(Some) Thoughts from Nepal on Blogging
Young Nepali bloggers are showcasing their talents, but they have much to learn, writes DEEPAK ADHIKARI, who is marking the anniversary of his weblog this month.
Once I jokingly wrote: I blog, therefore I am. Little did I realize at that time that for many people online, it is a fact of life. In a passage of a little over two years since I started blogging, I have experienced this reality myself.
It is true for at least the regular media people today, that if you don't blog, it is as if you are not out there. No matter how good a journalist you are or a writer, if you don't maintain an online presence, or if your name cannot be googled, it is like you don’t even exist for many in this increasingly Web-savvy world.
In the past few years, some of us in Nepal have made some visible strides in blogging thanks to King Gyanendra's clampdown on mainstream media in 2005, and thanks, in part, to the zeal of young journalists who managed to defy the official censorship by adopting and embracing alternative media like blogs. These pioneering Nepali blogs are still in their infancies, most celebrating their first or second birthdays at this time.
As I write this article in mid-January, I am marking the first anniversary of my personal blog Deepak’s Diary. That is quite a milestone for me. But our blogging strides in Nepal are not without challenges.
Let me explain the strides even as I talk about the challenges.
A turning point
Nepal appears to be an early adopter of blogs, since there were already a few in 2004 when blogs in the West began to garner widespread attention. Compare the pace of adoption with news websites. It took major Nepali news businesses at least 6 years, after Web journalism began sometime in 1993, to own and operate their own sites with unique domain names.
Experience and skill development is also a major gain. Young Nepali bloggers now have forums in blogs to learn to write as they express their feelings, and to use new media technologies. For me, the people's movement in April 2006 offered intensive experience in disseminating information through United We Blog, considered the country’s first blog. My colleagues at Kantipur Publications, Dinesh Wagle and Ujjwal Acharya, started UWB in the autumn of 2004. Soon I became a part of this endeavor (Besides my regular role at KP as a feature reporter for Nepal newsweekly). In my column called Dashing Deep earlier and now Deeplog in the UWB, I dwell on everything from dining out at Thamel to resort hopping at Dhulikhel; rocking at Rox Bar to chilling out at a nearby teashop.
What started as a sounding board for our rants and ramblings morphed into a window of Nepali people's struggle for democracy. Following the royal coup on February 1, 2005, the news media suffered massive press censorship and control. The royal government also shut down telecommunications, including the Internet. Suddenly, journalists and mass communicators, whose essence is communication, were rendered incommunicado. The official clampdown seemed a perfect setting for an Orwellian novel.
But, for how long? Gradually, we gathered the gumption to defy, in the beginning in an oblique way and later on pushing the boundary. Sitting in front of a desktop computer day in day out for nineteen consecutive days during the April Uprising, I almost single-handedly provided updates to the Net-savvy world via blog. In retrospect, it was a collective crusade against an ambitious King and his henchmen who were hell bent on imposing censorship in the media.
An unprecedented numbers of visitors logged on to the blog and demanded more up-to-the-minute updates on events unfolding in Nepal. That was the time when I actually realized the power of the medium called blog. At times, I was exhausted, but I did not give up in that. I thought continuous update was critical in this technology-driven world. Amid curfew and massacres in the street, I gathered the nuggets of information and posted it instantaneously. It was painstaking. I could see how the Internet transforms the way we communicate.
Fortunately, notwithstanding its popularity UWB was not blocked as we saw many pro-democracy Web sites meeting the ultimate fate. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, politically, too, blogs made some marks.
Showcasing young talents
What about the professional markers?
I believe Blogs have helped showcase one of the finest writings in English coming from Nepali bloggers, most of them young and energetic. Oftentimes our bloggers manage to do this under resource constraints. Moreover, blogging demands time and ideas. One has to be highly receptive, up-to-date and innovative.
Access to technology is the main issue in Nepal. Though Internet charge is cheap (20 rupees per hour; less than 25 cents), it is simply impossible to post a blog from a cyber cafe. Connections are extremely slow. I tried to do it a couple of times with much difficulty. It is even more difficult outside the capital city. A year back and during Dashain of 2005, I blogged from the eastern towns of Biratnagar and Birtamode. That was quite an achievement. Nepali bloggers living abroad seem to be unconstrained by such things.
As a struggling journalist, and given my meager budget, I cannot afford a home subscription to the Internet. So, I depend on free access in my office. Blogging platforms, such as Blogger and Wordpress provide free spaces and that also makes things a little easier.
However, this is all voluntary work. I have not heard any Nepali blogger making money out of this. One can subscribe to Google ad; but your earning depends on how many will click those links. Recently I removed Google ad from my site after making just 20 US dollars in a year.
Blogging is, indeed, time-consuming and taxing and generally without any monetary returns. But I am hooked to it because it's fun, because it’s rewarding in some other ways. Blogging provides not only a forum to write in English but also sometimes to scoop mainstream media. You don’t have to wait another day to get published. Many interesting things I observe during my reporting do not get into print for reasons of space and deadline. I get to share such observations in my blog.
