Bloggers vs Journalists or the Best of Both Worlds?

Crossposted at my blog.

I will be attending the Global Voices Online summit on Dec 10th in London. Am on at this session :

"SESSION TWO 11:30-1:00 Best of both worlds

Much is made of the “blogging vs. journalism” argument. We believe there can and must be room for both in this world, and that the world will be better for having both. In this session we explore the potential for synergies between professional journalists and citizen-bloggers. How do journalists and bloggers interact in the world outside the US and Europe? How can bloggers become journalists and journalists become bloggers? How do the two learn to work together and respect each other? How can we combine the value of professional journalism with the power of citizens’ online conversation to help all members of the human race understand each other better?

Led by Rebecca MacKinnon, with input from Jeff Ooi (Malaysia), Ndesanjo Macha (Tanzania), Dina Mehta (India), Georgia Popplewell (Trinidad & Tobago), David Sasaki (Americas Editor), Onnik Krikorian (Armenia), Ben Parmann (Eurasia Blog), and Dean Wright (Reuters)"

There has been much happening in India in a ' us vs them' way, with the most 'famous' controversies being Mediaah and IIPM, with bloggers swarming in full passion against attacks on other bloggers. And there is evidence that mainstream media is looking hard at blogging -- I see blogs being mentioned almost daily now in some newspaper, magazine or TV report here in India.

We know blogging is a very powerful tool, and I have lived with this realization since the Tsunamis struck. But power without restraint, responsibility and maturity can be really really dangerous. There is a case for more responsibility and ethics for bloggers - bloggers have been known to pass sentences in mob justice.

Darryl D'Monte one of our more respected journalists asks, are bloggers parked:

"When does a writer become a blogger? This is a question that is familiar to anyone who uses a keyboard these days, but the obverse question isn't as familiar: when does a blogger become a writer? At a recent workshop on effective writing on the web, organized by The New Media initiative of the Mumbai-based Comet Media Foundation, the inveterate blogger, Dina Mehta, asked this latter question bluntly, and implied in response that there is no difference between the two. Many old media hands and creative writers, however, begged to differ.

"....... At the same time, it is true that with the mainstream media dumbing down with a vengeance and looking to their bottom line rather than people who live at the bottom, bloggers are very much in business. They are telling it like it is, rather than what media barons decide is politically or commercially more convenient. In the US, the war in Iraq is condemned far more pungently in blogs. But blogs aren't about to destroy conventional media anytime soon"

And bloggers are turning their voices against mainstream journalists who are beginning to lift articles from bloggers without attribution, and then retracting in some cases in their online versions - but the damage has been done already in print. [Thanks Aparna for the links].

When asked, I always say I am not a journalist, I am a blogger. There are rubs - professional bloggers increasingly want to make some money off blogging. Still, the long tail of blogging remains quite personal for most bloggers, with the exception of a few. Then, there are more and more journalists who are becoming good bloggers - I think it helps them at what they do.

Yet, there is a distinction in my mind - blog media is about rub points and conversations, it is about writing out loud and learning, it is about reporting in real voices in real time. Blog media can be individual or group perspectives, most tend to be independent voices, the only community that is formed is in the links, whereas MSM is about reporting on facts or interviews within the context of a newspaper or station or media empire.

So are bloggers the fifth brigade? How can we co-exist with journalists, feeding off each other, with trust and respect? Is there scope to collaborate and not compete? Bloggers, by the diverse places from where they come, can report many more things in real time than MSM reporters can hope to reach - again, the tsunamis blog and wiki experiences exemplified this - how can this value be embraced as a strength? Aparna again points me to some MSM publications that actually have a link against articles that says something like - "Who's Blogging - read what bloggers are saying about this" - that's a great example.

A picture named readblogs MSM.JPG

I'd love to hear you views on these issues, not just in preparation for the session, but also because these are issues we are being faced with increasingly.


Trolls 101

The obnoxious characters who haunt usenet groups, forums and, yes, blogs. The ones who seek to provoke reaction for its own sake, who rant, who are not amenable to logic, who seem desperate for attention of any kind. The ones who make your seriously consider shutting off comments.

Care to share your experiences, and what you learned from them? Perhaps you could let us know what you think are the best ways to handle these people?

Comments open. Unmoderated for now. :)

Sir Harold and Sir Arthur on Citizen Journalism and Blogging

A couple of extracts from Outlook's Tenth Anniversary Issue
Do you think the rise of ‘Citizen Journalism’, with blogging being one element of it, represents a diminishing trust in the established media? How can news organisations go about building credibility in the eyes of readers, viewers and listeners?

