It is being billed as India’s Biggest Blog Unconference, but concern with newspapers and TV dominated the non-technical sessions on day one of BlogCamp in Chennai. Discussions on ‘How blogging enters the mainstream’ and ‘Blogging as a collaborative activity’ returned repeatedly to the interaction between blogging and the media. The venue had a banner saying, “I killed the conventional media.”
This premature confession to ‘conventional media’s’ murder came from www.merinews.com, a four-month-old, 16-people effort that calls itself “India’s first participatory news portal”. The site’s co-founder, Anshuman Misra, says the success of South Korean portal Ohmynews.com got them thinking about a similar venture for India. Ohmynews, which was started by Oh Yeon-ho in 2004, currently has 1,300 ‘citizen reporters’ and gets about 15 million hits daily.
“Initially we had a team of just four people who were writing and asking others to write,” says Misra. Friends offered articles for Rs 100 apiece, he says, but merinews refused. “We do not pay,” he says. The motivation to write for the site, Misra says, is “to make your opinion heard”. He admits that merinews cannot publish news until its credibility is established. The site has a “hall of fame” for most-viewed articles. Its chart topper on Saturday evening was a story on Aishwarya Rai that had been viewed 3,641 times.
Peter Griffin, blogger and copywriter, makes no claims to killing newspapers, but he recalls that a blog called “South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami” that he had started with two others after the tsunami in December 2004 received more than a million visitors.
"Obviously, there were that many people out there who weren't finding the information they wanted in the mass media," he says. Griffin notes that mass media organisations are now trying to create spaces for citizens. Misra, however, expresses doubt that these efforts will succeed.
An attempt to enlist the support of bloggers for journalism was made by Scott Carney, a freelancer from the US who occasionally writes for Wired. Carney, who hit a wall in trying to follow up a story about a child born with one eye, encouraged bloggers to create pressure by going to the concerned government officials and trying to find out what caused this deformity. He suspects a cancer drug may have been responsible.
The day's events ended with a session on blog monetisation by professional blogger Amit Agarwal. About 200 people attended BlogCamp on day one. Day two, when former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar is scheduled to attend, is likely to see more participation.