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The future Blogging

Ms. Uropinion  in her The brave new world of blogs talking about the future of blogging in India predicted that a time has come for specialized blog-sites that cater to the needs and aspiration of those interested in their chosen fields ; they might be authors, journalist, social and political commentators, artists and musicians; and as such.

I also often come across comments expressing disappointment with the sort of response they obtain from Sulekha and its participating members to their earnest and thought provoking articles. They also remark, with a wry smile, while their light hearted pieces and flippant forwards gather comments in bushels and carry away the cake; their real efforts are left sniffing the candles. Many enlightened bloggers (such as Giridhar Gopal, Dr.Saurav Basu and a few others) would prefer to focus their energies on Book projects or other projects that interest them rather than post copiously on Sulekha.

I think, the two issues that I mentioned are in some way related. Let me explain.

Uropinion was talking, largely, from her experience on Sulekha which is not a site for specialists.Sulekha, on the other hand, is rather a social blog-site that feeds on feel-good factors; and caters mainly to Indian interests. It is a heterogeneous but a friendly community that looks for comfort, camaraderie and appreciation. You see, predominantly, short accolades and appreciations – verbal and non verbal- without saying why you found the effort likable. You do not generally come across elaborate or involved debates flying across the pages and carrying forward your issue.

Its function and utility is not specialized. I understand there are, in fact, a few members who post articles on subjects such as world or European history, economy, study of languages etc. on other sites; but prefer to post light pieces and blogs of Indian interests on Sulekha. In addition, the stars of the vintage Sulekha, the eminent writers such as Rajiv Malhotra, Ramachandra Guha, Subash Kak and other scholars who posted masterly essays on Indian history, culture, and philosophy  migrated out of Sulekha long back. In a way, a sort of specialization or call it non-specialization had already arrived in Sulekha, by default.

As Shri DSampath remarked, every portal has its ambiance; and every portal has its congruous identity. The people, who make up the composite culture of the portal, mobilize and respond to only that which is congruent. If some Bloggers are disappointed with the tepid response to their serious writing; it is just in the nature of things. To put it rather crudely, Sulekha is the wrong tree. As DSampath says, this phenomenon of selective support is true in any portal; that might happen anywhere, in any portal given its ambiance.

Having said that, the quality or the relevance of a post cannot be judged merely by the number of hits it gains. Nor can the importance of such contributions be belittled. Limited viewership does not translate to negligence. It just means the appreciation here is selective, as anywhere else. It also means that all are not capable of presentation or appreciation of rare perspectives on non- ephemeral subjects. Not many can do that; and those that do, add to the richness and to the diversity of a portal, albeit a non-specialized one as Sulekha.

The Brave New world of Blogs, the future that Uropinion was predicting entered India many years back. There are in existence for quite some years a large number of forums that cater to special interests such as history, religion, sports, music, technical subjects etc. The number of blog-sites devoted to gossip on TV soaps and movies are literally countless. Many national level newspapers (say Times of India, Economic Times, The Outlook and many others) and TV -News channels (Say NDTV, CNN-IBN and others) carry blog-site where political and current affairs are hotly discussed. The recent phenomenon in Indian world of weblogs. , is the entry of Mega- Stars including Big B; the great and inimitable Laloo  too is chugging along merrily  riding his royal saloon.

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The future of blogging is no longer the specialized sites of the kind we were talking about; but it is  something else. That might perhaps relate to the effectiveness of the blog-posts and the roles they can play in the society.

A couple of years back, PBS, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, a non–profit media enterprise, broadcast a series of programs reviewing the alarming state of the major national –level news papers in US , the predicaments they face and the bleak future they stare at.  The programs also reviewed the mounting pressure for profits faced by the daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet. The telecast highlighted the sad tale of the Los Angeles Times and the trials and tribulations of its beleaguered editorial staff; because the saga of the Los Angeles Times had become emblematic of the difficulties facing many daily newspapers.