Established media has lost some trust, no doubt, but I think the rise of blogging is more to do with the appetite for telling the world where to get off. Very healthy. Most of it is opinion/argument, which is fine, but there is no central organising intelligence to sustain the heart of journalism which is reporting. (And sometimes that reporting is too difficult, too urgent, to leave to one reporter). Indeed, a significant proportion of cyberspace perpetuates myth and falsehood. The absurd lie that Jews blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11 began life on the web and got endlessly recycled by the credulous, the ignorant and the malevolent. One of the tasks I would submit to mainstream media is the regular detection and exposure of cyber propaganda.
From an interview with Sir Harold Evans, Former Editor, the Sunday Times, London, Former Editor-in-Chief, Atlantic Monthly Press, President and Publisher, Random House, Author, of Good Times, Bad Times, voted the Editor of the Century in 2002.
Blogs, wikis and citizen journalism are all signs of things to come.

This has far-reaching implications. For one thing, it allows far higher levels of interactivity and audience engagement than has been possible in newspapers, radio or television. Even more importantly, the web provides a platform for small-time companies, organisations and single individuals to disseminate ideas, analyses and viewpoints to a potentially global audience. And it can be done at a fraction of the cost of launching mainstream media outlets. While the web is not yet a level playing field and has its own limitations, it has already triggered the end of absolute power enjoyed by press barons and gatekeeper editors.

Nowhere is this breach more apparent than in the remarkably swift rise of bloggers. Their publishing of online diaries has shown how passionate individuals can command attention and influence way beyond their professional or social circles. John Naughton, a noted British chronicler of the new media, says the web has again demonstrated its capacity to unleash disruptive innovation on a complacent establishment. As he wrote in 2003, "The response of the ‘professional’ media to this explosion has been interesting. First there was patronising incredulity that people would write without being paid for it. Then there was disdain. ‘Where’, asked the hacks, ‘was the quality control?’ Surely the whole thing was just an epidemic of vanity publishing. Then there was unease, fuelled by the realisation that (a) large numbers of bloggers were talking to one another behind the media’s back, as it were, and (b) some of them knew more about many subjects than most journalists. Badly researched or ideologically skewed reporting was being instantly skewered by bloggers...."

Naughton has documented many instances where poor journalism about highly technical or complicated issues was exposed by bloggers. The Columbia space shuttle disaster was one, where half-baked journalistic theories were effortlessly demolished by bloggers with serious aerospace expertise.

The blogging community has refused to accept the news ‘agenda’ as determined by the mainstream media. As Naughton says, "This has been increasingly evident since 9/11 as the established US media have dumbed down their discussion of the issues surrounding security, civil liberties and Bush’s policy towards Iraq.It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that (with a few honourable exceptions) most of the serious discussion of these issues in the US at the moment is happening in weblogs and not in the ‘official’ mass media."

It’s too soon to tell how much and how far bloggers could act as a countervailing force for the lapses and excesses in the mainstream media not just in the US, but across the world. We can only hope that the bloggers will push the mainstream to embrace long overdue reforms to become more transparent and accountable—the very virtues that editorialists constantly preach to the world’s governments and corporations.
From Arise, Citizen Journalist!, by Sir Arthur C Clarke, SciFi legend, the man who predicted geostationary satellites in one of his stories, and inspired Tim Berners-Lee to invent the World Wide Web with another.

Pete Who???

So it's happened.

The man with the nose, one of the boys who slept under the flag, Pete Townsend himself-- he blogs. Here, in fact.

My first reaction was a jaw-dropped "eek!". The second reaction was to ask myself, Christ why??

My third reaction was to ask myself why I asked, at all. I realized its because part of me wondered why a famous, balding ex-rockstar would want to be part of the blogosphere. No more just ordinary people typing their weekend laundry plans. A paradigm shift, to boot!

But this made me curiouser and curiouser, because to claim there is a paradigm shift, one must assume there is a working paradigm in place.

Sure, blogs began with the unnamed mole people-- those whose names were only remembered by their mothers and their social security file. Those who communicated in C++ about gene therapy, a sovereign Iraqi state, hybrid SUV's and broadband: all things we thought would never happen.

But now-- Now everybody and their aunt blogs. Fathers recount nostalgic horror stories of initiation at hostel. 15 year olds enthusiastically type their Counter Strike captain's log. Mother's put up recipes. Goths in pink underwear describe the latest OD trip. Educators blog lesson plans. Principals post their after-hour fantasies, under sparkling nom de plumes-- things like DaRk $oR©ÉRer and Fallen_Angel.


