By Agya Ram Pandey, Amitabh Srivastava and Pashyanti Shukla
WJMCR 43 (January 2013)
In the ever changing world of media, blogs have been emerged as a bridge. They are not only crossing the limits presented by time and space but also shortening the widening drift between communicator and addressee. Most importantly, the modern world considers blogs a democratic podium for the common masses because weblogs have provided common masses a forum in which to express their concerns. The question arises of why mainstream journalists are showing keen interest in blogs because they already have their own media such as newspapers and television. What are the driving forces responsible behind this interest? To find out, researchers delved into the personal blogs of 60 journalists in India who were affiliated with various print and electronic media. Content analysis was used to find out what kind of content journalists are publishing on their personal blogs. Research indicates that journalists are not interested in using the opportunity blogs provided to introduce unreported news. Instead of news, their focus is commentary. Emotional aspects also play a key role in deciding the content of their blogs.
Keywords: Blog, weblog, mainstream media, new media, on line journalism, on line writing trends, Blog writing, blogger journalists, writing styles of blogs, media writing.
The Internet started to shape the world during the last decades of the 20th century, but prior to 1990, it lacked a mass base because it was not sufficiently user friendly. For example, to create a web page, one needed to become famiiar at least with HTML and FTP. Technological determinism was on its way.
The new media provided a platform to the common man to make his own Web pages. It was the late ’90s when the word “Weblog” was used for the first time for the new invention. But the name was bulky, as per the nature of new media. The need of the hour was for a more handy name. On December 17, 1997 John Barger coined the term blog. The new word was welcomed throughout the world in such a way that it made the “weblog” word almost extinct1
Changing the rules of the game
The original concept of a blog was related to a personal digital diary published on the Internet by a single person or a small group. New features have improved blogs a lot. Now there is no need to have a technical mind set. To be a successful blogger, what is expected is just to be a little bit techno-savvy and have something unique to say. It is the blog which has changed the rules of the game. The Web readers have become the writers and writers are now the owners themselves.
Blocks in Blogs
Generally blogs are divided into three categories: personal, professional and public. But David Domingo and Ari Heinonen discussed four types based on the writer. Citizen Blogs are written by the common man. Audience Blogs are written by the target groups of the media on the platform provided by the media group. For example, various newspapers offer blogs on their news websites. The third type is written by the journalists on the websites or portals of their own media houses. The BBC allows their journalists to write blogs and publish them on bbc.com. The last category is journalist-written blogs written on the websites which have no relation to their media groups. WordPress and Blogspot are popular platforms, which offer free space to create blogs. This kind of weblog offers complete editorial freedom.2
The Power of the Young
Blogs have captured an important place in political circles especially in America and England. A significant incident related to this was in 2004-2005 when bloggers exposed the case of a forged military record which was shown on a TV program. It led to the resignation of that program’s anchor Dan Rather. Bloggers in the West are exploring new or neglected issues and developing them as the mainstream media’s agenda to encourage a wider social debate. Bloggers in the West also present a tough challenge to the mainstream media.
CNN and Time forbade their correspondents from blogging about the Iraq war. They were told to focus on television reporting. One of those journalists, Kevin Sites, was told to shut down his weblog the day the war began. Kevin Sites left CNN and continued working as freelancer.
Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of online news site The Huffington Post, says bloggers are the “pit bulls of journalism.” She credits their persistent nature of bloggers with reviving stories which would otherwise fade from newspapers’ front pages.
Because India is a democratic country, freedom of speech and expression have been provided as fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution. The technological revolution has also created a ground to groom the media boom when IT revolution hit in last decades of 20th century. It encouraged all the formats of journalism, especially new media. Market forces also brought more competitive atmosphere, resulting unseen growth in media houses. But the question of democratization of media was raised except in new media. mainstream journalists are also being asked how the right to freedom of speech and expression is availed by the persons.
