It was at 2.02am, 15 years ago to date, that Daphne Caruana Galizia uploaded her first post on her blog Running Commentary.
Ironically, it was titled: ‘Zero tolerance for corruption’ – kicking off her incessant decade-long digging up of suspected sleaze in political and business circles on her popular website that led to her assassination in October 2017.
As her stories on the “fraudulent” hospitals’ privatisation deal were vindicated in a landmark court decision just last week, Caruana Galizia’s Notebook, now frozen in time, marks an important date.
Starting a blog was a spur-of-the-moment decision, taken late one night at home, recounted Caruana Galizia’s sister, Corinne Vella. Her eldest son, Matthew, set it up for her and she hammered out her first article.
Writing in the run-up to the elections and presumably for a temporary stint, she was welcomed to the blogging world by her readers.
One of her commentators back then said: “It certainly seems like you have a mob that is hell-bent on intimidating you and shutting you up.
“If, like myself, they knew what stuff you are made of, they would know that they are wasting their time.”
That first blog post aimed fire at then Labour leader Alfred Sant and referred to a Times of Malta interview with him just days before the election.
It makes reference to corruption at all levels in the mid-1980s “when you couldn’t report it to the Commissioner of Police, because not only was he a ‘paraventu’ for corruption in the real sense of the word, but his men were not to be trusted”, Caruana Galizia typed.
That same day, she published a long piece entitled ‘Amorality’, which once again targeted Sant. It was the start of something new.
“Daphne’s blog quickly became a meeting space of sorts. It is something she wrote about herself, in the wake of the 2017 election that returned Muscat’s corrupt government to power,” Vella says.
In the blogger’s own words: “I know why you come here, because lots of you tell me… You come here to feel normal in a sea of insanity.”
It was the weekend before the election on March 8, when, typically, electoral propaganda took over every public space and it would get difficult to cut through the noise, Vella recounted.
“In the week before an election, it is difficult to speak about anything else and the cumulative effect of Daphne’s posts is that they became part of the conversation, almost in real time,” she continued.
You come here to feel normal in a sea of insanity
That first blog post was published from her family home in Bidnija, close to where she was assassinated when she left her house on that fateful Monday afternoon on October 16, 2017.
But Daphne would write anywhere and everywhere and would line up several blog posts that would be published throughout the day.
“That gave the impression she was permanently glued to her laptop and never went anywhere, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Vella points out.
What attracted the journalist to the idea of blogging was probably the “immediacy of the medium” 15 long years ago.
At the time, she wrote two newspaper columns a week, but blogging offered the possibility of faster and more frequent publication, rapid reaction, or even writing in real time as events unfolded.
“The popularity was not surprising, but the speed with which it happened was stunning,” Vella maintains.
Over the years, posts that stand out because of their relevance even today include the first and the last, which referenced Keith Schembri – clocking up 42,400 shares.
The first time the number of page views surged past the half-million mark was on December 9, 2014, when then Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia’s chauffeur was involved in a shoot-out.
That record was beaten two years later when Caruana Galizia reported in real time that former economy minister Chris Cardona and Joe Gerada, an employee in his private secretariat, were in a brothel in Germany. The number of page views in a single day hit 600,834.
The day after the 2017 election, there were one million page views by early afternoon.
Her critics often dismissed her blog posts as cheap gossip and merely intended to criticise the Labour Party. Daphne went on to be sued for her blog posts, the most egregious cases being by Cardona and Gerada, who had her bank accounts frozen, while businessman Silvio Debono sued her 19 times.
Caruana Galizia’s other sister Helene Asciak noted the 15th anniversary of the first blog post on Facebook, saying: “Daphne said she was starting a blog. Within a couple of hours, it was up and running, and the nation was hooked.”
One of her avid followers was Ann Demarco, who may not have started following her from day one but remembers constantly refreshing her page for news during the 2008 elections.
“She was giving updates in real time, and I knew she would be up to speed about everything that happened on the day. As to how I got hooked, apart from her wonderful writing and keen eye, I think it was her humour.
“She made me laugh out loud so many times. She was such a clever, insightful and brilliant writer.”
After Caruana Galizia’s brutal murder, Demarco continued to refresh her blog… She joined the women-led pressure group Occupy Justice, still seeking justice for the murdered journalist.
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