And yes, there are even those old-school fogeys who honestly believe that their ideas, reflections, reactions, lyric choices [yes, we all love Led Zeppelin] and other such paltry scribblage are read-worthy, ergo blog worthy. Yes, I am one of them. The mob. The crowd. The mass.

A gentle mass, with some underlying system intricately woven: A & B will visit C's blog every wednesday. C returns the favour. Word verification jokes are exchanged [wtfru?? Really?? Tee hee] and then A,B & C will visit D's blog. D being something of a Blogga Daddy, F,G,H,I and P have already made it over. The alphabets in the middle haven't made it over yet, as they are all part of a group blog that's busy covering something important:
relief measures in Sudan, or the next American Idol.

Yes there are millions and gazillions and frupter-bupter-zadrillion blogs out there.
A blogger's born every 2 seconds.

But the one underlying feature of this entire burgeoning ant-hill has been the paring down of the blogger's identity to-- No, not anonymity. Unless self-chosen. Not anonymity, but a certain equality: parole officer and convict, judge and pimp, unheard priest and unpublished poet, we are all together subject to this system of online writing, this responding to comments. We are all bloggers. Together.

Enter rockstar bloggers. Royalty, Nobel Laureates, the Pope and Noam Chomsky. Larger than life already, in the blogosphere they are Gods. We tremble. We ring up their comments counter to 341 per post. And that's just the little leaguers, the station chai-wallahs.

The all stars, the cricket commentators, the Divine Cow Syndicate (DCS)-- we bow. We do not lift our eyes. And we cannot begin to scroll down the comments section. Our puny mortal pentiums pass out with the strain of it.

But why this need for thumbprintless one-with-the-worldness? Why blog, when you have the limo and the website and the book and the jet and the E! news interview waiting?

With all these thoughts buzzing through my brain, thus-- I consulted d.i about the matter. Threw it at his head, in fact, considering it was his ill-starred luck to be online at the precise moment I came across Townsend's blog.

Now, back story: I must explain that d.i is an ebullient Yoda, one who is perfect suited company for the above discussion. Balanced calmly between MSN and labelling post-production dvds, he stated the following [paraphrased below]:

1. Rockstars are people too.

2. Blogging is the celebration of individuality and the freedom of making that individuality apparent to the world.

[Ok so the ending on the last line was an embellishment. Mea Culpa.]

And he has a point. The core truth of the blogging paradigm is that there is no paradigm. There is no system of entry or exit: one either chooses to blog or doesn't. There is no hierarchy. Really. There are popular blogs, like there are only 2 favourite ways the world over to order your coffee.

All is Om. Prince William should start up a blog-- tales from the polo field, and rants against the paparazzi. Oh, and Pete aint the only one out there: the celebs are doing it for themselves. Moby, for one. Dave Barry for another.

Okay OKAY alright, so Pete is waaaaaayy cooler. Geez.

For the record: He blogs the chapters of the book he's working on. At least it aint a memoir. Here's chapter one. And he's making it all available for free.

Go, Pete. You'll always be my pinball wizard.


pj, 18 Oct 2005. Originally posted here.

A collective enterprise

This post was cross-posted on India Uncut.

Richard Posner writes in the New York Times about the blogosphere:
The model is Friedrich Hayek's classic analysis of how the economic market pools enormous quantities of information efficiently despite its decentralized character, its lack of a master coordinator or regulator, and the very limited knowledge possessed by each of its participants.

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise - not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It's as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising.
Read the full piece, which examines, among other things, the perceived threat that blogs pose to the mainstream media. Posner, by and by, blogs at The Becker-Posner Blog with economist Gary Becker. It is well worth your while.

(Article link via Instapundit.)

Writer's voice

Just cross-posting something I put up on my blog. Don't know how relevant it is (much of it already having been said elsewhere, in one form or another) but have been feeling guilty about not posting here and so...

(Also, check this post I wrote about the comments debate some time ago.)


At Cinefan yesterday I met Trina Nileena Banerjee, fellow blogger and leading lady of the film Nisshabd, which was screened here. We spoke for only a short while but as I was leaving Trina said she had pictured me as being quite different, based on my blog. “I thought you’d be more intimidating,” she said, as I shuffled about awkwardly, studying my shoes.

