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I’ve been seeing blogging evolve in this industry in somewhat strange ways recently.

When we started Green & White blogs were of distinctly two types: public diaries or rants / opinion blogs. Most opinion blogs were using the medium as merely an outlet of their own thoughts on something, they lacked the perspective of credible analysis.

Readership for blogs was mostly the circle of friend-bloggers who would just the blog network as more of a social activity of poking fun at each other, rather than as a medium for having global conversations.

There were some focused blogs around the tech sector, but their readership was dispersed of forums and …

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When blogging goes purposeful, is credibility lost?

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I’ve been seeing blogging evolve in this industry in somewhat strange ways recently.

When we started Green & White blogs were of distinctly two types: public diaries or rants / opinion blogs. Most opinion blogs were using the medium as merely an outlet of their own thoughts on something, they lacked the perspective of credible analysis.

Readership for blogs was mostly the circle of friend-bloggers who would just the blog network as more of a social activity of poking fun at each other, rather than as a medium for having global conversations.

There were some focused blogs around the tech sector, but their readership was dispersed of forums and mailing lists.

I think Green & White and TelecomPK and ITTazee started more or less together, and since we started we’ve seen a lot more people wake up to the realization that blogs can infact by considered reliable news and analysis resources.

We’ve seen Teeth Maestro and the PakSpectator become even more focused on political analysis, and a handful of other tech focused news blogs emerge to try to capture the attention of a rapt audience.

The emergence of the audience itself is the true feat – where there are not an ever-increasing set of professionals and intellectuals seeking out alternate, focused news sources online. The audience is sometimes forcing people to go through the growing pains (comment#4) of moving from a personal diary into a source of credible news (we face it all the time too!). I remember when the audience pushed us at G&W as well to become more serious and focused and responsible about the perspectives we’re creating and to stop ranting without a perspective.

 

But therein lies the gist of the dilemma.

The strength of the blog medium in creating perspectives or analysis is that audience can be guided in a very specific direction to prove a point or (more evilly speaking) influence them.

One of the serious problems that emerges is the conflict between being objective and being politically correct. There are too many people on the net who like using the lack of knowledge that the general set of readers might have on a subject to sound smart – its almost been an industry norm I think. We met some CEOs at Startups Insiders (who I wont name) who had absolutely no insight to give except they were just reciting Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin posts word-for-word ("You gotta create value… and the money will follow" type of canned, generic, rehashed advice).

There are companies that launch and exploit the fact that no one is likely to know any better about the world around them, and will just accept hyperbolic claims.

As a professional blog or news writer, the question is how to balance objective news-writing and giving a dose of reality to the mix without offending them…. with the idea that not everything we write must be glowing reviews about products, services, or news… that our jobs (as objective news reporters) would not be to just rehash and copy-paste a company’s press-release onto our page, but to create a perspective of that news that is grounded in reality and free of hyperbole unless praise is deserved on merit.

But the more we do this, the more people we offend because of the politics of knowing them, and the harder it becomes (in this industry) to get any business done.

"Dont write about customers, simple as that" is some of the advice I’ve gotten – and this is really where the credibility of professional news reporting can break down.

 

The second serious problem that emerges is in how people react to a growing audience-base. We have tried (often unsuccessfully I think) to keep our readers’ expectations in mind when writing at G&W.

But what happens when a blogger starts exploiting the fact that there is rapt attention to that blog for self-promotion, or the promotion of only specific people?

This happens often subtly and is rarely a conscious evil decision. Firstly, most bloggers are professionals with day-jobs and they themselves haven’t actually accepted the responsibility the audience is giving them for being objective, neutral and professional about news. They often resist this, because they started blogging just to add a personal perspective of the world around them, not because it was their job to go around and report news for the audience.

So within this disconnect of the audience expecting news from them, and the bloggers using a tool to report items of interest around themselves, the bloggers often only start highlighting things from their friends or from themselves.

The inconvenient truth of this is that the perspective of that news is completely destroyed… only one angle or side of a story is covered, and only that one side is consumed by readers who dont even know that there was another angle. This is extremely dangerous, but what can we do about it if we the bloggers arent taking responsibility for adding bias to our new reporting for the masses?

