Two fine posts, the first, a well-crafted crafted response to Vir Sanghvi’s mention of a mysterious Blogging Elite and the other, a gentle but firm rap on the media’s superiority complex represented again by Vir Sanghvi and Sagarika Ghose (whose choice of words in her tweet is quite heartwarming).
So here’s an FAQ of sorts that (hopefully) addresses Vir Sanghvi’s concerns. But before that, it helps to keep Offstumped’s words as a backgrounder.
There is a perceptible disquiet amongst the Delhi based media elite who have for long exercised a monopoly on opinion in the public debate. With their attempts at editorialising news with a psuedo-progressive slant now under severe challenge, they have taken to the good old leftist game of slander by label if not by libel.
1. What is a blog?
A: It started as an online personal journal/diary where you pretty much said anything about yourself and over the years, grew to become an informed and influential “alternate” media. You now have micro-specialized blogs on every conceivable topic.
2. Why did it become so popular or why did so many people adopt it so quickly?
A: As a medium of expression initially. The main reason it become widely popular was because it provided the “common” man an almost uninhibited and open way of expressing opinion and commentary. In the old days, media had a monopoly over not just news and opinion but even in its choice of publishing letters to the editor. Blogging simply made it possible to ignore that impenetrable fortress. More importantly, people who didn’t have any stake in some news event/happening/incident wrote what they felt. In other words, independent opinion/analysis was expressed by independent (yeah, sounds corny I know) people. Over time, these opinions began to prove far superior than established media warhorses and experts.
3. Why is the India media repeatedly upset with bloggers and Tweeple?
A: Several reasons. As Vir Sanghvi says, “At present, bloggers, visitors to websites and tweeters remain a curiosity for traditional media…I suspect old media may be making a huge mistake by being so blinkered.” And I agree. The reason for this is because the Internet was adopted much faster and more innovatively by the “common” man than the media. Till just two years ago, most Indian media heavyweights had extremely poor design, usability, and used outdated technology on their websites. The media picked up the blogging story like really late in the game. People usually read news items on news websites and turned to specific blogs for analysis and commentary. Till date, this hasn’t changed: you see a prominent story in a paper and you kind of predict what that paper’s editorial stance/comment will be on that story.
But the real reason is the fact that highly-respected bloggers are not scared to say it like it is. These highly-respected bloggers do rigorous homework and back their stuff up with sound reasoning. And they’ve repeatedly called the media’s bluff and don’t hesitate to dissect the said warhorses’ opinions. It’s no coincidence that this dissection happens at brutal regularity. This more than anything else has upset the traditional media.
4. Why are bloggers so “ferocious” about traditional media?
A: Honest answer: because the media is incredibly corrupt. Vir Sanghvi (and others) needs to admit this and begin honest introspection instead of trying to defend the indefensible:
Are many of those who blog and tweet (and I don’t just mean those sad losers who escape from their pathetic little lives by spending hours abusing other people on the net) beginning to believe that they constitute a secondary elite?
This kind of attitude will result in nothing positive. Rohit has already answered Sanghvi’s derogatory usage of “elite” but I’ll just add this: no blogger considers or claims himself/herself as belonging to some kind of an elite set. It exists in Sanghvi’s perception. It might surprise Sanghvi but most bloggers work independent of each other. In other words, blog posts aren’t orchestrated, or “planted.” And two, even if bloggers were “elitists” in a minority, why did it upset him so much that he took the trouble to write two entire posts dissing them? Why does he find it hard to ignore this insignificant “elite?” And neither is traditional media’s record clean: we’ve seen enough instances of mainstream media journos threatening bloggers with lawsuits, making talk shows showing bloggers in poor light, denigrating them as “Cyber Cinderellas,” and so on. This is, as Offstumped says, because the MSM’s near-monopoly over newsmaking is increasingly facing a serious challenge. If MSM demands freedom to question politicians, why doesn’t it want us to have the same freedom?
But let’s see why he makes this charge of elitism. To do that, we’ll take up the questions he himself asks in his piece.
5. When bloggers tell you that TV channels are only interested in TRPs, what are they saying? In effect, they are saying that TV channels are only interested in reaching as many people as possible.
A: This is among the worst generalizations I’ve seen. It’s like saying all Biharis are bad people because Lalu/Shahbuddin hails from the land. Why does he ignore the fact that most bloggers criticize MSM not because of its TRP thirst but mostly because MSM offers zero value in terms of insight and opinion. Take any random edit page/column of any newspaper. With very rare exception, the “substance” is generally on these lines: socialist policies are good, capitalism is ugly, subsides should be permanent, Indian secularism is in danger, minorityism is the way to go, and BJP/Hindu organizations are evil. By his own admission, Sanghvi claims to have scoured the Web over the past year and it’s quite surprising that he didn’t find ONE blogger critiquing this vacuum in the content that MSM churns out.
And it’s not just the content vacuum. Does Sanghvi admit that almost every mediahouse today publishes paid news? (Open Question to Readers: Does Hindustan Times accept paid news?) There are tons of blogs that’ve discussed this openly unethical practice. Couldn’t Sanghvi find even ONE blog that talks about it? And why is he silent about the Slimes’ strong-arm tactic that forced Pradyuman Maheshwari to shut down his excellent blog? These are serious issues that bloggers talk about, and they’re unrelated to TRPs or circulation figures. And wasn’t it Sanghvi’s own paper, Hindustan Times, which ran a campaign of sorts a few years ago (I think it was called “Just say no” or something. Not sure.) against the Slimes, which had just announced the vile Medianet concept? I do remember a lot of bloggers (including me) had signed up to support this cause. Your response to this, Mr.Sanghvi?