She had a point – I’m more irreverent and articulate in my writing than in person – but I don’t see why people’s personalities should be expected to exactly match what and how they write. There’s usually a world of difference between the written voice and the spoken voice. In that context I’d urge you to read this essay by Louis Menand, which I came across in the India Uncut archives. (Btw, Amit: the New Yorker link is no longer functional.) A sampler:

Writing that has a voice is writing that has something like a personality. But whose personality is it? As with most things in art, there is no straight road from the product back to the person who made it. There are writers read and loved for their humor who are not especially funny people, and writers read and loved for their eloquence who, in conversation, swallow their words or can’t seem to finish a sentence. Wisdom on the page correlates with wisdom in the writer about as frequently as a high batting average correlates with a high IQ: they just seem to have very little to do with one another. Charming people can produce prose of sneering sententiousness, and cranky neurotics can, to their readers, seem to be inexhaustibly delightful. Personal drabness, through some obscure neural kink, can deliver verbal blooms. Readers who meet writers whose voice they have fallen in love with usually need to make a small adjustment in order to hang on to their infatuation.

At another level, much of the acrimony in the blogosphere (nasty exchanges between blogger and commenter) arises from the disconnect between what a blogger writes and what he/she is like in the real world. Speaking from personal experience, for instance, I often write things in a facetious vein that some readers end up taking very seriously. If these people knew me in person, over a period of time, they’d probably feel less offended: they’d know, for instance, that my rants against PR people are, more than anything else, lame attempts to be funny; that I have close friends in PR (and in marketing, and advertising – two other professions I’m not very charitable to); and that, when in a certain kind of “hold a mirror up to the world” mood, I can be equally disparaging towards my own profession, journalism, or towards some of the things I love doing myself – like spending long hours at film festivals, or reading and reviewing three books a week.

Long-time friends will almost never post an angry, strongly worded comment, even if they completely disagree with something you’ve written. Partly of course that’s because they can just pick up the phone and talk to you about it, or send you a personal mail; but it’s also because, having known you over a period of time, they’re less likely to think of you as a threat to their entire moral universe just because you’ve expressed one opinion (or two, or five) that counters their own beliefs. But with commenters who don’t know the blogger, it’s different – it’s easy for them to misread even one sentence as a summary judgement on them and their way of thinking, and consequently their very existence.

Anyway, I rambleth on, despite promising myself that I’d try to keep my next few posts short. Read that Louis Menand essay – it’s really very good, and you don’t have to look at it in the context of blogging at all.


The "Ethics in Blogging (2005)" survey results...

...have been posted, quite appropriately, on a blog. I haven't looked through it in detail yet, but I thought it might be a topic worth discussing on this blog. The survey's findings are in this post.

The "Conclusion" section states
Overall, our findings show that personal and non-personal bloggers are distinctively different in their demographics, blogging experiences, and habits. Our findings also show that there are significant differences between personal and non-personal bloggers in the ethical beliefs they value and in the ethical practices they adhere to.

Therefore, an important point to note is that when studying the blogging population, distinctions must be made regarding the type of bloggers who are being examined to prevent any misperceptions.

In addition, the limited support from bloggers for a blogging code of ethics poses a serious problem for advocates of on-line social responsibility. If any inroads are to be made in terms of bloggers regulating themselves, consensus in the community must be developed.
Hm. It took a survey to come to that conclusion?

The survey was conducted by three students at the Singapore Internet Research Centre (part of Nanyang Technological University, between 6 Feb and 1 Mar 2005, and got responses from over a thousand bloggers (including yours truly) across the world.

Hostility in the Online Medium

I posted this piece at my blog, and then felt lets talk about this issue at Indicubed. Because it affects us as a community. So here's an edit. We've also had a lot of discussion around it earlier, and its increasingly becoming an issue with more and more of us who have voices and engage in discussions online.

Neha and I were chatting the other day about Indian blogs and how vicious and hostile bloggers and commenters can be. Am not going into a heavy link-fest here - I suspect anyone who reads Indian blogs might have noticed it too. I've personally felt under attack [see No. 13] several times, and not always for reasons I can comprehend.

Comments at some blogs run into several scores - and many times it is one group vs another - each speaking over the other - and shouting as loud as they can to be heard. I must confess that I've been party to a few such 'discussions' myself. The author of the blog is often forced to defend his or her case in a tone and manner that isn't otherwise their style, and makes them so uncomfortable. Many have closed comments as a result of this viciousness. Others are reflecting on what strategy might they adopt to keep healthy and constructive discussions going.

So what's happening here? Is it that there are just some rotten eggs? Is it that they are perverts and sicko's? Or spineless cowards who go under the name Anonymous (several Indian blogs are on Blogger and this is an easy way out for commenters)? Or is there something deeper that makes us want to shout out loud - you are wrong and I am right?

Perhaps it is time to reflect. Its probably got a lot to do with how we are coping with this relatively new medium. We come from a society that's so hierarchical in nature, that has very strong rules and sets of do's and don'ts, that has power balances rooted in tradition, that has little concept or value for personal space, and that doesnot always encourage team play.