In that way I can reconcile mainstream work demands and habits with the alternative personal journalism of blogging. We have come a long way in a very short time in Nepal. Only a couple of years ago, some of my colleagues would not take me seriously as a blogger. They would almost frown upon the idea of blogging. But they gradually began to note our dedication and the fun we derived from it and started not only appreciating it but also blogging themselves.
Today, most of the Kathmandu and Pokhara-based reporters of Kantipur daily newspaper maintain their own blogs. Most of the Nepali bloggers are journalists like me. There are also a few IT people, students and professionals. Rest are Nepalis living abroad. Now, there are many Nepali blogs, perhaps more than a hundred. Because of the lack of native blog-trackers, exact figures are not available.
For some, it takes time to get educated about a new media environment such as blogging. Not long ago, fellow blogger KP Dhungana of Hamroblog lamented over the ignorance of his editors over at Rajdhani Daily. He would say that his editor found it difficult to pronounce “blog.”
Over all, there is a growing awareness and the willingness to know more about blogs. Even senior people in the news business have at least begun to consider the topic. More than six months ago, I briefed my editor Kishore Nepal on blogging; he listened attentively and even suggested starting a column on updates on blogs. But the idea was later discarded.
Other respected and well-regarded journalists or publications have also begun to notice the blogworld. Nepali Times, for instance, began a column recently featuring excerpts from blog posts. The comments are mostly from political blogs. The column appears to be fairly regular.
Diversity of opinion is a real concern. Unfortunately, Nepali blogs are not diverse in terms of content or subject matter. I hate the narcissism of bloggers. They seem obsessed about themselves (and I am not an exception). Most blogs are centered on political debate. There are other issues that demand attention. I must admit, this is our shortcoming.
It would be great if Nepali blogs could reflect the diversity that is Nepal. Sure, there are some really well-written blogs like Blogdai and Nepali Netbook. But even among political blogs, the debate is mostly skewed toward one viewpoint or topic. For example, in-depth analyses of the communal violence in Nepalgunj, or the Madheshi isuse did not make it to blogs.
Talking and listening
The personal side of blogging may help explain the issue of diversity. Everybody writing about politics all the time does not help enhance diversity. I write about things I do: if I read a book, I write about it; if I watch a movie or a drama, I blog. I write about anything that happens in my daily life and my reporting assignments that I deem interesting.
But some may say personal blogs may be uninteresting, for they look banal. Not entirely true. As a journalist, I always try to tell stories rather than opine. My views are merely a reflection on the stories I cover on a daily basis, and my own life-experiences.
We have much to learn. One way to do that is to read other good blogs. Some of my favorites include: Jabberwock, Middlestage, Newmediamusings, Huffigntonpost, Presstalk, and Kafila. As you can see, these blogs reflect a range of themes and subject matters.
One can start with the South Asian blogosphere. It is a vibrant community, particularly India. New Dehli recently hosted the second summit of Global Voices, a non-profit global citizens’ media project based at the Harvard Law School in Boston, USA. But the folks at GV do not listen [Are you listening? The World is Talking] much to voices other than political. Or, do they?
From what I read and hear, blogs are making a huge impact in the West. Most of the blogs are actually published from there. When an editor from Newsweek quits the well-known weekly to join an upstart blog Huffingtonpost, it is a clear indication of the rising stature of blogs in the USA.
We bloggers in Nepal need to talk to each other and share our experiences. I must say this is what is lacking in Nepali blogosphere. We at Kantipur Complex regularly discuss blogs but that is a rather confined effort. The idea of Blog Association Nepal (BLOGAN) was proposed but it has not made much headway. One good example of a collective forum for bloggers is Nepali Voices, started in October 2006.
I think Nepali bloggers need to interact more. We can learn more by sharing our individual experiences. This happened on October 2005, on the first anniversary of UWB. Many Nepali bloggers attended and shared their experiences. It was a welcome sign. But, since then, I've not seen such gatherings (except a few discussions on blogs organized by Martin Chautari, a Kathmandu-based discussion group).
Above all, it’s fun
If a blogger evokes the image of a laptop carrying, gizmo crazy IT geek, I am far from it. Honestly, I don't fit into that mould. Though I sit in front of a computer most of the day, in terms of its technical aspects, I am just a novice. Then, why do I blog? Still I will say this: I blog, therefore I am.
But, the fact of the matter is, it is the sheer novelty of blog that fascinates me.
There is a great delight in being published instantly; not just in one obscure part of the planet, but virtually all over the world. Comments from readers are another source of delight. Initially, I jumped on the bandwagon simply hoping to hone my writing skill. But, more than the skill, I have always been passionate about writing. Blogging provided an outlet for my inner thoughts and experiences.
Writing for a print publication in Nepal, you don’t normally get readers’ comments. Blogs are a way to connect with the audience. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by comments and responses I get through my blog. Audience feedback is irresistible to any writer.
Prediction is a risky business. I can't say what is in store for my infant blog (or for others’) in the future, or even in the year 2007. Will blogging fade away like a passing fad? One thing is sure: there will be more and more blogs posing threat to the mainline media, promoting a more personal form of journalism. Happy New Year 2007! And a happy blogging!
Posted by Editor on January 19, 2007 7:11 AM