Wednesday, 26 September

Notes from the Armenian Blogosphere



Personal Commentary or Alternative News Sources?

A blog is a collection of personal reflections on internet space under a variety of names called WordPress, LiveJournal, Blogspot, etc. If we look at it from an agricultural viewpoint, WordPress is a large piece of farm land chopped up into smaller pieces and partitioned to people to use at no charge.

Owners of these parcels can plant and grow whatever they want to. Thus, the pursuit of agriculture is akin to blogging, farmers are bloggers and the farms, or land, are blogs. In essence, there isn’t that much of a difference between agriculture and blogging. In both cases, people create a product. During the agricultural age, people created a product to be harvested, and today, in the 3rd wave of the information age, what is important is the ‘creation’ of information, its dissemination and interpretation. These are the main functions of blogging. The information contained in a blog can include diverse subject matter – political, social, cultural, and personal, etc. All this depends on the tastes and preferences of the blog itself. Even the material written by the person who runs the blog, which is based on his/her impressions of a given day’s occurrences, contains information. Furthermore, this is unique information since it differs from material covered in the daily press and is just as important. Rather than describing themselves verbally, a person living in the West will give out their personal blog address. Visitors can thus go to the blog, containing the person’s political views and personal opinions regarding a variety of subjects, and get an idea regarding the person’s overall make-up. Many in the West prefer to read the blogs of friends rather than follow the daily news reports.

Blogging in Armenia takes off during 2008 elections

In Armenia, people started to talk about the development of blogging during the past 3-4 years. Today, in Armenia, there are some 3,000-4,000 blogs of which about 500 are active. Interest in blogs really took off in 2008 during the presidential elections. Armenian bloggers were covering the elections in a more informative and appealing why than much of the print media and on-line newspapers. In fact, blogs were more widely read as well. Today, in fact, the blogs and the traditional press can be said to be in competition with each other. Many reporters now have their own blogs, or wish they did. Reporter Anna Grigoryan makes no bones about the fact that bloggers are directly competing with reporters. “There are blogs today that provide news coverage, that have their own sources. That’s to say they operate as news outlets. If you go to The “Javakhk” blog, for example, you’ll always find the latest news about developments there. In addition, they also   gather news items from various sources and present them as engaging topics for discussion and debate for readers. Blogger Vardan Papikyan (blog.papikyan.biz), who was one of the organizers of a gathering of Armenian bloggers in November, believes that blogs have their function to serve and that it’s not necessary for them to play the role of reporters. “Bloggers need not feel obligated to assume the responsibility of the news outlets, given that it’s a burden most could do without.” Reporter/blogger Artyom Levonyan argues that, “If we come across information in a blog that has mass appeal, then we can consider the blog to be a news outlet.”

Can blogs be trusted as news sources?

When it comes to the veracity of information, bloggers often trust themselves more than in reporters. They believe that bloggers are much less restricted than reporters when it comes to covering the “hot button” political and economic developments of the day; especially when you take into account the fact that so many reporters in Armenia represent the interests of their sponsors.  Reporter/blogger Blansh believes that information contained in blogs is more credible than that found in the traditional news outlets. “Information delivered via the news outlets is subtly shaped and contextualized, perhaps, since it corresponds to journalistic ethics. In the case of a blog, everything is very direct and accessible, staring from the presentation format. In the modern world, it is more correct to trust the statements of an independent, approachable, person than the news outlets.” However, reporter Anna thinks that a subjective presentation of developments perhaps cannot be considered freedom. “Bloggers are free to the extent that reporters are free, and vice-versa. If a reporter faces certain restrictions and principles, when it comes to objectively reporting events, bloggers, on the other hand, don’t have to deal with such limitations. True, a blogger is free when it comes to self-expression. But at issue is the extent to which this self-expression corresponds to reality.”