Let's just be conscious that it is a new medium, and we're in a transitional phase - the blog world is toppling and threatening many of our traditional structures, giving open voice and power to many who hitherto had none. It is a world that is not hierarchical, one that encourages an even-playing field for free speech and debate no matter what gender or age or race or religion you belong to, it does not have many pre-ordained rules and prescriptions, it is one where we need to learn to respect personal space, and where team play can be so rewarding.

Maybe we're in a state of Anomie - we're all learning ... let's deal with these issues in ways that make us more comfortable --- for some, it is to close comments (which is such a pity), for others it is to simply ignore obvious 'flamers', and not engage in a debate. I personally prefer the latter. When you don't engage someone, they may knock harder for a while, but soon, they will go away.

It's also obviously not just an Indian online phenomenon - there's some wisdom in this post by Chris Allen on Extrapolative Hostility in the Online Medium - where he quotes Mick LaSalle, in a column :

"As for why people get hostile when they hear a differing opinion, I go back to Spinoza's definition of love and hatred. He says that people love that which they think reinforces their survival and hate that which they think threatens their survival. I believe - this is just my humble theory, now - that when people hear an opinion that counters theirs, their minds extrapolate from that one opinion to imagine a whole philosophical system. And then they imagine how they would fare in a world run according to that imagined system. So they go from disagreeing to feeling threatened in a matter of seconds, and they lash out. Often they write letters that begin, "You are obviously," and that's where they identify, not you, but the phantom they feel threatened by......"

Of Kaafiri and bloggers

Neela asks me: I am curious about why bloggers advocate not reading their blog as the solution to anyone who criticizes their writing. Would you really rather that someone does not read you if they disagree with what you say or would you rather have them say waht they will?

I cannot presume to speak for all bloggers; but here's my answer:

I would rather that people continue to read me, whether they agree or disagree with what I'm saying. I'd rather that people hate me, despise me, get infuriated by and want to hit me, but that they continue to read me.

Why do I (as a blogger) tell someone to stop reading my blog?

Because that is my way of saying 'Live and let live'.
See, dissenters have the option of providing an alternative perspective, either through comments or via email. Or creating a new post on your blog (and I will happily link to it).
You have the option of shooting holes in any given argument. You have the right to correct me if I'm factually wrong. You can even tell me you don't like the blog (and I will probably reply along the lines of 'Thanks for nothing... I don't like you either').

But you can't tell me to change my blog, to suit your tastes.
If people are going to try and tell me what should or shouldn't be posted on the blog, then I would have to gently remind them that this is my turf, created for the specific purpose of allowing me to have my say.

Besides, that is the most civilized way of dealing with disagreement.

I do not take differences of opinion (dissent) lightly.
Dissent led to burnings at the stake. Dissent let to impalements over a gate. Dissent has led to killings and war.

They smash shops on Valentine's Day because it cannot see eye-to-eye with love-hungry teenagers anxious to get their first date through this love-sanctioned festival.

They strip down to their underwear and parade semi-nude in front of an old, respected actor's home. (Saira Bano must have been vastly amused... in her place, I'd have filmed it all for post-dinner entertainment in duller times).

They rip through brilliant canvases because they don't like to think a Goddess could be nude. They threaten to burn down cinema halls because they disapprove of one dialogue, one scene, or one song. (Poor MF Hussain gets it from both sides of the communal spectrum... and such a lovely song it was too!)

They set off bombs in theatres, tubes, bus stations, offices. They fly planes into buildings. They induce children to take up arms and turn into suicide bombers. They break down mosques and destroy hard-won livelihoods, all on account of a difference of opinion.

Do you know the meaning of 'kaafir'?

Not 'non-believer', as they would have you believe. My mother tells me that the word actually 'dissenter'.

Yet, dissent is all around us. All of us are Kaafirs unto each other.

The trouble begins when we take upon ourselves the onus of tackling this kaafiri, of
wiping out the things we don't like.

What would you say is a rational way of dealing with each others' kaafiri?

Would you not tell the violence-mongers that they have the option of not watching a movie they find offensive? That they have the option of not celebrating Valentine's Day? That they have the option of not looking at women, if they think women's faces should not be seen?
That is the rational, peaceful approach, right?

Cut back to blogs and the blogger's reaction to disagreement.

People have the right to disagree with my writing. They have a right to tell me they hate my writing. You have right to say I'm melodramatic and that my brains probably aren't working because they've been snack-deprived for too long.

