print film online academia
the keshvani press employment
Blogomenon! The blog phenomenon and its impact on mainstream media in Singapore and around the world
By Ruth Song


Today, we have a one-on-one conversation with Singaporean Nisar Keshvani about the phenomenon of blogs and its impact on mainstream media in Singapore. Keshvani’s career is as diverse as his travel experiences. He has worked as a consultant, journalist, web developer, educator, new media specialist, publicist, online arts magazine editor and even film-maker. In the last decade, he has worked across five continents (Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Australia/Oceania). Ruth Song discusses the credibility of blog websites with him, and their impact on traditional newspapers.

Ruth: Thank you Nisar for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us.

Keshvani: No worries, Ruth.

Ruth: We are examining the impact blog websites have on traditional newspapers especially in a Singaporean context. I think the very first question would be: Do you read blogs?

Keshvani: Yes but I must say, only occasionally, purely due to lack of time. I edit a few online publications and part of that means have a very high email traffic flow - and tend to receive a lot of news, information and updates through formal and informal sources.

I spend an average of 8 hours a day online, at the least. Because of my heavy involvement with the web (as developer, info architect and editor of an online journal) plus journalistic training and nature of work ...

I tend not to go back to only a few particular sources of information (or blogs) - my reading pattern, now that you ask me, I realise is very diverse.



It does not mean that if the government controls political blogging - blog developers cannot be creative with how the approach subject matter.

Some of the best work is produced with the least resources and most restrictive environments.

Ruth: Are there any blogs that you usually read?

Keshvani: My interests are diverse and I read a diverse range from Xiaxue to Cherian George’s, to the Singapore elections blog to acid flask (blog of Singapore government scholar who’s site was taken offline)

Ruth: In general, why do you read blogs?

Keshvani: The reason why I read them is …. I am interested in:

a. Alternative points of views, or perspectives
b. Often these are written by folks, perhaps you may not ordinarily have an opportunity to understand the perspective of different people (Xiaxue - young person), Cherian George (prolific journalist), Acid Flask (future generation Singapore civil servant).

Ruth: Then, would you say you trust the credibility of “serious” news blogs for example like Margo Kingston’s Webdiary [http://www.webdiary.com.au], Instapundit [http://www.instapundit.com] or Cherian George’s blog [http://singaporemedia.blogspot.com]? Why?

Keshvani: Well - I guess with age, and wisdom, and training, you realise to never take anything at face value - no matter how highly or lowly credible they may appear!

Not to sound pessimistic, but every source of information, you will find may have a vested interest, or agenda. I seem to have developed, what I presume is a journalist’s instinct and read what I see, then make my own judgments. Its very much like writing a news story, you interview a few sources, check and re-check sources, and then try to be as objective as possible.

Of course, with blogs or such, there isn't a need for such brevity ....



The media may seem different, when in fact, it’s not new at all. So I feel we are blinded by excitement but not utilising rationale. I strongly feel we are getting excited by the medium when the message seriously has changed only marginally.


Ruth: On what basis do you trust the credibility of Cherian George's opinion blog?

Keshvani: Well, in George’s case, I have read his opinion pieces in the newspapers, his book, interviewed him before, and read his work. So this "trust" as you call it has developed over time, it’s a writer-reader relationship that has developed over the years. Of course, we have to remember at the end of the day, its all about perspective – how accepting and agreeable we are to someone else’s point of view.

Ruth: As one who has much experience in new media and journalism, having managed the predecessor of the blog - a forum, taught online media and journalism at Australian and Singaporean tertiary institutions, completed a Masters’ thesis on the impact the internet has had on mainstream news organisations and even worked as a journalist in a variety of magazines/newspapers - what would you say is the impact that such “serious” news blogs have on traditional newspapers?

Keshvani: Well - this is hard to say - one would have to do serious content analysis to make a qualified judgement. My wildest guess this, like all other developments take time.

Although the idea of blog may seem innovative, refreshing and seems to have gained popularity today, in its simplest form, it has existed for ages, perhaps just in a different format?

Ruth: How about what we see today - the interaction of newspapers with online news sites and their use of blogs?

Keshvani: We need to remember that in essence, it’s very much like a diary – articulating an individual’s opinion.

The format, the media and its accessibility may have evolved. But it is not very different from the good old days, before print and formal newspapers existed.

Every opinionated individual - intellectual or not, would like to be heard, so what did they do in the old days? Write it down – perhaps, only the distribution mechanism has evolved - from courier pigeons, to notice boards, to newspapers, to flyers and to online.