Even worse, what if bloggers are consciously saying things like "We’re about to do XYZ" when they’re not – when audience is just being led on with false hope?

 

The third serious problem comes from the expectations which arise from being semi-hobbyist news reporters that suddenly a large audience-base expects to hear from. Not only is there an expectation of neutrality, but an expectation with regards to how frequently news must get out.

From being that innocent blog where the blogger wrote whenever he or she felt inspired to write something — there is suddenly a demand to push out content daily / frequently… "the press must not stop".

Ironically, that demand and pressure leaves even less time for the blogger to write those highly-inspired posts that gained credibility to begin with – because pushing out content often means just reporting something without adding that perspective that makes that particular news source valuable.

 

Why are these problematic?

These are pretty serious issues – I come from a computer engineering + supply-chain management + consulting background and had little or no idea about the value-chain of media and news until jumping into it myself.

The amount of professional responsibility on journalists – whether they are hobbyists or take themselves seriously – for being credible and objective is huge, because what they write, how they present information and their comments on it truly does influence the thinking process of others.

Blogs – whether we want them to be personal/public diaries or not – are a medium of influence now because the audience are looking towards them as news sources… sources of information.

How much information people know will influence how people at large think about an issue.

Only knowing one side, can severely, unfairly and unjustly bias the opinions those people towards one party along compared to other deserving entities.

This responsibility makes me very afraid at times – knowing that blogs like this one, and my opinion, can also become a source of injustice if used incorrectly.

Should people only cover the positive stories from the ground as a news resource? (again whether we think it is a news resource or not?) If so – what about that company that is consciously using unethical practices as part of their business model – do we continue to help them? If we do, we are performing the unethical act of being a bias news resource, thus destroying the credibility of our industry as a whole for people looking at it from outside.

Small win for those bloggers in near-term self promotion, huge losses for everyone.

 

Any solutions?

Its not the bloggers’ fault, its not the audiences’ fault, its everyones.

A blogger might emerge who might be – on the face of it – looking to present objective news, but might be severely unethical and thus destroy the credibility of this industry. But should the audience just move on smugly thinking "bah – thats why PK is a lost cause…"? OR should they spend their time in making good examples for the world as well?

Ultimately, the audience itself will have to rise to control the bloggers. The audience needs to be more confident about giving candid, brutal feedback to the bloggers, and not allow a small "tea-party club" type of behavior to emerge from within the comments ("You’re right! No, YOU’re right!").

Good blogs and good news resources will remain of high quality if commenters are always there to push and balance the writers.

Even if you comment anonymously, but comment nonetheless and be merciless when writing to the local bloggers – tell them when they’re biased, tell them when they’re unethical, attack them on merit, push them to the way forward, push them to grow the heck up.

If the entire crowd of stakeholders push them to uphold a very high standard of ethics and values, bloggers will either fold or choose to segment their personal blogs and professional writing more seriously.

If we all keep choosing to both recognize the good in the news (on merit) on also the activities that must improve (on merit), we will continue to improve our industry.

 

Otherwise, at the current state of semi-hobbyist-personal-ranting-professional-news coverage I fear that the state of professional blogging in this industry is about to become a crumbling embarrassment in the next 5-6 months or so.

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11 Comments

  • Thanks for raising these points … awareness is the first step and you have laid these problems out very well.

    I started blogging as an outlet for my views and as a way to stay in touch with Pakistan’s telecom industry. It helped me to make new friends and expand my network. I realized that there was a need to raise consumer awareness about their rights and that has been a major driver for the blog.

    Now the blog has reached a point where people leave their CV in the comments. How can they be so clueless? Anyway, the problem for me is to figure out what is the value add going forward and how can it become a community-driven effort but still remain fair and neutral (to your point)?

  • That was one long post osama!

    However, you’re right in the point that a disconnect does appear when blogs reach critical mass. I’ve been blogging on the metblogs network for quite sometime now, and this is the one thing which continuously was thrown at the authors (especially on the karachi metroblog). People were considering us as a news source into what was happening in karachi, whereas the idea of metroblog was to give an insiders perspective on the city.