According to the review, the problems confronting the national level news papers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times and the L.A. Times were:  the fall in Newspaper stocks caused by the dwindling circulations coupled with huge loss in advertisement revenues. The other problems faced were the saturated market in media industry and lack of fresh investment which in turn was related to the tardy economic growth (the US economic growth is around 2.4 percent as compared to that of China at 9.9 percent and India at nearly 8.5 percent.)

The genesis of the Newspaper problems were traced to the change in the ownership patterns which shifted from eminent families who just enjoyed the prestige of owning a major Newspaper and were satisfied with moderate profits; to public corporations who not only had to show decent profits but also had to keep chasing profit graphs quarter after quarter to satisfy the stock traders. In order to keep happy their faceless masters the newspapers cut costs by economizing on the production, marketing and even in the news rooms by downsizing the staff strength.

In the process, the reporter on the street who investigated, verified, gathered, and reported the news was served the layoff notice. The newspapers had to run twice as hard, just to stay where they are. That was just as the Queen said to Alice “Well..! In my country you have to run and run to stay where you are.”

The problem was exacerbated with the invasion of internet which cut into the revenue from the classifieds and other advertisements, which accounted for more than 70 percent of a newspaper’s revenue. With the internet spreading into all aspects of life, those hunting for houses, used cars, jobs, antiques etc. increasingly resort to internet to search for those items rather than run through the classifieds.

The other problem from the internet was that the websites like Google; Yahoo etc. collate news items from newspapers and post them on their web pages. They are not gathering news from the field but are recycling news gathered by the newspaper reporters. The newspapers do not, however, derive income from such news updates.

The major problem was however the content of the newspapers; to strike a balance between International, National and Local news. This was the hardest part. The fall in circulation of the dailies that publish international news was attributed to this factor. The average American is more interested in local news than in international affairs. He buys a newspaper not to be educated about unrest in Iraq but to learn what is happening in his neighborhood or town. That led to hyper localization of news.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between the international and local news, many Newspaper magnets speculated whether the phenomenal increase in Bloggers and the explosion of posts  on blog-sites could be tapped for better use? Whether blog sites could complement news-papers? The speculations even spread to whether bloggers could be employed as grassroots intermediary to distill information for a specific niche of readership.

In this context, the role that bloggers could play in local journalism was also discussed. Let’s say, if any one who reports a happening is accepted as a journalist; then by that norm, any one who posts an event on his blog page could also be considered a citizen journalist. If that is so, can blogging be employed for reporting and spreading of news and events – just as local newspapers? If that possibility is acceptable, do we need specialists who report to newspapers and pursue that as a career? Or can not the bloggers supplement or replace their efforts; and help to cut costs?

The issues involved in pursuing that line of thought were: Will the entries posted by the bloggers carry any weight or value? Do they have the credibility to be accepted as news? In the larger context, are they capable of bringing about changes in attitudes or of influencing events in our living-world?

How far can the bloggers go in that direction? Anyone with a camera, a phone and a laptop might be able to record, but do they have the background knowledge and history to make a proper assessment. Does that person even know whether or not something is new or news? What happens if that person makes a mistake in their reporting? Are there fact checkers? What happens when students, researching papers relay on those news-items? How do we deal with sensitive issues such as libel and slander? What separates the professional journalists from Joe American the blogger who slanders people online and puts erroneous information on the Web without bothering to check and see if it is accurate?

The debate has so far remained inconclusive

A majority of the Newspapermen thought that blogging and traditional journalism play by different rules and will remain distinct.But they too thoght that at some stage the two need to come closer.

Preesently the biggest impact of blogging on mainstream journalism has been the adoptation of a more personal voice in reporting and in narration.Further , many mainstream news media outlets are now incorporating blogs on to their websites.A reporter’s or an editor’s blog provides a way to include details that might not make it to the published official article.It serves  as a tools to a journalist to air his own views and to radiate his personality.