The pre-cursor to blogs are or were normal websites. Case in point - Matt Drudge, who today is a landmark in online journalism and widely referenced for his website: “The Drudge Report". He broke the story on the former U.S. President Bill Clinton's scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, way before the U.S. mainstream media.



Although the idea of blog may seem innovative, refreshing and seems to have gained popularity today, in its simplest form, it has existed for ages, perhaps just in a different format?


The other worth nothing is Salam Pax, a blogger from Iraq whose site "Where is Raed?" received notable media attention during (and after) the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Within his blog, Salam discusses the war, his friends and disappearances of people under the government of Saddam Hussein. During the war, he gave accounts of bombings and other attacks from Baghdad.

Of course, these were their opinions and not written journalisticly. But purely because there was little supply of information and lots of demand, they became credible sources of information

So now to answer your question.

I do believe there is an impact, but I am not sure how serious. It’s just that blogs have made it easier and more accessible for people with opinion to "broadcast" their views

There is definitely a subtle impact because once in a while, if you monitor the news carefully, you will read mentions of blog sites in articles written by journalists like Tan Tarn How and others citing blogs.

Ruth: What is the general view that newsrooms in Singapore have about blogs?

Keshvani: Well - I cannot give a qualified answer but my guess is journalists are reading them. For a journalist to be good at their profession they must read tremendous amounts of information and it’s hard to identify particularly what they read, or what influences them. But they have to keep up with the trends

Ruth: This, given that the new paper blog hasn't be updated since last November?

Keshvani: Well the reality is this. The Internet was a trendy and popular concept and thought to be the next big thing from 1993 - 1999 or so. Newspapers invested high capital into this field either because it was exciting and new OR because they did not want to lose out to competition. This was before the Internet Bubble burst. Its only about 18 - 24 months ago, that its become popular again. Case in point, Straits Times Onlien is beefing up its online team, and recently launched subscriptions to its complete online versions.

“Today” newspaper is trying a different website model. Most are still in experimentation phase and my guess is that although Singapore has one of highest penetration internet rates, the penetration of online news to its readers may not be as high. Hence the slight experimentation of blogs and slowdown by the New Paper.

Ruth: Do you think then is there room for Singapore to develop the use of blogs in their newspapers to improve conversations with their readers?

Keshvani: Yes of course there is. My guess again, but once it is thought to be useful and popular, am confident it will pick up and maybe updated every minute - who knows, right?

Ruth: Given the kind of news atmosphere we live in where the government controls political blogging?

Keshvani: Well - there are two sides of the argument here. It does not mean that if the government controls political blogging - blog developers cannot be creative with how the approach subject matter.

Some of the best work is produced with the least resources and most restrictive environments.

The other is – does the restriction on political blogging - mean that if there is none, hence blogging becomes a failed concept. There are many other areas too, one should not limit to one particular subject matter and say it is a failure or lost cause.

Also - due to various reasons, people may think there are restrictions and build a glass ceiling within themselves and be afraid to discuss issues and voice their opinions

There are highly critical individuals like Chua Beng Huat, Cherian Cheorge and others who make salient points and yet today continue to remain free to express their opinion.

Ruth: So you see even the Straits Times having their own blog sometime in the future?

Keshvani: The bottom line is readership. Its a user-driven world we live in, and back to the basics of economics - demand and supply.

If there is interest and need, resources are dedicated. The onus is on the powers that be to firstly identify that there is a need, and of course, more importantly to react to that need.

Sometimes needs are identified but the follow up may not be there - or rather not recognized.

Ruth: As a journalist, do you feel that journalism can take place in the format of a blog?

Keshvani: Sure - why not. We should not confuse the medium with the message. News or information has been distributed by courier pigeon, by airwaves (radio), by pulp (newspaper) and by electronic signals (TV).

The only difference in this evolution is the readership and accessibility. It just burgeons with different mediums. So blogs make it extremely easy for opinion dissemination.



As the consumer gets more educated and discerning, the balance will continue evolving and redistributing the mix. As corny as it sounds, the only constant will be change.

Ruth: So are blogs - meaning news blogs - journalism in your context?

Keshvani: I guess it depends on how you define journalism

Ruth: How would you define it?

Keshvani: is it strictly news? Or is it any opinion?

