Cricket and Bollywood still hold the country together. From a common man to a marketer in the country, we enjoy both the topics and at some point of time in the day, they do find a place in our discussions. I am no exception, so whenever I get a chance I do consume news and thoughts related to both the fields. But then under the rosy cushion lies the dark secrets, stories that no one wants to touch.
The mainstream media is too shy to lift the cushion. Thankfully we have a blog like Bollywood Journalist that is not only bringing stories that one wants to read but in doing so, it is walking the thin line and facing rebuke from the biggies of the industry.
My introduction with Bollywood Journalist was on a very unfortunate incident, when the proud owner of the blog, Soumyadipta Banerjee had to pull down his two very critical posts about bollywood celebrity Salman Khan’s ongoing hit and run case. While covering the story at our end, I started spending more and more time on older articles that for once spoke the truth. I haven’t comes across any other bollywood blog that has been so open and critical of incidents that even the mainstream media doesn’t want to touch upon.
Eventually, I became an ardent follower of the blog and that motivated me to get in touch with Soumyadipta to find out how his journey has been as a blogger.
So, here we are with the unedited thoughts of Soumyadipta on how did the blog come into existence, role of social media, freedom of expression and how has the last incident on his blog affected his writing style.
Prasant Naidu: Journalist, a popular blogger and working at a media company. So how did it all start?
Soumyadipta Banerjee: I started blogging when I felt the need to write the kind of stories about Bollywood that I always wanted to. I knew that most of these articles were not fit to be published in a newspaper as they don’t belong to the school of mainstream entertainment journalism. Yet I wanted to tell those stories inside my head. The stories on my blog are personal in nature as they are drawn mostly from my own experiences and don’t conform to the kind of journalism we see now.
I am not inferring that the journalism practised today is worse than the ‘stories’ I write on my blog. My point is that both are very different in treatment and thought process.
In my opinion, news-reports are slowly becoming a way to share a reporter’s personal experience than just a bland collection of words that state facts, matter-of-factly. Thanks to social media, readers are reacting more to personal experiences and viewpoints.
But that is of course my personal opinion and it is not an accepted way on how a journalist should write his report. Hence, I started to ‘vent’ through my blog. I am lucky people started connecting with it instantly.
PN: How did your blog come into existence and what made you start it?
SB: I used to write a blog earlier on Blogspot but I never used to share the content. I had marked that blog private as it had my rants as a person living alone in a huge city like Mumbai.
But there came a time when I started feeling a little stifled because I was not getting an outlet to write.
I work for a prominent media company and I am part of the launch team of a very successful start-up (a Bengali newspaper). We successfully launched the paper in Kolkata a little over a year back. I am still part of the project and we are doing very well in the Kolkata market.
But after finishing my work, I felt impelled to write the stories I wanted to and share those experiences. So, I started typing on my computer late at night after finishing all my assignments. Those late night sessions gave birth to this blog and continues to nurture it.
I want to clarify here that the blog still remains a deeply personal experience for me and it has not been monetized in any manner. It is a revenue-free blog from where I don’t earn a paisa.
If you ever see an ad on my blog, then please count that as a unwarranted entry by WordPress.com (Where I host my blog) because it frequently gets more than 10K hits a day. I don’t have any control over it, neither am I getting the money.
The blog is non-profit, doesn’t generate any revenue and personal in nature which I choose to share it with the people who follow it.
PN: Content is the only thing that survives in the long run and your blog‘s popularity justifies it. Your thoughts?
SB: I had written a post on the death of Divya Bharti long ago and I still get more than 200 hits a day on that post. People are continuously searching for her on Google. This is an example how good content becomes timeless.
As I have told you earlier, the kind of journalism that we learnt 14 years ago when we started off as rookie journalists is changing rapidly. Today, people are more interested to listen to personal experiences than a news report. Just write two versions of the same thing — one, a blow-by-account of an incident and secondly, as an eye-witness account. You will see that the second one gets massive hits.
[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”right_pull”]The kind of journalism flourishing online and the one that we learnt early on in our careers belong to two different poles now.[/pullquote]
You must have heard that editors are being sacked now for ‘editorialising’ which basically means that they were inserting their own opinions in their news reports. Online, the kind of viral content that we see around is more of opinion in various forms.
I write about subjects which the mainstream media doesn’t. I give out strong opinions based on my research.
Perhaps that’s why, most of us, who express our thoughts on online mediums are called bloggers while people who express it on printed papers, are called columnists.
PN: Do you think that freedom of expression of bloggers is challenged in the country with no clear laws? How does one tackle it when such incidents happen?
SB: Freely expressing one’s opinion is fraught with risks in India. There was a time when I used to express myself freely. I used to write exactly what I had found out or the opinion that I had formed after examining the evidences that I had gathered.
But then, it landed me in trouble because as a blogger you are literally sticking your neck out. The IT laws in our country is very clear about one thing — there is nothing in the law books to guarantee you freedom of expression.
As a blogger, even if you are right and are stating absolute facts, the law doesn’t protect you. It is a known thing that the IT laws in India are toothless and people who have been hauled up for posting ‘offensive’ online content have been dealt with by attaching other criminal sections under the IPC or under laws of defamation.
Yes, there is a way to tackle these situations — just know that it will pass. Convicting somebody under the IT laws for writing a blog is very tough. Except for the harassment of you being dragged to court, nothing more is going to happen to you. A lawyer will be able to answer this question better.
PN: You recently faced the same when your blog posts were pulled down and you took a break from writing for a while. Do you think the incident has affected your writing?
SB: The incident did intimidate me. I changed the way I write my blogs. Most controversial posts won’t have the name of the celebrity or any obvious hints that point towards the celebrity.
There will be strong and loud disclaimers if I am naming somebody. Of course, this has taken the sheen off my blog but it still manages to get the number of hits that it used to earlier (I don’t want to disclose the numbers here but it is sufficient to say that I have not come across many blogs on Bollywood which gets more hits than mine).
The incident did affect my writing majorly and I honestly don’t like camouflaging some of my articles the way I have to do it now.
PN: How has social media helped your blog?
SB: Unfortunately, social media is ceasing to be a great help for blogs.
Facebook Pages doesn’t allow your links to be seen by most of your subscribers and content takes a lot of time to go viral. Facebook used to be a lot more content friendly than it is now. Twitter doesn’t really divert too much traffic unless you tweet the link to your followers all day.
However, when you are a blogger, you have no option other than social media to promote your blog. Because otherwise you have to advertise for your content. There is little support in terms of growth of traffic. The (internet traffic) growth on my blog is purely organic. I don’t know about other bloggers. Their experience might be entirely different than mine.
PN: Your thoughts on the growing culture of bloggers being roped in by brands for brand promotion and contests.
SB: To each his own. Some choose to earn money through their blogs and some don’t. But I support the idea that one should clearly disclose that he/she is blogging for a particular brand.
[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”right_pull]One should clearly disclose that he/she is blogging for a particular brand[/pullquote]
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bloggers who do not disclose this. One cannot earn his living from a blog alone. I hope I live to see that day when I won’t need to do a job because I blog.
PN: Any word of advice that you would share with the blogging community.
SB: I want the blogging community in India to come together and form a support group or forum. We should create a group that stands up for fellow bloggers when they are being hounded. If the law is not supporting us then nobody is stopping us from supporting each other. I suggest, let’s form an apex body of bloggers in India.
Indeed, bloggers need to stand up for each other at a time when the country has no clear laws to back rational freedom of speech and expression. Meanwhile more power to Bollywood Journalist and Soumyadipta, keep hitting the publish button more often.