March 31, 2008

Blogging and mainstream media

In his 2006 piece for Hum Blogistani, titled “Blogs will make MSM honest”, Peter Griffin had predicted that blogs would complement the big media, instead of competing with it. Continuing the 2007 Hum Blogistani essay series we present the second essay by Rohit Pradhan that dwells on Indian mainstream media’s perception of blogging. The mainstream media, he blames, remains unapologetically hostile to blogging, dismissing it as a passing fad and as a giant talking shop by people who seem perpetually on the offensive. He wishes that with the maturing Indian blogosphere the MSM chooses the path of cooperation rather than confrontation.

Rohit aka Confused lives in Florida and is a doctoral student in Health Services Research. He discovered blogging through online debating forums and now blogs with the passion of a neo-convert. He is interested in Indian politics, current affairs and of course in news which can be best characterized as just plain weird. He blogs at Retributions and Life is a street car named Desire and is a contributing editor for Pragati. Rohit was also part of the Jury at Indibloggies 2006 event.

Blogs vs MSM

he Indian media’s reaction to blogging has been marked by two divergent trends. On one hand, almost all major Indian media houses, especially television channels, have embraced blogging by hosting blogs on their site while many top journalists utilize popular blogging platform like Blogspot and Wordpress. No doubt, some of the blogs are merely a placeholder for columns; nevertheless, a few of them, at least, carry genuinely interesting articles.

Hum Blogistani!Despite this reluctant embrace, the mainstream media remains unapologetically hostile to blogging as an independent concept. Columnists in the Times of India and Outlook have dismissed blogging as a passing fad; a giant talking shop by people who have little knowledge about real India and who seem perpetually on the offensive. Leading media luminaries like Barkha Dutt have made sweeping generalizations about bloggers as if they are a monolithic voice with no disagreements or divergence of views. While bloggers would be the first to accept the importance and relevance of mainstream media (MSM), it would be hard to find an Indian journalist who would praise bloggers, even in the passing.

The number of serious Indian bloggers can be counted in thousands, yet, it appears as if the MSM thinks that blogging is a serious threat to its future.
Prima facie, the MSM’s unwarranted hostility to blogging is surprising. The number of serious Indian bloggers can be counted in thousands and those who comment on current affairs, MSM’s bread and butter, constitute a miniscule minority. Bloggers remain dependent on MSM for hard news and no serious blogger talks about replacing the MSM, rather, they see blogging as complementary to newspapers and television channels. Yet, it appears as if the MSM thinks that blogging is a serious threat to its future especially by a certain class of bloggers who have the temerity to comment on current affairs. MSM has many times featured personal bloggers or technology specialists, but I am yet to come across an instance when a blogger was quoted on politics, strategic affairs or economic development. An entire one hour episode of "We the People" on NDTV featured only bloggers who write about personal experiences, mainly sex, as if that is what the blogosphere is restricted to! Why?

India has been a proud democracy since its independence in 1947. Yet, it is only in the last two decades that true democratization of Indian society has taken place. Economic reforms have increased the number of Indians able to live above subsistence levels. Old power structures have crumbled, in politics, sports, and business, replaced by those whose achievements are a nod to their hard work and ambition and not family names. Knowledge in this globalizing, modernizing India, more than at any point in her history, is power. The rapidly increasing reach of internet has challenged the traditional limits and controls placed on acquisition of knowledge. Future generations may remember Wikipedia, despite its flaws, as the largest and most successful democratic experiment in the history of humankind. Information is no longer the monopoly of the privileged or solely a function of geographic location.

The MSM however has retained its monopoly in influencing and shaping opinions, the real source of its power and privilege. It may or may not influence electoral performance but it definitely affects public mood. Bloggers have challenged this intellectual hegemony by relentlessly questioning, probing, and critiquing journalists and columnists. In many cases, they have offered alternative stories and policy formulations. The intellectual dinosaurs who continue to cling to a set of archaic beliefs find it extremely unpalatable to be challenged by a group of passionate upstarts.

In the high stake medium of MSM, it would be rare to find a columnist who directly challenges the ideas of a fellow journalist...Bloggers have no such inhibitions.
In the high stake medium of MSM, it would be rare to find a columnist who directly challenges the ideas of a fellow journalist. In this cosy world, The Hindu can sell it self a liberal voice while furiously editorializing in support of the brutal and repressive Chinese regime. It is hard to imagine a Barkha Dutt or Rajdeep Sardesai or even the self-proclaimed classical liberal newspaper calling its bluff; they have plenty of skeletons of their own. Bloggers have no such inhibitions; N. Ram is not likely to be too pleased with Nitin Pai’s brilliant exposure of his intellectual dishonesty. That many such bloggers might be specialists in their own field as opposed to journalists who, at least in India, tend to be generalists simply adds to the discomfiture. It is hard to pretend to be all knowing when arguing with someone who may have years of experience in a particular field. Granted that many such critiques are over the top and the language employed may be too colorful, a fact which the MSM has cleverly exploited to dismiss the dissenters as dysfunctional ranters. Yet, the stridency of the tone cannot subtract from the message. Bloggers may not have won this battle of ideas, that has never anyway been the intention, but there is little doubt that they have mounted a serious challenge.

