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