I was part of the panel at the recently concluded Galle Literary Festival that looked at whether blogs and bloggers can, or should, be taken seriously.
The panel was far removed from what I was asked to prepare for and expected. I thought Nuri Vitachchi took more time than necessary to introduce the panel (well over 10 minutes) especially since it evident to me that it was largely an audience who knew us through our writing. Besides, our mug shots and descriptions were printed in the GLF programme that everyone who attended got a copy of.
I also didn’t get any sense that Nuri had his pulse on the pulse of the Sri Lankan blogosphere that’s rich and varied and hardly of the tame and civil nature that coloured the general demeanour of the panel! It’s one thing to read the blogs of the panelists to get to know what they are about, quite another to place them in the larger context of the timbre of the blogosphere and mainstream party politics in Sri Lanka. Nuri was more or less familiar with our work and writing, but didn’t show a grasp of how we were perceived by others in the blogosphere and elsewhere, such as the media.
This to me makes a very strong case for the GLF organisers to think of a moderator who knows the SL blogosphere, politics and the traditional / new media interplay far better to conduct the panel on blogging next year. I am also disappointed because the tough questions to prepare us for the panel discussion, sent in advance by Nuri, were never asked. Some of them were:
- Blogs can be awful timewasters. But yours is different: Give us an example of a way your blog has changed people’s lives.
- Give us an example of the way your blog has changed your life.
- Blogs are all about the democratization of the media — true?
- How do you see the media changing — will newspapers disappear and blogs
ever take over?
- Statistics show that more than 99.99 per cent of blogs produce no tangible
revenues or measurable advantages to their writers. Doesn’t that mean that
the overwhelming majority of bloggers are wasting their time?
- Blogs have trivial influence compared to traditional media. Newspapers sell
hundreds of thousands of copies and TV shows are watched by millions. But
most bloggers get a few hundred or a thousand hits. So why should we blog?
- Many bloggers are moving to networking sites — how do the two relate to
- There are now more than 100 million blogs, it has been calculated. That
means not many readers each! Comment.
- What was your most successful posting?
- Your least successful posting?
- Where’s the future of blogging?
These are questions that I’ve dealt with extensively on this blog (and frankly more than anyone else I know of in the Sri Lankan blogosphere and academia) and in my published research on new media and ICT that I would have loved to have had openly contested in public.
I also felt that, and not just of this panel but for many others I attended with around 5 to 6 people, the time allotted for the discussions was woefully inadequate. The really interesting questions that came at the end – on how we moderate comments, on how articles changed perspectives (or not) and what impact we really had really couldn’t be answered meaningfully. For example, Indi’s take on comment moderation (which is largely to let anything go) is for reasons we simply didn’t have time to go into detail completely different from the reasons behind and the style of comment moderation on Groundviews.
“I also got asked out quite a bit, once I got back to Colombo, and even had a one night stand on the strength of a comment I made on a blog forum. Blogs have made me angry, they’ve made me think, they’ve made me laugh, and they’ve got me laid. Blogs are to me everything that the blog session at the Galle Lit wasn’t. Stilted, boring, one-sided, and in the end, a waste of time, is not how I would describe the Sri Lankan blogosphere.”
David Blacker’s clearly getting more out of blogs and blogging than most of us are – but he does have a point. The job of the blogosphere, I read somewhere recently, is to be outrageously outspoken about everything. Bloggers are sometimes mistaken, but never in doubt.
And as many have pointed out, the panel could have addressed far more the interplay between traditional media and the content on blogs within the Sri Lankan context, since much has been said, written and done elsewhere on this topic. Rajpal Abeynaike, Editor of Lakbima, and his inane comments for example would have been an issue I would have loved to engage with him in public, as I am sure many others would have too judging by the number of times he was mentioned by those in the audience as the epitome of everything wrong with the traditional media’s approach to and understanding of blogs, bloggers and blogging.
All in all, kudos to the organisers for having a panel on blogs at a literary festival. It’s a brilliant idea that I hope will be improved upon and becomes a regular feature of GLF’s in the future.
David Blacker’s post on the event has some interesting discussion debating the pros and cons of the panel. In response to some of the points made there I said that,
It was good to see you again in Galle.
I’m just glad the thing happened and in a way it’s served it’s purpose. I’ve seen far more attention on the topic of the panel after it was held than before it. If the panel wasn’t up to scratch, I apologise as someone who was up there and partly responsible to wake you all up (I was after my second mohito and fifth gin and tonic for the day and all geared up for verbal abuse). But it’s tough to be provocative when the general thrust of the discussion meanders aimlessly, with the moderator a supine servant of inconsequence.
While more diverse views are desirable and should be encouraged for the next GLF, it’s difficult to be really representative without being tokenistic. More importantly, I believe GLF organisers / the moderator needs to look more at how those on the panel are located within the context of blogging and blogs in Sri Lanka than who is really on it.
What I found lacking was that Nuri didn’t really know how our respective blogs and writing was perceived in the larger SL blogosphere, traditional media and civil society – whether we perceived ourselves to be “serious” bloggers or not. Had he pushed us to respond to the questions he himself sent us in advance, or re-articulated some of the criticisms directed against us by fellow bloggers we all know of, I think we would have had a more interesting discussion and also fleshed out the faultlines between some of Indi’s attitudes and writing, my own and others on the panel.
I’m very happy that a literary festival recognises blogging as part and parcel of its proceedings. Having a fringe event is just that – a peripheral affair that is often shafted, literally and metaphorically, to a corner. I think there is merit in mainstreaming blogging into future GLFs. This is not to say that Rohan is wrong – having a parallel event to complement an official session on blogging that’s informal, boozy, with more tech so that people can interact with others not at the event and in real time, is a great idea.
Other posts on the panel: