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Saturday, 24 July 2010

NO LOL-ING MATTER: RIP TROKTIKO

Those of my readers more used to following the news on the Greek economy may have been surprised to find that, over the last week, most of the news and blog traffic on Greece was concerned with news of a far more sinister nature, questioning not just the viability of Greece’s public finances but also of its political establishment.

The story that threatens to plunge Greece into truly Zimbabwean levels of ill-repute is none other than the assassination of radio news editor and blogger Sokratis Giolias, the man behind Troktiko.

For foreign readers trying to make sense of this story, I am pleased to offer the following summary.

A married father of one (and one more on the way), Giolias was gunned down by three strangers who lured him out of his home in the small hours of the morning by claiming that his car was being stolen. Police claim that no fewer than 15 bullets were fired at him. Responsibility for the attack has now been claimed by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a terrorist group that grew in the aftermath of the Greek riots of November 2008 and had in the past threatened to attack high-profile journalists as collaborators of the capitalist establishment. 


The Sect has assumed responsibility for this latest attack and issued further threats here (in Greek I'm afraid). 

Despite the reasons cited by the Sect, there is no consensus on why Giolias was killed. Readers should note that Greek society is deeply cynical about the nature of terrorist groups and theories abound of their connection to either the Greek political establishments or foreign state agencies.

Greek anarchists had recently denounced Giolias as a police collaborator following the arrest of members of the Revolutionary Struggle, another one of our militant anarchist groups (in English here and in Greek here and here). Mainstream media stories about his death both in Greece and abroad usually come with a corollary to the effect that he was preparing to launch a major story on corruption. While this might suggest the kind of news story that would bring down the Government or endanger business interests (an explanation with very alarming implications of political instability), it has been more commonly suggested that Giolias was preparing a story on the trade of illicit arms, alleging the involvement of the Greek police force. Police have got hold of the hard drives from his home and office computers and only time will tell what they will find – or how much they will let on.

Others point out that Giolias had got in with the wrong crowd from the start: he emerged into the blogosphere having spent a great deal of time working for Makis Triantafyllopoulos, one of our shadier journalists. They parted ways in a sensational barrage of disturbing letters and online posts, with Giolias alleging all manner of journalistic, employer and even sexual misconduct on Makis’ part, as a result of which Giolias claimed to fear for his life. Triantafyllopoulos ended up naming Giolias as the editor of Troktiko, – something which Giolias had falsely denied right up to his death, but which his Troktiko colleagues confirmed subsequently. (Audiatur et altera pars – Makis has his own detailed views on Giolias’ career and death, reported by his staff here).

Troktiko (Greek for “Rodent”) was a tremendously popular blog, which I used to cite on LOLGreece’s own reading list and even once named as one of “my media heroes”. It now claims to be shutting down, and offered its farewell post this Saturday. I will miss it, not for reasons related to journalistic achievement but because I believe that Greece is chronically under-served by its mass media.

As the first Greek media blog with mass appeal (with 450,000 visitors daily and 1.44bn pageloads to date), Troktiko made it quasi-acceptable in Greek society to cite a news blog, though apparently not to run one. In so doing, it (and by extension, Giolias himself) rendered an invaluable service to the Greek nation.

This is not a pronouncement on the independence, objectivity or quality of Troktiko itself, which had found a bizarre niche serving both the middle-upper class “in the know” crowd and the great semi-literate masses. Its material varied from reposted youtube videos of cats doing funny things to consumer advocacy pieces, to endless, incoherent, misspelled and ALL-CAPS’ed jeremiads from ill-informed, semi-literate and anonymous “readers”. Most of this was, one is tempted to think, not the work of Giolias, but of his team of at least 3 full-time equivalent staff and numerous external contributors, who provided window-dressing for the occasional piece of investigative journalism.

Astute readers will remember the embarrassing non-story, published by Troktiko and re-published by Zero Hedge, of a rejected Russian loan offer to Greece, which ended up being reported around the world. This kind of stuff was not only irredeemable drivel that no “investigative journalist” had bothered to research, but also dangerous in that they were leaking raw sewage into the ears of the financial community. An old friend working for a major investment bank confirmed to me at a later date that Greek colleagues were frequent visitors of Troktiko, and it is easy to establish that a Greek reader had forwarded the story to ZeroHedge. When I wrote to the anonymised “letters to the editor” address provided by the blog to point this out, I received no acknowledgement. A “letter” did, however, go up on Troktiko days later wondering why the scandalous matter of the Russian loan was not receiving more attention.

The death of Giolias is tragic in every way, and I wish his young family all manner of strength and comfort. As for Troktiko, I hope that it will be the first of many game-changing Greek blogs. I also hope, however, that its demise will mark the beginning of the end for the kind of journalism-by-innuendo that has left many Greeks so hopelessly and defiantly ignorant.  

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