They do not have the right to tell me to spare them x or y kind of post.

For all of us are kaafirs unto each other...

[Cross-posted on Known Turf]

Truth is a function, not a value

Truth is a process, not a thing. It is the process of unfolding that is truth, not the thing that is revealed. For an individual human being, the present becomes a memory. The memory is not the experience itself, but a sculpture in the mind left behind by time, woodpecker.

Ideal and ethical life is not the practice of truthful conversation or honest behaviour. More than in supposed objectivity, truth exists in the artistic performance of survival, which by itself is a mundane, all-consuming instinct. If life is a state of play, truth is an invisible rule, the deepest navigator, the decision-maker. We do not seek the truth, we make up the truth as we play along, just as we make up the lies. Blogging in that sense, is performative utterance, it is role-play.

Truth for a human being is merely a state of consensus, akin to universal pragmatism, between his many senses and faculties. It is the noun and the verb simultaneously, like "flower". Truth and time are the same, the interval between the observer and the observed, the gravity between the sun and its planets.

Don't tell the truth what its like, or what it should be. How can truth be the yardstick of a civilisation whose biggest asset is imagination and fantasy?

"All my lies are always wishes." - Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

The truth is (sigh) out there

This story in the Financial Express made me wonder a bit about Dilip's post on truth and lies in the Indian blogging world, and also made me wonder, not for the first time, whether the journalist who wrote the story has information that none of us do.
She mentions "flogs" or fake blogs: "Even as fake blogs or flogs are increasing in number, including a recent one on tennis sensation Sania Mirza, celebrities tend to popularise blogging." Now this is a disturbing trend if it's actually happening--Dilip, is this what you meant when you referred to blogs that tell lies? Just curious--but the only mainstream "fake blog" I've heard about so far is the Sania Mirza one, where some idiot was pretending to be Ms Mirza and posting lurid comments in her name. That's one "flog"; are there others?
The second point she makes is an apparently random quote from a lawyer:
"Cyber lawyer Pavan Duggal says 'blogs are increasingly being misused in India as the Indian cyber law does not touch upon blogging.'"
This sounds to me as though Indian cyberlaw might at some stage try and introduce rules/ guidelines for bloggers, which should be interesting, given the way cyberlaws have been framed in India!
All of us have come across blogs that are mean, vicious, downright incompetent or untruthful, but I used to assume these were in the minority: am I wrong? Has the trend changed? None of the bloggers I read on a regular basis seem to "misuse" their blogs, and none of the influential bloggers, the ones on the Top 100 list who get linked to a lot, seem to be especially problematic.
So I'm confused. Am I missing out on the general viciousness and lies out there in the blogosphere, and if so, why didn't I get my invite? Or is this sort of reporting just the beginning of "bad blogs" stories in the same way we used to have "cyberspace is evil" stories?

Truth in blogging

Cross-posting from my blog, largely because the issue originated on Indi³

I've been debating "truth in blogging" with Dilip D'Souza (largely on email) after his piece on Indicubed, and going back to an older post of his where he said:
Blogs allow you to bypass editors and publish, putting the power of publishing directly in the hands of the writer. That's often a great boon. Yet consider: a good editor would have stopped conjecture where it should have been stopped. Before being published.
We may decide to put up our respective thoughts on the matter on our blogs, but in the meanwhile, this statement by Richard Posner caught my eye.
Inaccuracies in blogs are less pernicious than inaccuracies in the mainstream media even apart from the superior opportunity for prompt correction of bloggers' errors. The reason is that bloggers are known not to employ fact checkers or editors; there is no pretense that they have the resources to eliminate all errors in their postings. The mainstream media, in contrast, represent to their public that they endeavor assiduously to prevent errors from finding their way into articles and broadcasts. They ask the public to repose trust in them. Bloggers do not. That is why serious errors by the mainstream media are played as scandals; they are not merely mistakes--they are breaches of trust.
Link Courtesy: Ashish's Niti.

Ends, not the means

Simple questions that I'm sure all here have grappled with before. What happens when bloggers post lies, whether knowingly or not? What happens when they post rumours, whether knowingly or not? What happens when they post unsubstantiated assumptions, whether knowingly or not? What happens when they call others names?

(Those questions, in a self-perceived descending order of severity).

I ask because in my months doing this blogging thing, I've seen all those things happen, and I'm sure you have. In some cases, I've tried to point them out to the person concerned. In some of those cases, the person concerned has taken no action. (I've also, it must be said, done some of this myself and had it pointed out to me; I believe I've tried to make amends).