As the blogosphere continues to grow and develop, the MSM faces two stark choices: It can either continue in its present state of denial or it can accept that bloggers have managed to carve their own niche and are unlikely to disappear. It is a choice between confrontation and cooperation. We can only hope that, for once, MSM would display wisdom and humility.


bee said...

thank you for a very insightful and accurate assessment.

The_girl_from_ipanema said...

1) Nice post!

2) Everyone and their brother can publish an anonymous or even eponymous blog on the www and spout theories unchecked. It gets harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, that might partly be the reason that bloggers are not taken as seriously or assigned as much authority as MSM in the eyes of the public. Bloggers are also less accountable for their words to some extent compared to an MSM reporter.

3) in the case of the NDTV feature on bloggers, I agree it was insular, but I suspect it was more out of ignorance/ penchant for sensationalizing than out of any hostility towards blogging in general. But i didn't watch it, so perhaps am not qualified to say.

The Indian Mainstream Media and Desi Bloggers | DesiPundit said...

[...] Hum Blogistani Essay Series’ second offering, Confused wonders why the mainstream media in India continues to feel threatened by bloggers even though we number only in the thousands (much less in the political blogosphere) [hat tip: [...]

Ishani Duttagupta said...

AN interesting post. I'm a journalist with mainstream media and a blogger too. Personally, I feel that my blog and my newspaper are two completely different platforms with no conflict between them. Each caters to a different kind of content, as far as I'm personally concerned.

thiva said...


Gemini said...

You hate it, you love it, you throw it, you use it... but you CAN NOT IGNORE it... that's what is 100% true about blogging! :)

84735 said...

Blogging is the future and everyone needs to get online and stay connected with the world ... We are living in a very special time in history as we move closer to the point of ascension !

We will awaken to a new reality of who we really are ... our spiritual oneness which connects everything in the cosmos is God !

Peace & Love


Renjith Nair said...

I would like to comment that, most of the Indian Media is politically biased, especially when it comes to BJP rules states they are surprisingly misleading the readers and viewers in this country. Infact, in my true knowledge BJP ruled states are doing well in all aspects compare to other states.We know that there is not a single news paper or visual media which is not run by a family in this country.If you consider CNN-IBN it is the most visibly biased visual media channel ever India have seen, so obsessed with Gandhi dynasty,Rajdeep and his Wife Sagarika is totally after Narendra Modi and BJP. If Modi sneezes it is a headline story in CNN-IBN!.if you consider NDTV PRANNOY ROY is trying his best to be a pseudo-secularist. But if we closely watch each of their programs it is increasingly getting biased and a person with common sense can understand what is going on behind the scene.Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutta believes they are the only intellectuals left in this country!.If you look at the news papers, we know the history of Indian express. What role Goenka played in Indian politics utilizing his family run news paper business.Vir Sanghvi of Hindustantimes ( Late KK Birla is a staunch congressman) is all the way praising Sonia as if his career itself is pledged for that cause. A fair exemption can be made for Times of India ,I don’t know If I am correct.Otherwise there is a serious conspiracy going on this country by these new founded intellectual Pseudo Secularists.We must be able to differentiate what is right and what is wrong as these channels are targeting young urban population mixing news with bit of masalas and Tabloid especially the Hip-hop culture. They are not aware that their credibility and neutrality is being lost infront of the masses.In India Media ethics is a neglected truth.It is the era of family run businesses for personal and political gains.In the name of freedom of speech they are misleading the people to make thier own profit and gains.Who care where this will lead the country to?????

I may be dubbed as a fundamentalist because of my comments,that is the new trend prevail in India.But reality bites and people should analyze the news particles coming to them before believing in it.Because for many ,it affects thier intellectual behaviour. There should be some accountability of the Media institutions in this country and we the Citizens are responsible for that.Please Beware.

Som said...

I'm a journalist who runs a cricket blog and having been at the both sides of the fence, I know exactly why mainstream media never takes blogging seriously.

You can't deny the fact that a large number of bloggers would make excellent feature writers and analysts, if given a chance. But then can you really equate professionals and amateurs in any walk of life? A blogger doesn't have access to ground realities and insights that a reporter is privy to and hence goes by whatever appears in the mainstream media. Most take it as gospel and few can really figure out how much of it is coloured by either editorial policy or individual interests. Trust me, few get to know the real story.

Besides, how can one overlook the fact that a blogger is essentially representing himself and a reporter his house? As a blogger I can say/write/deduce whatever and get away with it for its hardly noticed beyond a minuscule number. As a journalist, that would be fatal, not only for me but also for the house I work. A blogger writes because he feels like, a journalist because he has to. A lot more, including his/her job, is at stake for a journo and he just can't afford the (creative) liberty of a blogger.

The truth is bloggers, who do it for the love of it, are simply not in a position to separate the grain from the chaffe and that is none of their blame.

I use my blog to write stuff which I can't in my office. In my case, it's not the content but the format, which straitjackets me as a journo and I turned to blogosphere for that free expression.

Blogging can never replace mainstream and it doesn't need either. The trend has already started and the mainstream media would embrace blogging more and more in the coming days. Already, newspapers like Mail Today, Mumbai Mirror have started daily 'Blogger's Park' sections and I only see the trend growing. It adds more colour and spice and brings in fresh approaches. But when it comes to the serious business of news, I don't really see bloggers in the picture.