India Uncut

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Monday, November 07, 2005

The crackle and excitement of journalism

Many of us bloggers complain that mainstream media journalists don't take blogging seriously enough. Well, the very best of them do. Ashok Malik, the Indian Express writer I admired long before I got to know him personally, is one such journalist, and he writes about blogging with far more eloquence and lucidity than most bloggers could manage. Ashok had delivered a fine speech on blogs recently at the Asian School of Journalism, and Peter Griffin has, with permission, posted the full text on We The Media. An excerpt that struck me:
That initial "magic" of newspapers, to borrow Robin Jeffrey's evocative expression, owed so much to the fact that editors and proprietors, or editor-proprietors, spoke their mind. They didn't even pretend to be unbiased.

In the 17th century, around the time Daniel Defoe was publishing his Review, the early British newspapers were pamphlets. In America , a century a bit later, Hamilton and Jefferson were patronising newspapers that routinely backed one and ridiculed the other. Turn to Satyajit Ray's Charulata. Its editor protagonist, an enlightened 19th century Bengali bhadralok, saw his newspaper as a vehicle for his world view. Tilak's Kesri and Swaraj were no different.

That crackle and excitement used to be the lifeblood of newspapers. With blogs, are we at the cusp of a brave new age?

This may sound paradoxical, but the "say it as it is" school of newspapers ran into problems when they began making money, discovered "marketshare" and carved out cities between two or three survivors. Dumbing down and moderation are, after all, two sides of the same coin. A newspaper that wants to sell to all types of people, leftwingers, rightwingers, socialists, liberals, even, to use the current bugbear term, neo-liberals, tries to alienate none. As such, it often says nothing, takes no position – but makes lots of money.
Precisely. As I'd mentioned in a post a few months ago, bloggers blog for love, out of conviction. There is no money to be made, as of now, from blogging, so the bottomline is not the bottomline. Sure, there are plenty of trashy blogs and the vast majority are average (by definition!), but the best blogs are quite as stimulating as the best journalism you'd otherwise see, if not more.

Just to take an example from one field, you'll find better writing on economics on Marginal Revolution, Cafe Hayek and EconLog than in any MSM publication. And while I wouldn't overstate the quality of Indian blogs today, especially my own, here's a prediction: three years from now, the first website you will go to online for news and opinion will be a blog, not a newspaper.

And here's what is exciting: that blog probably does not exist today.

Update: On the subject of blogs, also read Jai Arjun Singh's excellent story in Business Standard, "The blog as bazaar."
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