Faced with stuff like this, what is a famously self-correcting, checked and balanced, blogosphere to do? Some of those who generate lies or mong rumours -- and not just among bloggers -- remain popular and respected commenters nevertheless, so clearly they don't give much of a damn for being correct, being corrected, or making corrections. (It also must be said, though, that many do give such a damn). Clearly that self-correcting mechanism isn't doing all that it must.

Reminds me of Harshad Mehta, whose underhanded doings in the stock scam eventually mattered very little: partly because he never paid for his misdeeds, but also because he became a greatly respected columnist on matters financial. Reminds me of the Lalus and Modis, who frequently point to their electoral triumphs as the real proof of their innocence of the accusations against them. Reminds me of Pavan Varma, who in his book Being Indian: The Truth about why the 21st Century will be India's, writes of the "moral relativism" of us Indians, of how our "understanding of right and wrong is far more related to efficacy than to absolutist notions of morality." (Aside: you need to read the book to understand why these are not the usual hand-wringing lamentations about India).

In other words, if I've got where I want to get (or am getting there), the hell with the ethics. Nobody really gives a damn anyway, and people are still flocking to listen to me, so why should I correct myself?

So much for self-correcting mechanisms. Right?

Indian Government offers Accreditation to Bloggers

I'm re-posting something i wrote at my blog, as i feel it is an issue that can affect all bloggers :

The Times of India reports that the Government opens doors to bloggers.

"NEW DELHI: If you are a serious blogger, the Indian government may just open its doors to you. India is in the process of framing rules for granting accreditation to Internet journalists and bloggers for the first time, taking a reality check on an evolving world of net writers who could shape opinion and who have already been granted access to official corridors in countries such as the US. "We are framing the rules for giving accreditation to dotcom journalists, including bloggers," Principle Information Officer Shakuntala Mahawal said."

"We are looking at various models in other countries and studying rules broadly put in place by organisations like the UN, sports outfits and commonwealth countries," said a senior official of the information and broadcasting ministry. "The idea is to sequester the genuine from the fraud and acknowledge those who really want to make a difference. They will be given facilities and better access through accreditation." Online posts are widely read and according to surveys some 44 per cent of America's young people read blogs. Most readers look at blogs for news, perspective and honesty that they cannot perhaps find in standard news media. According to Indian officials, blogs are becoming a political statement in many other countries - such as in the US and British elections - and India needs to prepare for such a situation. "

This is so interesting. Am not sure what to think of it though. Found this graphic via Return of the Warblog - thought it was funny.

A picture named credentials.gif

On the one hand i am happy that bloggers are being taken seriously, on the other, many questions and some fear running through my mind ....

Do bloggers want this accredition by the government? Do they need it? What benefits? At what cost? Will we lose our freedom of speech? Is this license or protection or regulation of sorts? Will they become mouthpieces for the Government? Will it create competition among Indian Bloggers, in a mad rush for press passes, where camaraderie and collaboration exists today?

What do you feel?

On comments, and blogs

Should a blog have comments enabled? Hyperlinks? What are blogs anyway? I put up a post on my personal blog a short while ago carrying forward a discussion on this issue, but as I don't have comments enabled, I thought I'd post it here, a forum meant for discussing just such things. So here goes:

Patrix, Dina and Charu have all put up posts recently that argue for the enabling of comments in posts, and have taken friendly aim at me for not doing so. I had stated my reasons in an earlier post (“No comments”), but it would be unfair of me not to respond to some of the points they raise. So here goes.

One, Dina does me an injustice when she says that I “have not really recognised the magic in conversations”. I understand that magic, and I crave to be able to have some of it on this blog. Indeed, in a piece I’d written for the Indian Express in January (“Blogs – The New Journalism”), I had described such conversations as being “often intelligent, informative and enlightening, with the readers adding enormous value to what the blogger has to say”.

Why then do I not have comments enabled? The reasons I had given here hold. Once your traffic goes beyond a certain point, the number of loonies who abuse you go up beyond what you can reasonably take, and that affects me and my peace of mind. Some bloggers might be mentally tough enough to say, “I will ignore it, it reflects on the person leaving the comment more than on me.” But I find it hard to do so, and refuse to have my pages sullied by boorish abuse.

It is not as if I alone have this problem. All high-traffic blogs do, and it is no surprise that most of the biggies in the blogosphere – like Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Boing Boing and Kausfiles – do not have comments enabled. My traffic is nowhere near these guys, but it’s still beyond the point when the crap is tolerable. Gaurav Sabnis, whose blog is among the more popular Indian ones, shut down his comments recently as well, and told me last weekend how relaxed he felt after having done so. I actually noticed the conversations on his blog go from being intelligent and thought-provoking to abusive and ranty (to improvise a verb), and I understood exactly how he felt.

Now, there have been some comments made about how blogs should have comments enabled, and can’t be called “blogs” if they are not. I find those arguments ludicrous. The blogosphere is not a socialist or a statist space where a central politburo will decide on what is a blog and what isn’t, and everyone must conform. It runs, as I articulated in my post, “The libertarian internet”, like a perfectly functioning free market. Instapundit and Boing Boing are perhaps the most popular blogs on the net, and therefore the ones that bring value to the most readers – and they don’t have comments.

They have been validated by the hundreds of thousands of readers who visit them every day, and by the tens and thousands of fellow bloggers who refer to them as blogs. In other words, it falls not unto individuals to define blogs, but for the blogosphere to do so, collectively, with mouseclicks and blogrolls. And the blogosphere has spoken: comments not necessary.

While I’m on the subject, let me speak about another feature that I don’t consider necessary: hyperlinks. Now, I link to other sites and blogs more voraciously and frequently than most Indian bloggers, but I don’t view them as a mandatory requirement for blogs. (Yes, I know “blogs” began as “weblogs”, but they evolved and so did the nomenclature.) I say that because journalists, while reporting on their blogs, often don’t have the time, or the need, to place links. The most satisfying blogging I have done came when I was on the move and reporting events as they happened; first, in the aftermath of the tsunami, in Tamil Nadu (those posts archived here); second, while covering the India-Pakistan cricket series for the Guardian. In both cases, as I’ve explained here, my blogging gave a new dimension to my reporting. (Some big bloggers agreed.) There were hardly any links in those posts.

So what, in my opinion, defines a blog? Two things:

One, dated posts.

Two, the distinctive voice of a writer – or group, in case of groupblogs – speaking directly to the reader without the artifice involved in writing for a magazine or newspaper.

But that’s just my opinion, and I refuse to insist that others should feel the same way.

An unfettered vision of the world

Salman Rushdie writes in the Guardian:
The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still an idea worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it's a truth that's in hock to nobody, it's a single artist's unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it's incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book's truth is slightly different in each reader's different inner world, and these are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader's imagination, and the enemies of the imagination, politburos, ayatollahs, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down, and can't. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have, but good books do have effects, and some of these effects are powerful, and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance.

Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.

Replace "books" and "literature" in the above excerpt with "blogs" and "blogging" and tell me: does it not hold true?

Feeding print

Have you read the Asian Age lately?

If you read the supplement (the maybe-even- smaller-than tabloid-size one that has a little city-news, a little entertainment or party-stuff, a couple of education or youth-related pages), you will have noticed a blog-column.

It is intended as a sort of youth-speak 'attitude/opinion' column, but the content is derived from various blogs run by young people, for the most part.

I don't know whether the sub who puts the page together gets in touch with the authors and seeks permission to quote from a blog, or not... I suspect he/she does, since the column is headed by a name and a mug-shot, which are not always available on blogs.

This is such a step-up from a newspaper's traditional method of seeking public opinion.

A cursing-fuming reporter used to be dispatched with an equally resentful photographer; together they'd accost unsuspecting citizens on the roads, in campuses, outside office buildings and in restaurants, and pop the question - 'What is your view on... '. The questions would range from a constitutional amendment to Tendulkar's endorsements to Kareena's Kapoor's kisses.

Most often, the poor accosted citizen would be frightened, would wave off the camera and refuse to divulge his/her name, age and sundry details. Most often, he/she would have no opinion whatsoever on the given subject. The reporter would probe, prompt, and sometimes just put words into the mouth of a citizen, who would play along happily, if suitably excited at the prospect of having his/her mug-shot in tomorrow morning's newspaper.

Now, a newsroom is seeking out an opinion that already been expressed (and therefore, one may assume a certain amount of passion, if not information, exists, about a given issue... making it worthy of publication). Besides, you're saving a photographer/reporter's time. Also, a sub-editor doesn't have to sit down and key in the column, line by painful line... A win-win situation, if there ever was one!

For me, this is doubly interesting because I like watching media-exchanges as they happen. People keep talking about different media competing, but rarely about how one form of media feeds the other. I have no doubt that blogs cannot wipe out print media (do they even want to?); but newspapers will begin to source content, reviews, columns, gossip and a host of information from blogs. And vice-versa!

Of course, a key assumption here is that permission to print has been sought and granted. We've already seen that newspapers do not hesitate to 'lift' content from blogs, without attribution, when it suits them (a very naughty thing to do... no?)
Independent, Individual, Indian.

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