Archive for the ‘Blogging and Journalism’ Category

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Are bloggers failed writers and half-wits or for professional journalism, is this the pits?

October 3, 2006

Today(10/3,2006), under the heading “Failed writers and half-wits populate the blogoshpere“, Shobhan Saxena has many disparaging things to write about bloggers in “The Times of India ” :-

Net result:Failed writers and half wits populate the blogosphere

It is surprising that there is not one positive thing mentioned about bloggers or the blogosphere( Extracts from the article in Italics).:-

“Everyone has the right to express an opinion but a lot of people confuse it with meaningless fuming and ranting. Everyone has the right to be stupid but some people abuse the privilege”

I am no professional writer but having written sporadically for The Times of India(seven small write-ups; coincidentally one is under “Mind,body,spirit and you ” today itself)and a couple of reputed magazines(four write-ups), I have to concede that when you work with professionals, it improves your focus tremendously and enables you to separate the wheat from the chaff in content. I am grateful to all my Journalist gurus for that more than anything else. However, to consider focus more important than the ideas is clearly putting the cart before the horse;what are you going to focus if the ideas iself are not there and ideas come from the unconscious mind- nobody has patent rights on them. In this context, being formally qualified can actually be a liability because it builds up the ego which is the biggest impediment to cretative ideas.

What I feel is that a professional should be circumspect in using certain words and adjectives( like “stupid” above) with amateurs in particular. Sometimes I feel that that the article written by Saxena is the kind of article I used to write before I interacted with journalist professionals(my association with all of them has been pleasent) – a one sided diatribe without perspective with expressions beginning with the title itself best avoided .

The whole tenor of the article is such that one wonders at the motives behind using certain expressions and statements such as :-

” A lot of people are sick of being nobody. A lot of people’s lives have been reduced to inconsequential chatter with inconsequential friends. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions and their lives are a second hand mimicry of others’ lives.”

This could be true to a significant extent but “inconsequential friends” is a highly objectionable expression because no human being is inconsequential. Some bloggers may have opinions that are more insightful if not original than that of a journalist and some of them may have genuine first hand experiences to share from their own lives which maybe far more interesting at times than what a journo has to say. There is no point writing about “inconsequential chatter “ but psychiatrists advocate social outlets as a means of overcoming mental and emotional problems and blogging serves as a good one. In fact writing is viewed as a kind of catharsis in that context.

Some months ago, on my other blog, I had spoken about the urge to write as a genuine need for some people- While stating that some famous writers-Horis-karl Huysmans, Henry Miller , Herman Melville, Sir Arthur Conann Doyle, Anthony Trollope ,Anton Chekov , Somerset Maugham all lived dual lives(as writers and their other occupation) , this post gives Indian examples of people from different occupations who were very keen to write. One person explains that “It is not so much about the inner need to be a writer as an inner need to write.” Every journalist may not become a good writer or vice-versa but if people from other occupations can succeed as writers, there is no reason why some can’t succeed as Journalists as well.:-

Schizophrenic existence of budding writers.

That apart there is a saying, “ I write to know what I think”. The so called inconsequential chatter becomes very consequential when one starts writing and exchanges views. Writing is actually a very good way to clarify your thoughts and even be centered..

There is then no justification for making statements in the article like:-

They think they have something to say. They want to be read and heard and seen”.

Some of them may actually have something to say. There is nothing wrong in being wanting to be heard and seen if you have the talent for it. One of India’s foremost filmstars said in an interview ” It takes a show off to be a show on”. I read about one writer who used to sing and dance on the roof to attract attnetion;what could he do? There was no blogging in his time. Isn’t blogging one of the most powerful means of self expression? During my nomadic excursions through the blogosphere, the creativity that I have come across at times is mind boggling. For instance, some of the cooking blogs- the pictures and the content is so good that this seems nothing but a labor of love since they are not being paid for it. They appear like professional cooking websites rather than personal blogs.

What are programs like “Nach Baliye” and “Indian idols” or for that matter “Laughter Challenge” doing? There are several sides to a human being’s personality and the chupa rustams(latent talent) in them comes out only when there is a transparent platform. One of the judges in the musical show “Indian Idols” wrote in an article how much new talent was emerging and how it was giving the established singers a run for their money. Similarly, blogging is a transparent platform for writers and it is only a matter of time before the hidden “Khushwant Singhs and Shobha Des” emerge. Why should they not be seen and heard.?

