a huge entity with phones ringing and people walking in and out. We are a sign of the times – VIRTUAL; feeding a web entity with information by submissions or gleaned off the internet; and via intense networking by email, social media, and most importantly a constant desire to find information and put the word out about things going on around us, in the country, or around the world related to The Bahamas. We are able to do this by sitting in front of our computers or laptops (in our pajamas if we want) and are not restricted or constricted by normal ‘work hours’, traffic, etc., etc. We can travel and not miss a beat... the website keeps on moving, digesting and growing.
My decision now, to leave the Bahamas after 13 years, is also based on my role as a mother, and daughter. Even though my competition has been relentless on trying to see me out of this country, and that constant pressure (almost 5 years) has not been easy to take, my annual battle to get ‘one more year’ of life in this country has also taken its toll. I was told again this year I would not be approved. We fought again with Fred Smith’s help, and we were again granted approval, BUT the new increased fee they've attached to it is almost $4000 more than a doctor, and double that of a hotel manager… it made no sense. ADD to that, I was told I could not have a work permit after December of this year – I was told not to re-apply in bold lettering.
My fees had increased over the years with immigration giving me arbitrary ‘career designations’… reclassified later as an editor (only a part of my full role with The Bahamas Weekly) which incurred hefty fee increases, I was not only pigeon-holed into a fee structure of pay-for publications (newspapers), but I was also then seen as doing more than my title, i.e. taking photos or being on camera. This year I was re-classified again to a Vice President, however we have no formal ‘company’, and along with that my fees where raised again.
I can only feel that I am not wanted in this country. It makes no matter of my intention here, that my children grew up here, or what I have done to assist others...I came… created something…contributed… and because a few can complain and lament about my existence...well, I guess the squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease!
So I am choosing to leave The Bahamas. I will still remain editor and co-founder and the money I fed into the Grand Bahama economy will now go into Canada’s economy.
I am not a quitter, but I am one that has to look at what the universe is presenting to me and make good decisions based not only on what’s best for me, but also for my children. I had to consider and add to all this, that all my children have to leave the country to attend secondary school or work. And my parents are in their sunset years and I want to spend time with them. I can certainly give my children and Canada a few years of my time.
I helped birth The Bahamas Weekly and provide or seek out much of its content. It is not an entity that hired me, as I helped create it. I am not just its ‘editor,’ but one that has the same vested interest as a parent to a child, or an inventor to a patent; and I feel this creation flows through my veins. It has been my labour of love.
I will continue on as long as I have internet access. With things like Vonage, Skype, Facebook, Twitter I am connected to my contacts, the world, and The Bahamas. And no one can take that away from me... I am not going anywhere, but Vancouver… and I will be RIGHT HERE online… as close as this for most of you reading this now.
Full speed ahead on the virtual highway of life! The world is my home, and I am safe upon it.
(July 12, 2011 based off an original letter to Bahamas Immigration on May 11, 2011)