Strengths That Limit
It is observed that the writing of blogs is quite peculiar in terms of style, selection of words, formatting etc. Blog writing is also different from other formats of online media.
Researchers have also observed that journalists writing for the blogs seldom use references, while in mainstream media, that is a common phenomenon. There is no writing style nor word limits for blogs. Blogs offer complete freedom to the writer and don’t ask for accountability. These are the strengths of blogs as well as limitations.
The age of weblog is around 15 years but a lot of research works have been done, which is still going on. Wortham tried to find out the reason of growing interest in research. He found that potential of blogs is influencing persons of all the spheres of life. It may be politicians, advertisers, consumer and owners of any kind of service/product. 3
Indian Researcher Srinivasan Ramaswamy points out that blogs are becoming the grassroots publishing medium of the current electronic publishing era.4However, there are the researchers, who focus on the limitations of the blogs too. Christopher Harper of Temple University stresses that at times blogs establish agendas. For the most part, however, the blogs react to the agendas set by the mainstream media and those who create and make the news, such as politicians. He suggests that blogs play the role of dissectors and expanders of the agendas by framing debate over current events, primarily about U.S. domestic and international issues5.
Michael Sheehy, of the University of Cincinnati, states that bloggers appear less likely to produce material that would be defined as journalism by the traditional processes and standards of the journalism profession. 6
However, Wilson Lowrey and Jenn Burleson Mackay suggested a model of editors’ awareness of local blogging activity with increased use of blogs as sources, discussion of blogs in planning meetings and adoption of the blogging form on news websites7.
Content analysis of blogs in 2009 by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found out that Journalism certainly exists in the blogosphere, but blogger’s professional orientation is strongly associated with the type of content appearing in the post.
- To find out what kind of content is being used in blogs written by the journalist.
- To understand the driving forces why print and electronic media journalists are leaning towards blogs.
We have selected 60 blogs of Indian journalists whose main profession was other than online journalism. It included print, radio and TV journalist. Because various journalists change their profession from print to electronic and electronic to print, researchers decided not to have any sub category in journalism.
The research encompasses all the posts of these 60 journalists, from January 15, 2012 to March 15, 2012. 18 percent of blogs were owned by women. No doubt it does not represent male-female ratio of country, but it reflects women’s share in main stream media.
Categories of Content
To finite limitless types of content in journalists’ blogs, researchers divided all the contents in four categories. On the basis of rigorous observation of journalists’ blogs and literature review following categories was formed:
- News stories: Often it is said that media houses are not democratic enough. There is a little opportunity for common journalists to publish/broadcast news, which does not match with the interests of his or her job providers. This category is for the news, which did not get any space in main stream media.
- Analysis: It covers analysis of the issues, hitting the headlines of mainstream media.
- Media Related content: It includes the posts on issues and problems in media houses, innovation in media, Ethics, Changing scenario of media etc.
- Personal: Emotional aspects of journalists which are reflected in poetries and other forms of creative writing come under this category.
Blogs were expected to provide a democratic space especially to journalists, resulting in more breaking news, which could not get any space in mainstream media due to lack of space and time, but Chart 1 reveals, only 13.1 percent of the posts were news stories. It indicates most of the journalists are not using their blogs for publishing news stories which could not get space in main stream media. The chart clearly depicts that instead of concentrating on breaking news in blogs, journalists were more eager to express their personal views on lead news of mainstream media. The lion’s share of the posts is analysis, claiming 52 percent of the total. The major chunk of it is devoted to political coverage, and the rest is distributed to social, sports, crime etc.
This study indicates that in the information age, almost all sorts of news is getting space in mainstream media. Journalists are satisfied with that, but they want to communicate their own views, which according to them was outside the scope of mainstream media. It also reflects the fact that the present format of mainstream media is somehow democratic in news rather than views. The mindset of the management controls the news in the media houses, which forces the journalists to express their views separately in blogs. The management and organization policy of media houses plays a negative role against the news which is not market friendly.