Politics the focus of both blogs and traditional news outlets

Vardan Papikyan believes that the information presented by bloggers must be differentiated from new outlet material. “Whenever references are made to blogger information, we must always keep in mind that it is information of and by bloggers. Naturally, if a given blogger has a good reputation derived from years of blogging, then we can trust the credibility of their information a bit more. We must always remember, however, that a personal approach is at the core of the blogging process.” The views of the blog reading public on this issue are also contradictory. Arman reads a number of different blogs but never regards them as news outlets. “I read a blog not to be informed regarding developments and events, but to discuss events that have already occurred and to express my opinion regarding them.” If we compare the themes covered by Armenian blogs and the news media, there isn’t a great difference between them. What we see in both, for the most part, are political themes being discussed. Some bloggers believe that the reason for this lies in the politicization of “pioneer” bloggers or that interesting issues can only be found in the political realm. However, according to sociologist Artur Atanesyan, the blogosphere is also a reflection of society on the web. “People are always talking about where they feel pain; where they hurt. In our society, one of those “painful spots” is politics. The state of politics in Armenia is pitiful and that’s why everyone discusses the issue – reporters, bloggers and the average Joe in the street.” If we accept, for argument’s sake, that a healthy blogosphere can also create a decent policy, then, the greater the diversity of blogs, the better. Some bloggers believe that if just 50% of those who use the “Odnoklassniki” social network service were to setup their own blogs and establish contact in blog space, we would have a much more interesting, diversified and stronger blogosphere in Armenia. Arman Suleimanyan, one of the founders of the “Radio Van” blog doesn’t share this opinion. “A blog, in and of itself, is freedom. If most students are dealing with “Odnoklassniki” why do you want to make them “facebook” users? It won’t work. A majority of students only know enough to enter the site via their cell phones, nothing more. It’s pointless to explain the blog phenomenon to them.” On the other hand, blogger Khachik Gevorgyan rejects this downbeat description of students. “I’m a teacher and when I told my students that they could go in and edit Wikipedia and add new material, they were excited at the prospect. While not all followed up, there were at least fifteen that made an attempt. Thus, it’s wrong to categorically state that students don’t understand anything.” What’s also important is that young people stay informed. Today, seminars on blogs are organized more frequently. After attending, however, only a handful of students actually follow up and get involved in blogging. Some argue that the reason they don’t have a blog is because there is no decent and affordable internet service in Armenia. Others confess that running a blog takes a lot of work and demands a certain level of responsibility. Painter Anahit Grigoryan doesn’t have a blog but believes that a blog opens up a variety of possibilities. “In a blog you can display your paintings and poetry. Then too, if you have some particular information you want to pass along to others, you are free to do so. I don’t have a blog myself because there’s a certain responsibility attached. You have to make it interesting and update the content. I’m not ready to take on that responsibility just yet.” Yes, running a blog demands time and effort. It’s a huge responsibility. Bloggers, however, don’t get paid for their efforts; except for some certain corporate blogs. Experienced bloggers will tell you that there are ways to make some money, even though it’s premature to talk about such potential here in Armenia. Bloggers make the bulk of their revenue through ‘visible’ and ‘hidden advertising. Blogger Blansh believes that it’s a personal ability. “The placement of advertising in blogs costs more since the tastes and sensibilities of a blog reader are different. Regarding hidden advertising, this is also a personal matter. If the blogger believes it to be necessary, they’ll do it. Vardan Papikyan notes that it’s not easy for Armenian bloggers to get conspicuous advertising. “Blogs with a readership of 500 or so make for a good advertising market audience, but it’s hard to explain to an Armenian advertiser that they have to pay a pretty penny to reach those 500 people.” Iranian-Armenian blogger Shirak Torosyan believes that the blogosphere will develop as the blogging sites (WordPress, etc) create Armenian versions. “There are 70 million people in Iran and it ranks second in terms of the size of the blogosphere. The main reason is that the internet sites are in Persian.” Armenian programmers are already working on the problem. According to ARMACAD (Armenian Association for Academic Partnership and Support), some 10,286 words in the Armenian version of “facebook” , or 36% of what needs to be translated, has already been completed. There are only 30,717 words to go. Such developments give us hope that one day, in the global internet realm, the Armenian blogosphere will also take its rightful place as a leader and will assist in the formulation of that much longed for “civilian-based” news source.


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