Digressing a little, I would like to say that excellence in any field does not necessarily have to be a corollary of formal qualifications. Neither Amitabh Bachchan nor Rajnikanth are formally trained actors but have been long enduring superstars. Dhirubhai Ambani was not a naturally trained lateral thinker(to the best of my knowledge) but his out of the box thinking was brilliant. Japan, as a country did not have a formal business school for a long time but during that period, that tiny country gave the Americans a run for their money. In the recent Movie “Krishh”, Naseeruddin Shah while complimenting Hrithik Roshan’s abilities tells him ” Others are trained but you are gifted” Therefore a gifted writer though not formally qualified maybe more than match for a journalist where sheer writing skill is concerned.

Elsewhere, it is written that “it looks like the revenge of the amateur who dreams of becoming a professional. And that’s a cause for concern”. At another place it is given ;” The pace at which the blogoshpere is getting cramped with half wits, religious maniacs, failed writers, sociopaths and cold blooded killers is scary” . I feel that this is a one sided view. One wonders whether the people described above are the rule or the exception. Is that scary or is something else scary?

Why should “dreaming of being a professional” be a cause for concern? It happens in the management world all the time. If a company in the unorganized sector like Nirma can take on a giant like Hindustan lever, what is so sacrosanct about Journalism? Management history is replete with stories of how lean and mean small companies(mouse) gave the established companies(Elephants) a run for their money. It seems more of a nightmare for the professionals – a fear of competition from unknown quarters.

Some formally qualified journalists may have the natural ability to excel in other fields as well and similarly some people in other fields maybe more gifted writers. To throw light exclusively on the negatives in the blogoshpere is an article without perspective in my view.

The expression “failed writers” or “Nobody” can be quite deceptive. The renkowned Hindi writer, Muinshi Premchand and even the great Shakespeare got posthumous recognition years after they died. Were they failed writers or the audience failed to give them their due? Who knows what could have happened had blogging been around to showcase their skills? Why discourage budding Sakespeares and Premchands with such articles ? Talking of commercial success, Govinda maybe far more commercially successful than a Naseerudin Shah but it is the latter who is deemed brilliant. Who decides success or failure and on what criteria?

“Their(bloggers) aspirations are blocked by the obnoxious monster called the editor and their high voltage facts mixed with slam dunk fiction with a lot of typos and commas and semi-colons in the wrong places, go down a drain called the editorial process”.

One cannot deny the importance of the right punctuation but the most important thing in writing is creative ideas and expression and to give undue importance to commas and full stops would be missing the wood for the trees The book literary humor puts things in the right perspective ,”Commas and full stops are a convenience rather than an integral part of the language; its nuts and bolts rather than girders. Some very eminent writers have been careless in this respect- Somerset Maugham could not handle commas, Jane Austen got her quotation marks in a twist; Geroge Orwell hated semicolons so much that he wrote an entire novel without any. Gertrude Stein ignored punctuation. ”

Similarly, the book states that many writers of the most elegant prose have been shoddy spellers- John Cheever, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald etc. I am not suggesting that this is excusable but more emphasis should be on expressive ability which comes from the depths of the soul:-

“Of all the arts in which the wise excel, Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well”

In the book “Editors on editing”, eminent editor David Davidar says ” The writer is the artist and editor the craftsman; the editor must never lose sight of this fact.” Elsewhere, it is given that “Editors must reconcile themselves to anonymity, no matter how great their contribution to a text.” This clearly puts the relationship in proper perspective. The blogosphere may have good writers all of whom need not go down the drain. On the other hand, many successful editors may have “gone down the drain” in the writing process or maybe some excelled at both. George Bernard shaw said once “Those who can, do. else they teach.” It was further expounded by Steve Norbdy :-

Those who can do.
Those who can’t teach.
Those who can’t teach train teachers.
Those who can’t train teachers write teacher training textbooks..