The assimilation of bloggers in to mainstream journalism is still a faraway prospect. It is likely that the two might, someday, become a bit closer

[As regards the position in India is concerned, it is very different from the one in US; and such exigencies as we discussed are not even in sight. Because, India is one of the few countries in the world where newspaper readership is soaring, and where the print media is doing wonderfully well. The growth prospects of India’s newspaper publishing industry are phenomenal. At the same time, blogging is yet to gain credibility as a source of news and events.

Further, the invasion of internet into newspaper’s ad-revenue from classifieds is not significant yet, thanks to low level of internet penetration in the hinterland as also the literacy levels.

The growth in technology and changes in financial structures are yet to catch India. Influx of foreign capital into dailies, if that happens, might perhaps have a huge impact. It is rather not very predictable right now.The Govt. is therefore cautious about increasing the threshold limit.

Having said all the good things about Indian journalism, I cannot help mentioning that Editorial columns/pages are rapidly loosing their voice of any kind (let alone the sage like voice). The issue is related to India’s present standing in the International diplomatic community. India’s economic status might have shown an improvement, but its role in International diplomacy is vastly diminished. The reason for that is that India does not seem to have an opinion on any major international issue/crisis. Even in case it has one, it is put out very cautiously and timidly that hardly any one takes notice of it. India is also not on any group specially designed to solve a crisis or to mediate or to recommend a way out. This status is reflected in Indian newspaper editorials also.]

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The next stage of improvement in blogging would mostly be in technical aspects- in terms of content display, versatility, transfers, access modes, encryptions etc.

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The other new thing about blogging is the Corporate Blogging or Blogging as a career. A number of businesses are hiring people to write blogs or to update online journals. Companies are looking for candidates who can write in a conversational style about timely topics that would appeal to customers, clients and potential recruits .For instance,a number of products in stores like Whole Foods have stories on their labels: stories about how this little artisan bakery was founded, about how this family got into organic cheese-making, about how that wine is donating part of its profits to a charity. These companies aren’t trying to be cute; they’re just trying to get you to connect to the product.

Interestingly, even a mega company like IBM is now promoting blogging. A recent announcement by IBM posted on its Intranet site encouraged all its 320,000+ employees’ worldwide to consider engaging actively in the practice of “blogging”. Most of the posts are however tech related.

It seems that an increasing number of people now blog for a living; or they blog as part of their work. In many cases those who blogged for fun or as a hobby graduated into “professional” status. In addition, a lot of former journalists are becoming entrepreneurial bloggers.

Those interested in writing blogs that deal with professional or work-related topics might wish to read Robert Scobel’s “Corporate Weblog Manifesto, and his follow-up post. A great deal of it is based in common sense, but there appears to be something about blogging that encourages us to set common sense aside.

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All said and done, I think the future of blogging is limited only by the imagination of those who may blog now or in the future.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in General Interest

 

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What is happening to News?

A. Newspapers in India

1. One of the happier features of today’s India is its print media. There are roughly 62,000 newspapers in India. According to the National Readership Study 2006, the print media is enjoying a robust growth. The number of papers sold daily in India rose 33 percent during 2001 to 2006. The circulation of the dailies grew by 12.6 million during the year and reached 203.6 million by the end of year 2006. India is one of the few countries in the world where newspaper readership is soaring.

2. The 2006 National Readership Survey findings show the largest growth rate was in the local language newspapers. The circulation figures for Dainik Jagaran stood at 21.2 million while that of Dainik Bhasker was 21.0 million, both published in Hindi. The Times of India the most widely read English newspaper (7.9 million) was followed by The Hindu (4.05 million) and Hindustan times (3.85 million). The upsurge in India’s newspaper market is due in part to the government’s change of policy in 2002 and to a growth in advertising business. This boom corresponds with more supplements, travel and lifestyle magazines being produced to meet the demands of a more prosperous and inquisitive society. In addition, there are currently 300 television channels and their number could increase by 30% next year, say up to 400.

It is estimated there is still a significant scope for growth of print media, as there are 359 million people who can read and understand the language but do not read any publication. Of this 359 million, 68 per cent read Hindi.