If you view it with an open mind and broaden your perspective, then sure news blogs are journalism. Now - the important differing factor here is not the medium BUT the message deliverer.

How qualified is he or she? How well trained is the individual? And is it mere opinion or is it information backed up with knowledge, research and a keen understanding of issues? A discerning reader can differentiate a layperson from a trained professional at a glance.

So why is a news blog not journalism – this decision is made by the user and how credibly they view the information.

Ruth: Having taught online media and journalism in Singapore and Australia, do you feel that it is increasingly important for journalism schools to teach students about the dynamics of the blogging phenomenon? Or can this be learnt “on the job”?

Keshvani: Yes of course - they need to be taught. We cannot be left behind and need to adapt to new technologies and media or modifications of the media ...

I would say that they should be quicker to pick up the trend, since it is accessible and younger students are more adapt than teachers.

Let me give you an example. In my Web Design Applications class at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, one of my assignments was to maintain a journal of ideas, discoveries and thoughts – very Leonardo Da Vinci. Once, some students came to me saying this is old school - I have a blog can I use it instead?

I said sure – in fact, I found their work was better online simply because they were better adept to new media and used it daily. I myself, in fact, can type 2000 words in a day but barely write five words on paper in that same day, and that too, if I have too.

So to me its merely evolution of media - just a different form of the beast. It’s just a matter of whether academics are willing to be flexible and students are shown the ropes to new innovations.

Ruth: Do you think Singapore is ready to accept “serious” news blogs providing a more “credible”, perhaps alternative voice to the news? Are Singaporeans ready to accept opinions, maybe counter-mainstream media voices from "credible" news blogs?

Keshvani: Who writes these credible blogs?

Ruth: if I said that it was a "credible" person - one with industry qualifications and seems like an expert on the matter?

Keshvani: If you look at the big picture, being a media professional one tends to put our audience in boxes, sometimes with very trendy terminology - ha ha! Two examples are:

PMEB – Professionals, Managers, Executives, Business People
DINKf – Double Income No Kids

Assuming we use convention, where our audience is identified by their age, tastes, spending pattern and lifestyle, you will realise that perhaps (bear in mind, I have done no consumer research):

hardcopy newspapers are perhaps popular with older folks - who love the feeling of picking up a fresh copy of news and read it over breakfast or on way to work

Younger audiences - those in secondary school would perhaps not read hardcopy newspapers as much but they have their identified and favourite sources of news, even if it focusses on the latest happenings in science fiction.

They may not read it first thing in the morning but they read it online or perhaps download on their DOPOD or O2Mini and read it in class or use their wireless laptop to read in between lectures.

Young working professionals may sneak in a few minutes in the midst of writing a report at work - to read the news. With variety (in terms of media formats) they have access to varied options.

So to answer your question. Sure, there will be a constant stream of readers – it just revolves around their lifestyle.

The bigger question is - are there big enough numbers or enough interest for a newspaper to dedicate credible resources for the long-term. If there is sufficient need and return on investment - be it in the form of increased revenue, high quality regular positive feedback or increased readership.

There would be an impetus to keep things going. I am not sure if my view is simplistic - but perhaps that is the bottom line.

Ruth: Interesting stuff! It makes me see that my initial question is not as important as this next one. I was going to ask if Singaporeans are willing to hear alternative voices and then I realised, we've always had dissenting voices. Before it was contained in the coffee shop but now, the coffee shop talk has found its way to a more pervasive medium.

Keshvani: The media may seem different, when in fact, it’s not new at all. So I feel we are blinded by excitement but not utilising rationale. I strongly feel we are getting excited by the medium when the message seriously has changed only marginally.

The reason why the news profession exists is because, there is someone out there to read them

The crux of the matter is this: the news professionals need to do what they do best!

Identify the best means to disseminate relevant, up-to-date and objective news to their readers. The public, I guess, will unknowingly decide for themselves what is of interest to them and in what format and from whom they find news reliable and credible. As the consumer gets more educated and discerning, the balance will continue evolving and redistributing the mix. As corny as it sounds, the only constant will be change.

It’s only a matter of how fast and how adept both the consumer and news professional is.

Ruth: Thank you very much Nisar for your invaluable input.

Keshvani: Glad to be of service.

Sources/resources:
- Singapore: New Media, Politics & the Law
- Singapore Blog
- Where is Raed? by Salam Pax
- The Drudge Report
- Xiaxue.blogspot.com

     

 

|  print  |  film  |  online  |  academia  |  about  |