    Over the years, the authors were bashed, verbally mutilated and even downright name-called because their perspective was not resonant with many of the readers.

    But in the end, the point was that we do this not for breaking news (though we loved that as well) but rather, mostly for expression of our views.

    I uphold all pakistani tech bloggers to the same standard, and hope that someday, a mass quantity of readers would as well.

  • @Osama,
    Its really a long long post, dude we have to read atleast 30-40 other blogs too 😀

    Coming to the point of credibility and readers expectations, I will refer to blogs historical influence in the west especially the US, where bloggers were and are paid for biased blogging, be it election or Microsoft trying to revamp its image. I mostly comment on local blogs when I find or feel like it, because I know that if such a blog is not gonna align itself, at least I will remove it from my RSS and will loose a source of information( though biased but can report some good news). So the point is, its not a traditional print and electronic media whereby authors and anchors can evilly influence readers. Anyone coming to a blog, will have some prospective on the other side, so such posts will only hurt the credibility of a blog.

  • In Pakistan, like private T.V channels, blogs are also maturing, and it will take sometime before they achieve a stabilized-sagacity. Blogs are different from News Source, Newspapers and T.V channels and that is what Pakistani readers need to understand.

  • “If so – what about that company that is consciously using unethical practices as part of their business model – do we continue to help them?”

    Its a norm in small industrial or business circles to favor each other like our local IT scene. So I am sure there will be numerous requests
    “Hey Osama! Yaar tera kia jata hai agar….”, but trust me, it wont help none, even the one who asked for a favor. We all have to be explicit and blunt in this regard, if you feel personally that an organization is doing so great, do mention and even market them. If I feel the other way around, I will come up with more harsh comments. But please don’t ever try to tweak or rig the system in order to have a good business network or give a favor. I think I don’t need to mention TC here, but just look at their credibility and readership, its all due to non-biased( mostly if not completely) blogging.

  • @Khan: Thats the point though – TC can get away with it because they’re global.

    In this local industry there are so much politics that if we’re objective and expose unethical practices we just end up making enemies.

    It doesnt just close one door – word spreads around and it becomes incredibly difficult to do business with anyone then.

    “Dont write about your clients – simple as that” as a few people have said – but isnt this where the tradeoff against objectivity start?

  • @Mansoor – thats how I’m spending load shedding these days. Gives me the time to drop everything else and think for a change.

  • @Osama

    I am really sorry I did not read all the contents of the post. Anyways I got the idea.

    I like to request all the authors to use less words with rich content.

  • Lol hahahaha maybe there needs to be a followup post “When blog posts become articles…”

    I’d rate this blog post as a triple expresso then

  • @Osama!

    “In this local industry there are so much politics that if we’re objective and expose unethical practices we just end up making enemies.

    It doesnt just close one door – word spreads around and it becomes incredibly difficult to do business with anyone then.”

    I fully agree, but some one gotta stand against it. I know your limitations due to being in business and other market issues. Thats why I am thinking to setup a blog again after 2005 and talk about these issues. I have this great feeling that if its not brought back on track, soon we will be short of IT talent and hence out of business. Coz over couple of years I have seen trends not from employer’s prospectives but employee. I know why 80 % of IT degree holders are looking for jobs in banks, telecoms or any other field. Or worse out of those 20% working as developers, engineers try to either go for MBA, switch to different career or start working as a freelancer etc. Why they don’t have this attraction to work for IT company like any other job, for several years? Why local companies don’t understand that pointing a towards fault should be taken positively and hence improve yourself, not just insisting that “We are all good and happy with what we are doing, you just shut up”.

  • i started blogging as a practice for writing, soon the thirst for audience made it into a puddle of rantings. later it became a window to my own past. ive never been a popular bloger but sometimes ppl do email me asking for material which makes me think, ppl r suffocated for just about anything to read….

    i want to right only when i want to…thats my blog, nnot my news site…

    good post.

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