I have often said that the narrative of citizen media democratizing news and breaking the business model of traditional news organizations is only valid in the United States and Western Europe. The relationship between legacy media and citizen media is unique for each country.
Many emerging countries like China don’t have an independent traditional news media ecosystem, and participatory media, especially blogging, has quickly become an important source of credible news.
On the other hand, other emerging countries like India have a very vibrant news media ecosystem and they are still thriving, in spite of the growing importance of participatory media.
Consider the facts. Less than two thirds of the Indian population is literate, about half of the literate population reads newspapers, and the penetration of English language newspapers is in single digits. So, Indian newspapers, especially local language newspapers, will continue to grow, as more Indians become literate and enter the economic mainstream.
Also, internet penetration in India is expected to stay in single digits for some time, broadband penetration is minuscule, and local language web content is almost non-existent. Even young urban English-speaking Indians, who have access to the internet, often prefer to get their news and entertainment from traditional sources like print and TV.
So, while the biggest Indian newspapers and television channels, especially the English-language ones, are experimenting with online journalism like IBNLive CJ and social media initiatives like NDTV Social and IBNLive Blaze, sometimes in meaningful ways, they aren’t driven by the same sense of urgency as their international counterparts.
Still, a small minority of young tech-savvy Indians are beginning to use tools like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube to create important citizen media initiatives.
Citizen media initiatives in India can be classified into four categories –
1. News blogging: Re-blogging, commenting on, giving context on, or curating news that is often reported in traditional media. WATBlog, Medianama and Pluggd.in, for instance, curate news on the IT/ Telecom/ Media industry in India. The Indian National Interest and the now-defunct Mutiny, apart from several personal blogs like India Uncut, focus on mainstream political news.
2. Local blogging: Blogging about local news that is not usually reported in traditional media. For instance, the Metroblogging network, which has chapters in Mumbai , Chennai , Bangalore and Hyderabad, is focused on covering local city news.
3. Change blogging: Blogging about a cause or an issue. Blank Noise Project, Pink Chaddi Campaign and Indian Water Portal Blog are good examples. More often, however, citizen activism campaigns are distributed efforts. The 2005 Mediaah vs. TOI protests, the 2005 Gaurav Sabnis vs. IIPM protests and the 2009 Chetan Kunte vs. Barkha Dutt protests are good examples.
4. Crisis reporting, which involves live blogging about a crisis as it unfolds. Often, these are game-changing events that bring citizen journalism into the mainstream, because citizen journalism is often the fastest and the most inclusive/ interactive source of news on these events. Examples include the Tsunami in 2004 and the Mumbai terror attack in 2008. While blogs like TsunamiHelp and MumbaiHelp and citizen journalism platforms like Allvoices, NowPublic, GroundReport, Instablogs and MeriNews have played an important role in coordinating such efforts, they are essentially distributed efforts.
Going forward, mobile technology will play an increasingly important role in citizen media in India. In the 2004 Tsunami, citizen reporters in the affected areas text messaged updates to their friends who had access to the internet and they collated these text messages into blog posts and wikis. In the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, Twitter, which can be updated via SMS, became one of the most important sources of news on the crisis. During the 2009 Indian Lok Sabha elections, I started a Ushahidi-based citizen-driven election monitoring platform Vote report India where citizens could report election irregularities via SMS. In the future, as the mobile web becomes more ubiquitous, we will see more such case studies of mobile technology driving citizen media in India.
Gaurav Mishra builds and nurtures online communities as CEO of Social Business Strategy firm 2020 Social. In his previous avatars, he has studied at IIM Bangalore, held senior marketing roles at the Tata Group, taught social media at Georgetown University as the 2008-09 Yahoo! Fellow, and co-founded crowd-sourced election monitoring platform Vote Report India.