3. All this exuberance is a heart-warming sight for newspaper publishers in India. In most countries, sales and profits of dailies have been declining for years, a slide hastened by a surge of fresh competition from the Internet and TV. That is the reason , as the  newspaper boom rages in India, investors and media executives across the world are looking for a way to penetrate what is probably the world’s last great newspaper market. A growth in the readership is supported by India’s other strengths viz. a vital economy and a democratic culture to make it a serious rival to China for the attention of global media investors.

4.“The growth prospects of India’s newspaper publishing industry are phenomenal, especially when one considers the rising trend in disposable incomes and the direct bearing that will have on readership ” said Naresh Kumar Garg, who manages $49 million, including shares of Jagran Prakashan, at Sahara Asset Management Co. in Mumbai. “Higher disposable incomes mean more advertising.” Relaxed foreign media ownership laws in newspapers in particular have led to more investment from overseas.  Advertising revenues have grown significantly and they cross subsidize the low sale prices of Indian newspapers. Newspapers grabbed 46% of the $2.6 billion spent on advertising in all Indian media last year.

5. An American media person remarked, “Watching the Indian newspaper scene is like taking a trip in a time machine to early 20th century America, when newspapers ruled life and politics. Sales of most Indian newspapers are increasing, and advertising is soaring.” Which in other words mean that down the next decade or so the Indian newspapers may have to grapple with a set of problems that US print media is now trying to come to terms with.

It is better India be aware of the snares that lie ahead, because eventually it will have to contend with those problems. Those are related to the growth in technology and change in financial structures.

Well, what is the state of Newspapers in US today?

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B. Newspapers in US today

1. Warren Buffett, the US billionaire remarked,” The newspaper business is bad and getting worse.” While the Newspaper stocks overseas rose 25 percent on average in the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, U.S. newspaper shares, by contrast, fell an average of 9.9 percent because   of readers’ shift to the Internet cut into circulation.

2. Daily circulation for newspapers in the U.S. fell 30 percent to 43.7 million in September 2006 from 62.3 million in 1985, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, a U.S. industry group. The Russell 3000 Publishing Newspapers Index, which tracks 11 companies, slid 37 percent since its peak in 2004.  The average international newspaper stock fetches 35 times earnings, while the Russell index of U.S. newspaper companies has a price- earnings ratio of 20.7.

3. “Almost all newspaper owners realize that they are constantly losing ground in the battle for eyeballs,” Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s Chairman, wrote in his annual letter to shareholders published March 1. “If cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the Internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.”

4. “The U.S. is a much more saturated market in terms of the media industry,” said Zhao Zifeng, who oversees the equivalent of $1.1 billion at China International Fund Management Co. in Shanghai . “But in China , we have much more room for development .” The firm owned 2.6 million shares of Chengdu B-Ray Media as of Dec. 31. Investors seeking growth have to look outside the U.S.

5. The newspaper growth rate is in turn related to the growth rate of the economy. As per  the International Monetary Fund forecast, India’s economy will expand 8.4 percent this year, while China will grow at 9.9 percent. In the U.S., growth will amount to 2.4 percent.

In the U.S., newspaper companies will attract investors if they can develop compelling Web sites that ensures they capture readers who give up print editions, said Rogers.  That model has already worked for Schibsted in Norway, said Shrager. The company’s shares have risen 51 percent in the past year, while Independent News is up 41 percent.  “If you get stuck into one mode without reacting, then things are going to turn against you,” said Shrager

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PBS, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, a non–profit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation’s 354 public television stations, telecast a set of four programs during Feb 2007 tracing the History of American journalism. The program was telecast in India during the last week of June 2007 by Australia network .I found the Part Three of News war (What is happening to the news?) , most interesting.

Please check the following link to view online the full series. Please also read the highly interesting discussions that follow.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newswar/ .