Some editors may not be good writers but very good editors. Why give over importance to the editorial process? Sometimes, a free for all write up can be more charming and cute like the raw talent of a natural cricketer like Mahendra singh Dhoni for instance.

“Blogs are an online stream of consciousness written by people who believe that they are under orders form someone to change the world”. Blogging and websites are the only mass communication tools directly in the hands of the individual. Some of the greatest leaders in history like Lenin for instance orchestrated their movements from abroad. Gandhiji in his autobiography expresses surprise at being so popular in India for the work that he did in South Africa. Had blogging been around at that time, it would definitely have facilitated their work. Ghandhiji was a lawyer but has been described as modern India’s greatest writer and editor in “Editors on Editing” and complimented on his mass communication skills by no less a man than Alyque Padamsee, former chairman of Lintas. Who knows what else he could have achieved with a mass media tool like blogging directly under his control?

“Bloggers claim in their hifalutin tones that they want to give a voice to the voiceless and replace the papers with their journalism. It sounds good but look at the way they are doing it. Their vision is apocalyptic and their language is acidic. “ This maybe true in some cases but all bloggers are not like that. Newspapers have been an enduring institution and even satellite television has not been able to replace them. Why be vary of the poor little blogger? Some elements from the media have been criticized for sensationalization but that does not imply that the entire mainstream media is irresponsible.

In my view, bloggers and the mainstream media can share a symbiotic relationship in the spirit of you scratch my back and I scratch yours but not in a derogatory sense. In his book “Differentiate or Die”, the author Jack Trout states how essential it is for every established brand to continue to differentiate itself. National and international issues are well reported and hotly debated and there is not much scope of differentiation there. In a country like India where the judicial system is perceived as “ineffective”, local issues being highlighted can go a long way in helping the affected party( the way it helped Jesicca lall) and also help the mainstream media differentiate itself which is where bloggers come in as the media cannot reach everywhere.

This reminds me of a scene from the famous “Yeh Dosti” song from movie “Sholay” where the side car attached to the motorcycle separates from the main body and then after straying in the wilderness merges with the main body on the main road.There maybe separate actions(bloggers and journalists) on certain issues , go it alone on certain issues and even joint action on certain issues. This may seem far fetched now just as a 24 hour news channel was deemed ridiculous when first introduced Who knows how a medium may evolve in the future? Some professional journalists have spoken in favor of “citizen journalism”. The journalist gives news( at most times), the blogger gives views. Where is the conflict?

Even the song itself is not exactly a misplaced expression of what the relationship between bloggers and Journalists could be:-

The article states correctly that Learning and mastering good journalism is tough. You learn it is libraries, on flooded streets, in front of a rioting mob, in the middle of ceasefire between the milita and the military,in war trenches, in the corridors of power and in the hamlets of deprivation. Sometimes, a reporter walks for miles in an area ravaged by a tsunami to get one quote from the man hanging on to a tree for a week. “ This is wonderfully written and very correct and Journalists and Journalism should be respected for that but then the Journalist should also respect bloggers right to self expression instead of only being highly and blindly critical. It would not be out of place to mention here that Journalism is no rocket science, impregnable to outside perspectives.

The article continues ,”Bloggers don’t worry about such inane things. They can learn history and politics from google. They can get their facts from newspapers and slam them with their half baked opinions”

That is exactly what I am doing at the moment but whether the opinions are half baked or not again is a matter of opinion. Everybody does not have to have hands-on experience. Some people do well as financial investors. Can you tell them ” You must run companies and not merely invest in them”

Rather than use such expressions, Journalists should look at bloggers with a big brotherly attitude. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has given a lot of credit for his success to encouragement by his elder brother,Ajit when he started playing cricket. Looking at the results, we hardly have much to complain out. To only see the negative side of a little brother is not correct- Shobhan, yeh aapko shobha nahin deta.

Now a giggly little, sweet little, little baby brother will only use google because he can hardly be expected to face the challanges faced by a formally trained big brother. Just the way the cute antics of an innocent child or the high sounding words of a management trainee(Fresh MBA) amuse , journalists as big brothers could pull the cheeks of us tiny little fellas and say “Kuchi kuchi koo” or “Gili gli gili” instead of some of the condescending, reprimanding and nagging wife kind of expressions used in the article.

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