After the tsunami struck South Asia, I travelled through Tamil Nadu with some friends. My intent was journalistic, but I wasn't commissioned by any mainstream publication. It didn't matter. One of the first things I discovered was that the medium most suited the kind of journalism I wanted to do was the internet. Particularly, it was
blogs. Earlier that month, I had started India Uncut and found it the most effective outlet for my stories. Why so?
Firstly, I did not have to depend on the constraints of a news cycle. The tools of publishing were in my hands, which empowered me as a writer. I could write about something as soon as I experienced it, and publish it as soon as I saw it. A piece that may have waited a day could, thus, be published as soon as I finished it. What I found during those few days was that everytime I would write something, others would link to it in a chain of readers that extended around the world, in a process that increased my readership, for that period, by more than tenfold. No delays whatsoever in the virtual world.
Secondly, I was not restrained by format. Newspapers and magazines have space constraints, and there are no such issues on a blog. I could post a stray observation in 50 words without having the need to expand it into a bigger piece; I could quote one interesting person I met without a need to "balance the story" with more quotes; I could even write a far larger piece than space would permit me in another medium. The medium was my slave here, and not the other way around.
Thirdly, I could adopt a more personal or informal tone if I wished to, instead of adhering to a publication's style guide, and vary it as I felt like. And fourthly, I could link to other sources I found relevant for a reader, guiding readers to this material—empowering them.
While I used my blog as an outlet of journalism, others set up blogs to disseminate information. Peter Griffin started a blog during the tsunami called Tsunami Help that anyone could contribute to. Very soon, hundreds of dispersed people began contributing all kinds of useful information to it, collating it faster than any central authority could have. I helped Peter set up another such blog after the Mumbai cloudburst, and we experienced similar results. Information empowers people, and blogs can be a great way of putting a lot of it together, and in context.
It is true that in the hands of mediocre writers, the freedom that blogging affords can lead to self-indulgence. But I've found over the past year that the blogosphere is meritocratic, and readers are quick to sort out the wheat from the chaff. This is a new medium, and there's space for plenty more wheat.