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C. News War

The following in brief are some of the points made out by the program:

1.Change in the ownership pattern

* In the earlier years, eminent families owned the major newspapers like LA Times, NY Times and Washington Post. They while enjoying the prestige of owning a major Newspaper were satisfied with moderate profits. In recent years, family newspapers in cities such as Los Angeles and St Louis have been sold to out-of-state owners. Now the ownership of the papers has moved into the public domain, which in turn means that the stock markets own the newspapers.

** The newspapers in USA usually show a net profit of slightly over 20 percent that is double the rate returned by a Fortune 500 company. It is a very good rate of return. For instance, LA Times grossed about US$ one billion and made a net of US$200 million. Showing a decent profit on an annual basis was not, therefore, the major problem. However, to keep chasing the profit graphs quarter after quarter and post higher and higher profits each quarter to satisfy the stock traders was becoming a nerve-racking task. In short, present is not a problem but the future surely is a threat. In order to keep happy their faceless masters the newspapers cut costs by economizing on the production, marketing and even in the news rooms by downsizing the staff strength. In the process, the reporter on the street who investigated, verified, gathered, and reported the news was served the layoff notice.

2.Fall in advertising revenues

More than 70 percent of a newspaper’s revenue comes from advertising. With the internet spreading into all aspects of life those hunting for houses, used cars, jobs, antiques etc. increasingly resort to internet to search for those items than to run through the classifieds. There is therefore a serious loss in the revenue from the classifieds.

3. News over internet

Internet sites like Google, Yahoo etc. collate news items from newspapers and post them on their web pages. They are not gathering news from the field but are recycling news gathered by the newspaper reporters. The web sites make use of the news gathered by the newspapers.
One interesting question that keeps coming up repeatedly is “Who is going to pay for the news”.

4. International News Vs. Local News

The content of the newspaper is a huge issue. Why does an ordinary person buy newspaper? Is it to find out what is happening in Iraq or to learn what is happening in his neighbourhood or town?

It is not that the internet is “stealing” the readers, or that people are not interested in these issues, it is that these issues are not covered or are covered poorly by the newspapers. Cutting staff will not solve the problem it will only make it worse

There is an argument that newspapers attempt to cater to all needs of all readers. In an attempt to be everything to everybody, there is much more in there than the average reader needs. As a result, the average reader looks only at a proportion of the paper, with the rest being tossed unread. Some buy it just for the news, and toss the rest. Others buy it for the sports, and toss the rest. And so on.

Where do we draw the line? Should we have newspapers, with different “flavors”, each with a different price point? Let us say: 1. a short stripped down version containing only need to know news; 2. a longer, news/op-ed version, focusing on news and analysis; 3. a longer lifestyle version, light on news, heavy on all the other features and departments.; and 4. The traditional version for those who still want it all and are willing to pay for it.

Will it help matters if , say, three newspapers function as international newspapers and the rest concentrate only on local news (hyper localization).

5. Bloggers as journalists.

Anyone who reports a happening is a journalist. Anyone who posts an event on his blog page is a citizen journalist. With the phenomenal increase in Bloggers, there is an explosion of journalists. Do we need specialists who report to newspapers and pursue that as a career?

How far can the bloggers go in this direction? Anyone with a camera, a phone and a laptop may be able to record, but do they have the background knowledge and history to make a proper assessment. Does that person even know whether or not something is new or news? What happens if that person makes a mistake in their reporting? Are there fact checkers? What happens when students, researching papers relies on this news-lite? How do we deal with sensitive issues such as libel and slander? What separates the professional journalists from Joe American the blogger who slanders people online and puts erroneous information on the Web without bothering to check and see if it is accurate?

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D. What is happening to the news?

Those were some of the issues that emanated from the presentation and the discussions that followed.

Before you view the on-line videos please read the summary of the part three of News War entitled “what is happening to the news?” given below.

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In part three of “News War,” entitled “What’s Happening to the News, ” FRONTLINE examines the mounting pressure for profits faced by America’s network news divisions and daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet. Bergman talks to network executives, newspaper editors and publishers, bloggers, Wall Street analysts and key players at Google and Yahoo! about the battle for market dominance in a rapidly changing world.