Blogs are filling the vacant space, left by mainstream media. However, Weblogs offer editorial freedom and enable the journalist to adopt a more interpretative or even opinionated position in comparison to the standards of mainstream media. But the data indicate, journalists missed that opportunity For example Breaking news of Mominpura by Punya Prasun Joshi (March 15, 2012) became talk of the town. But this sort of news is just the exception.
It looks as if journalists are now getting unable to think beyond the macro system of media industry. There are the possibilities to have the access of untouched news: the news of down trodden persons, news of the grass roots and news of developmental issues and news of real and social concerns. But it remains untouched.
Researchers found that only 6 percent content of all the blog posts was dedicated to the situation of journalism. It indicates that it is still hard to dare to expose the real situation of journalism even by the journalists in the so called most democratic media. They can expose atrocities, but when the opportunity comes to criticize their own media, journalists prefer to keep mum or they are bound to do so. One possible reason is that journalists are obsessed with the fear that someone is peeping in. They realize that even their freedom is within four corners.
But a few journalists are still devoted to the core values of their profession and they stretch their limits to feel the fragrance of freedom. For example in his blog Gadho ki Zarurat hai (Vacancies for donkeys) Avinash Dutt of BBC radio criticizes the role of journalists, who change their tune after the victory of a political party. This eminent TV Journalist of India passed on the following satirical comment: “Khabar Tum Sabun Ho, Chini Ho, Machis Ho, Sarkar Mein Banti Ho, Bazar me bikti Ho. (News you are just like Sugar & Soap, You are manufactured in government and sold in market).
Percentage of Blogs in Each of Five Categories
One interesting fact, that emerges from the research is that journalists are using blogs to express their emotions and sentiments. Twenty-eight percent of write ups are in this category. Most of the expressions come from the heart of bloggers in the form of poetry. Interestingly, emotions are expressed by the journalists who are normally known for their pro-prose attitude. It seems blogs have become an emotional outlet too for the media persons, who continuously work under the unbearable stress. Again, research also indicates that there is little space in main stream media to fulfill the emotional requirements.. Most of the poetry of blogger journalists are about love and affection. The rests are quoting the poetry of others. But there are few poems,which are concerned with downtrodden class of society.
Percentage of Posts in Each Month
The above chart and trend-line is enough to state that how active are the journalists on blogs. Only 1.7 % journalists have written 25 posts in two months. In contrast to this 38.3 percent of journalists have not written a single story. The average is 1.49 posts per month while the rate of posts on social media is very high. The trend line indicates that there is reciprocal relationship between the number of journalists and their blog posts. The finding also indicates there are signs of stagnation in Indian journalists as far as blog writings are concerned.
Research indicates that mainstream media are democratic enough in news but not in views. Journalists are leaning towards blogs. Weblogs are being used by mainstream journalists for expressing their own interpretation about the news. But caretakers of the Fourth Estate hesitate to pass any comment against their own media houses. Soft emotions are also in the driver’s seat. Research suggests that media houses need to be more sensitive for the content and conditions related to the emotional quotient. It would open new avenues for stressed journalists, which would benefit target groups and media houses too. But the ultimate beneficiary would be journalism.
One of the other possible reasons for decrease in blog writing may be the growing popularity of social media. Jeff Bullas states that 30 billion pieces of content are shared in a month on Facebook8. If it is true for the journalists too, it remains to be seen how social sites will shape the future of mainstream media and blogs as well. Further studies are required for it.
Language and the feedback system of media may also play a role in deterring dependency on the blogs. Further studies may include language as one of the variables. The Emotional Quotient of journalists may also be analyzed to know the reasons for dependency.
Agya Ram Pandey is a lecturer in the Department of Media Studies at Sharda University. Amitabh Srivastava, is an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Sharda University, where Pashyanti Shukla is a research associate.