Bloggers as media-lovers

Right from the time when the average Joe sitting in his living room became capable of letting the world know what he thinks of it, a debate has raged about whether he should be allowed to do so or not. This debate keeps raising its head in India from time to time. First it was blogging, then Twitter, and in the middle, for some time I think, even Youtube was under the media’s scornful gaze.

The thing about these tools is that they are just tools. It is the average Indian who is behind them. If a lot of people started calling up the media with criticism of their work, would the media condemn the "telephoning elite"? I don’t think so.

But blogging isn’t telephoning, is it? What hurts the media into making such sweeping condemnation of bloggers and tweeters is the fact that it all happens out in the open. The average blogger or tweeter is opinionated and the thought of pretending otherwise never crosses his mind. He simply sees no reason to do so. The phenomenon of web publishing using easy and affordable tools has spawned an entire generation of commentators free from the constraints of format, policy, codes, and sometimes even propriety. This is the age of the writing mob.

Interestingly, when the writing mob comes into areas that were previously exclusively populated by the writing elite, that is, journalists; the problem simply becomes one of authority. Who decides what the format is? Where do you draw the line between what is proper and acceptable and what is not? Is it even right to make such rules?

The simplest way around this problem is through some obvious questions. Why does the media exist? What is its purpose? And most importantly; how does the media know it is fulfilling its purpose?

The TRP system is a numerical indicator of how popular something on a news channel is. It indicates how many people are tuned into what is currently being shown on a channel. Through TRP ratings, news people reach conclusions about how much people like something and try to do more of it.

This is of course fine and dandy as far as a purely mechanistic way of "measuring" popularity is concerned. But then where do all the ideas about doing what is good for the society go? Even a circus gives people what they want. The media is supposed to be different, right? It’s supposed to show us things we need to watch. People may like what is being shown to them for various reasons. But is what they like always what needs to be on TV?

The media is in the business of answering that question. I know they are supposed to be objective and all, but everyone knows they are not. The media is in the decision-making business. They are the ones that decide what direction society takes. Thay decide what should worry us. They decide what we should get angry about.

I don’t think anybody believes the media is objective. Curiously enough, nobody even seems to care about the media’s objectivity. Most watchers of mainstream TV news have elaborate mental lists of news channels and their respective ideological slants. Everyone knows their bias and everyone has accepted them as they are.

Why then, do bloggers often end up criticising what news channels do?

The answer is obvious. Any blogger who pays any amount of attention to what news channels show, and then takes the time to blog what he thinks about it, is obviously a fan! The blogger is part of the news channel’s target audience. But he is also part of the small minority of the target audience who talks back at the broadcasters. He tells them, like the average Joe he is, what he "loves" and what he thinks "stinks".

The media has this tendency to see itself as "The Media" and to see everyone else as "Them". These classifications are somewhat ancient now, seeing as how every Ram, Rahim, and Harry these days thinks himself capable of doing what the media does — pass judgment. It’s the flavour of the season and is likely to remain so for quite some time. The media keeps getting sour at the idea of being in the same compartment as "them". But I don’t think that is going to help.

I think a better way for the media to look at the matter is to start considering blogging voices a complement to what TRPs tell them. So here is my advice to the Indian media:

On one side you have this numerical indicator to tell you how many people are tuned in to what your channel is showing, and then here comes an actual human voice with opinions on how it was. Don’t push the opinion away because you don’t like it. Don’t let the numbers trap you into thinking you have it all measured out.

You have fans because you do a certain service to society. They pay you attention because they think you are worth it. It is a kind of irreverent respect. There is nothing inherently respectable about you. Your worth is defined by what you do. And the people who decide your worth happen to be the exact same ones you keep blaming for criticising you. Sure there is a lot of vulgar noise out there, I won’t deny it. But you can’t let that blind you to the fact that there are sane voices out there too. Look for them, you guys are supposed to be good at this sort of thing. Don’t push the criticism away. Listen to it.

Unless of course, you want to be in the same league as a circus, in which case, carry on.