Bergman examines one of the biggest challenges facing the traditional news media: As their core audience grows older, the number of viewers and readers who want their news in a conventional format is shrinking. According to a study by New YorkUniversity, a majority of Americans under age 25 get their news online or from programs like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. “To the extent that people look to us as a source of news,” says David Javerbaum, The Daily Show‘s executive producer, “that is 100 percent indicative of other people’s failure and not our success.” While the broadcast news networks still command the largest share of the market, they are losing viewers and advertising revenue to cable.

To stop this slide in ratings, network executives are making changes that have rankled some top news anchors. When ABC executives proposed bringing in Late Show with David Letterman from CBS to replace Nightline on ABC, host Ted Koppel decided not to renew his contract. “To the extent that we are now judging journalism by the same standards that we apply to entertainment,” says Koppel, “that may prove to be one of the greatest tragedies in the history of American journalism.”

“What’s Happening to the News” also goes inside the embattled newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, one of the few U.S. newspapers still covering major national stories. After his newsroom had already lost hundreds of jobs, managing editor Dean Baquet was told to lay off more reporters by the paper’s owner, the Tribune Company. He refused and was fired. “The people who own newspapers … are beholden to shareholders,” Baquet tells FRONTLINE. “They want for the paper to be highly profitable, and sometimes that view of what a newspaper is supposed to be and my view, which is that a newspaper is a public trust, sometimes they come into conflict.” Charles Bobrinskoy, vice chairman at top Tribune investor Ariel Capital Management in Chicago, says the L.A. Times needs to rethink its mission. “There is a role for probably three national newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today. Each has its own niche; all three are national newspapers. We don’t think there’s any demand for a fourth.”

An even greater challenge to both newspapers and broadcast networks is the growing power of the Internet as a news distribution platform, pulling consumers and advertisers away from more traditional media. Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, talks about CBS’s partnership with Yahoo! News. “We haven’t seen the model for how broadcast journalism is going to end up on the Internet,” he says. “But … it has to go there. I mean, you don’t see anybody between 20 and 30 getting their news from the evening news; you see them getting it online.”

But Internet news aggregators like Yahoo! and Google say that they are not in the business of creating content, relying instead on traditional news-gathering organizations. “We’re in fact critically dependent upon the success of these newspapers,” says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, referring to the Los Angeles Times and others. “We don’t write the content. We’re not in the content business. So anything that screws up their economics, that causes them to get rid of reporters, is a really bad thing.”

If not newspapers, who will create content for the Internet news aggregators? Markos Moulitsas writes Daily Kos, one of the country’s most popular blogs, which reportedly receives 3 to 5 million visitors per week. “People want to be part of the media,” Moulitsas tells FRONTLINE. “They don’t want to sit there and listen anymore. They’re too educated. They’re taught … to be go-getters and not to sit back and be passive consumers. And the traditional media is still predicated on the passive consumer model — you sit there and watch.”

But is this journalism? Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll worries that without the investigative skills of newspaper reporters, an important element of newsgathering may be lost. “I estimate … that 85 percent of the original reporting that’s done in the United States is done by newspapers. They’re the people who are going out and knocking on doors and rummaging through records and covering events and so on. And most of the other media that provide news to people are really recycling news that’s gathered by newspapers.”

The fourth hour of “News War” is called ” Stories from a Small Planet” and is produced by FRONTLINE/World. It looks at media around the globe to reveal the international forces that influence journalism and politics in the United States. The lead story investigates the new Arab media and its role in both mitigating and exacerbating the clash between the West and Islam. Focusing on Al Jazeera and its impact on the parochial and tightly controlled Arab media, this report explores the network’s growing influence, from Muslim communities in Europe to the pending launch of a new English-language broadcast in the United States.

home  + introduction + watch online + interview
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1106460,00.html 

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in General Interest

 

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