Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bloggers or Journalists?

India Together has an article today by Darryl D'Monte about the role of bloggers. "Are bloggers parked, or driving media in new directions?", asks Mr. D'Monte. Blogs are popular in the west but in India their popularity is limited. A very small percentage of population has regular access to the internet and only few of those write or read blogs regularly. Among those who have simply heard about blogs, there is a perception that blogs are simply an online "journal" or a "diary" where people talk about mundane stuff and occasional "dear diary" moments. The reporters and journalists are slightly more aware and some of them are bloggers themselves.

In India too however, bloggers are doing things which mainstream media[MSM] generally doesn't. Mr. D'Monte in his article talks about Dina Mehta (blog), a blogger from Mumbai, who through a blog she helped create, was able to help the victims of Tsunami in Asia and more recently the victims of hurricane Katrina. She used her blog to help put those who wanted to provide aid, in touch with those who needed it. Outlining the importance of the blogs in the article, Mehta says:
"It's technology with a heart. We don't actually give help - we provide information and communication. We're not even an NGO, in that sense. We offer Communication, Coordination, Collaboration and Community."
Mr. D'Monte acknowledges the growing importance of the blogs in his article. He say:
" 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."
He also talks about the recent IIPM incident and the blog war that followed to highlight the growing importance of blogs. It is true that bloggers are doing things that investigative journalists are supposed to do. During the IIPM incident bloggers unearthed important facts about IIPM's international claims, its sister concerns(1, 2) and about the background of its founder. Why didn't the journalists do it? I have a theory about it. Here goes...

My newly acquired (and half baked) understanding of economics says "incentives matter". A journalist has to weigh the costs of doing a story (time and efforts invested) against the returns (increased readership). The cost of doing a full fledged investigation is large and so are the returns. However the journalist can keep turning out stories which do not require as much investment of time and efforts as a full fledge investigation and still get a reasonable readership. That way the journalist can also cover a lot more stories (because each story takes less time and effort). Full fledge investigation may also carry hidden costs like defending yourself against claims of slander and possible threats to burn down stuff. The returns on a full fledge investigation may be high but maybe not so high as to provide a good incentive to the journalist to pursue it.

Bloggers on the other hand are not journalists (i.e. we have day jobs to pay for food etc.) But once in a while they can and do act like journalists and go out and hunt down facts. They have a big incentive to do the investigative stuff. It increases the traffic to their blogs manyfold. Also bloggers do investigative things when they believe in a story and are motivated to support a cause.

At least in India the mainstream media has a chance to use this in their favor. Their greatest advantage is their reach. TV, Radio and newspapers reach far more people than blogs do in India. So keeping track of the blogosphere and picking up stories like the recent IIPM story can work to MSM's advantage. The media till now however has not realized this I guess. The reporting of the IIPM story was just plain bland in Indian media. They tried to play it safe I guess and didn't go and actually check the claims made by IIPM in their ads. Some did not even mention the article by JAM, which was the cause of the whole thing.

I don't think MSM is going to go away because of blogs. It is definitely going to change a lot, in many ways which I can't even imagine. So to answer your question Mr. D'Monte:
Bloggers aren't parked. I don't think each individual blogger is blogging to drive anything anywhere, but collectively we are surely going to drive a lot of things (?)... including driving many people nuts.
BTW, this just in through Gawker's post today: Here's what InstaPundit and DNAIndia have to say about this stuff. Also check out The Hoot's take on it.

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Point 5 said...

I recently read the Yahoo is planning on deliverin personalised news to its users...and the news will search the blogsites and supply links from different blogs....

Transmogrifier said...

I dunno if this is a new service yahoo plans to provide, but I thought "My Yahoo" already does that. You can now add RSS feed to "My yahoo" for quite some time now which means you can add feeds for all the blogs you like. you can also search for blogs on specific topics and add their feeds to my yahoo. I think it is a great service.