6. And why is this a bad thing? Surely the people the TV channels will reach will be just like the bloggers, ordinary people with an interest in some aspect of the news. Why should it be a form of abuse within a medium that is supposed to empower ordinary people to attack traditional media for trying to reach more ordinary people? Or, look at it another way. If a programme gets high TRPs, then this means that lots of ordinary people have liked it. The ordinary people may be right or wrong to have liked it – I pass no value judgements here – but the fact that they liked it is a reflection on them, not on the TV channel. So, why blame the channel? Why not blame the viewers?
A: This is even nicer. Notice the repeated usage of the word “ordinary people” to hammer home the distinction that bloggers aren’t “ordinary people.” And you got to be really naive to believe that “ordinary people” aren’t aware of the corruption in the media. And this is another, classic, characteristic trait of the MSM: assuming that “ordinary people” are ignorant and stupid and the all-knowing media must show them the way: “ordinary people may be right or wrong to have liked it.” Here’s the thing: stuff like TV programmes usually don’t hold up to any objective evaluation: people may like something today for some reason and hate the same thing tomorrow for the same or different reason. Bloggers don’t talk about “tastes of the ordinary man” and such like. Mr. Sanghvi, look at blogs like this, this, this, this, this, and this. These are serious blogs, very focussed and will beat the beauty-parloured news anchors by lightyears in terms of analysis, insight, research, opinion, and value. It might surprise you, Mr. Sanghvi, but most of these bloggers aren’t really big fans of watching TV. They do the work that the MSM no longer does. If MSM had done its job properly, it wouldn’t come to such a pathetic pass. I know this is undigestable but it is a fact.
7. The answer is obvious. Some of the more opinionated bloggers and tweeters believe that they are part of an elite. They distance themselves from the tastes of ordinary people and have contempt for the kind of programming that gets TRPs (i.e. is preferred by ordinary people).
A: This is so beautiful. Impute stupidity/ignorance to “ordinary people” first, and call in their support when convenient! But we wonder on what exact basis did Sanghvi conclude that “opinionated bloggers and tweeters believe that they are part of an elite?” But it’s true. Not just “ordinary people,” but millions of Indians feel worse than contempt for the kind of stuff that gets shown on TV. Here’s a sample of features drawn from various “genres” that get high TRPs:
- Orchestrated “reality” shows involving small children dancing to obscene lyrics and making vulgar moves
trashchat shows of people living in strange houses with their only full time activity being bitching & plotting against others
- Staged talk shows with political leaders with anchors giving cues for the “appropriate response”
- Showing live footage of terror attacks, which only helps terrorists
- Acting like mouthpieces of a certain secular party
- Cutting opposing/critical views in midsentence in a serious debate
What makes Sanghvi assume that because these millions don’t blog, they aren’t outraged by such charades? And why are bloggers supposed to feel compellled to share the tastes of “ordinary people.” Notice again that Vir Sanghvi has set up the artificial distinction as “elite bloggers” and “ordinary people.” And are bloggers supposed to feel thrilled/elevated by such shows? And
hypocritically, ironically Vir Sanghvi indulges in the same thing he accuses these “elite bloggers” of: speaking on behalf of “ordinary people.” Notice “programming …[that] is preferred by ordinary people.”
8. I do not dispute that bloggers have a right to regard themselves as an elite. My point is more limited. Such is the arrogance of the blogging elite these days that even when it attacks journos, it is effectively dissing the vast majority of media readership and viewership.
A: The underlined sentence in #8 above is perhaps the most brilliant display of arrogance I’ve ever seen. Vir Sanghvi provides a textbook illustration of McCarthyism: if you don’t join my whimsical Communist/bloggers witchhunt, you’re a traitor/wrong. Sanghvi makes “attacks journos” sound like bloggers are coming after them with Uzis. This is beyond comment and only serves to show Vir Sanghvi as a haughty mediaman.
9. But the next time I see attacks on journalists from pseudonymous bloggers who complain that the journos are only trying to get TRPs (i.e. reach a mass audience)…
A: Grand assumptions and leaps of reasoning. Not all bloggers are pseudonymous. You wrote this on your own (gasp!) blog Mr.Sanghvi, under your own name just like I write mine under my own name. And just like hundreds of other bloggers. I’m sure you could’ve done better, given your Internet-scouting over the past year. Like Rohit said, you have the backing of a large mediahouse while we work alone. Besides, what’s your focus, Mr. Sanghvi–the pseudonymn or the content that the pseudonymous blogger writes? By that token, we need to dismiss people like Mark Twain.
10: I will wonder: just who do you guys represent? Are you speaking on behalf of viewers and readers? Or are you just another anonymous elite that feels emboldened to pass judgement on the rest of the world from the darkness of your rooms?
A: We’re not the media, Mr.Sanghvi, to represent anybody. We belong to your favourite category of society: “working class.” We have a vested interest to see India as a strong, proud, and self-respecting nation, which it currently isn’t. That is who we represent. In the same vein, we speak on nobody’s behalf, and half the problem is usually solved when you know the correct questions to ask. And the correct question to ask is not on whose behalf we speak but what we speak. Policies. National interest. Security. Freedom. Media (yes). Your questions will sound intelligent if they’re centered around these themes. Again: themes, not people and/or groups. Our rooms are sometimes dark thanks largely to secular economic policies but our minds are far better-lit than the fancy lights in Television studios.
Oh, and Mr. Sanghvi, you wrote this piece on your (gasp!) blog!
Tags: Bloggers, Blogging, Blogs, Commentary, Democracy, FAQ for Vir Sanghvi, Freedom, Freedom of Speech, Hindustan Times, India, Indian Bloggers, Indian Media, Media Malpractices, Media Watch, Secularism, Smothering News, Society & Culture, Vir Sanghvi, Vir Sanghvi’s Blog