India Uncut

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Generalising about bloggers

It's so common these days to generalise about bloggers and blogging. You won't find someone say that all drivers are stupid after some idiot runs over a roadside vendor. It would be ludicrous to say that all journalists are liars because of what Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass did. All writers aren't mediocre just because many are. And so on.

But when it comes to blogging, such generalisations seem to come easy. A gent named Shobhan Saxena has produced a rant in the Times of India that is filled with some superb gems. Some samplers:
The bloggers love to attack those they hate: from McDonald's to Starbucks to Karl Marx to Mandal to Germaine Greer to the colleague at the next work station. Blogs are an online stream of consciousness written by people who believe that they are under orders from someone to change the world. [...]

Every 10 minutes, some three million new bloggers invade the WWW with a vengeance. It looks like revenge of the amateur who dreams of becoming a reporter. [sic] [...]

Bloggers claim in their hifalutin tones that they want to give a voice to the voiceless and replace the newspapers with their journalism. [...] Their vision is apocalyptic and their language is acidic.

And no one can beat Indian bloggers when it comes to self-obsessed preaching, gossiping and bitching. [...] But the smart people in the corporate world have realised the uses of these mercenaries. They are looking for bloggers who are interested in being paid. Eager to make quick bucks, many have already boarded the train of paid bloggers, blowing away their claims of citizen-generated media, free from the restrictions of top-down "old media".

It's easy to dismiss journalism as literature in a hurry, but blogging is just organised gossip.
Such joy. The bit about bloggers wanting to replace the mainstream media is actually a common meme: the affable Naresh Fernandes made a similar remark recently in his excellent magazine, Time Out Mumbai, and I'd love to see either him or Saxena cite a single credible blogger who has stated such ambitions. Firstly, only an immensely tiny percentage of bloggers claim to be doing journalism; secondly, only a raving lunatic would claim that blogging can replace mainstream media.

Of course, there are plenty of raving lunatics who blog. There is a reason for this: there are plenty of raving lunatics. By making the tools of publishing accessible to anyone with an internet connection, blogging allows people to bypass the traditional filters that mainstream publications have, ensuring that anyone at all can get published. But there are two things to note here.

One, getting published is not the same as getting read. It takes a lot of hard work to build a readership, and all readers have a limited attention bandwidth. You can publish shit online, but that doesn't mean anyone will read it, or take it seriously.

Two, while blogging doesn't threaten mainstream media in any way, it does, as I wrote here, enhance the breadth and depth of whatever mainstream media covers. Most MSM journalists, especially in India, tend to be generalists, which stands to reason: a specialist in any field would generally make more money working in that field than writing about it, unless it's a hobby -- and the chances of a serious hobbyist being a journalist are exactly the same as the chances of anyone being a journalist.

What this means is that blogs on specialised subjects often tend to be much better than journalism on those subjects. The economics blogs I'd mentioned here and here are a good illustration of this, as is the fact that the Killian Documents (remember Rathergate?) were first exposed as a fraud on blogs. (After all, how many typography experts are journalists?) And if I want advice on technology -- like which mobile phone to buy -- I am certain to find a much broader range of expert advice in the blogosphere than in mainstream media.

Anyway, I'll give Saxena the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn't use the internet much, and has only come across blogs of the kind he mentions. I'm a little surprised, though, that his editors let such a shabby, illogical rant slip past those editorial filters that Saxena seems to be so proud of. Readers in the blogosphere, I am certain, would not have been so kind with Saxena. If they read his piece on a blog, they probably wouldn't return to it. The mediocrity of ToI -- I'm assuming he's a staffer -- insulates him from that.

And ah, on the way out, do read Five Things All Sane People Agree On About Blogs And Mainstream Journalism by Steven Johnson.

(Saxena link via separate emails from Mitesh Vasa and Patrix; Johnson link via email from Peter Griffin.)
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