One of the panel discussions at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival featured bloggers. Festival organiser Janet de Neefe told us later that there had been some argument among members of the festival committee about whether to include it or not.
Bloggers are used to being on the border line of legitimacy. The medium is free. We don't have to struggle to be published. There's no editorial control. And this is the Wild West of writing.
Fortunately, our panelists were not lacking in credentials! Apart from yours truly, and Dina Zaman (she of the erstwhile and ever disappearing Gongkapas Times - the blog that got me writing), there was Jeremy Wagstaff, an Asian Wall Street Journal columnist, and novelist Shalini Akhil whom we coopted onto the panel after hearing her speak at an earlier session. The session was moderated by Deepika Shetty, also a mad keen blogger.
That our blogs are so very different was a fact we established pretty quickly!
Jeremy Wagstaff writes the Loose Wire blog which is full of useful information about making technology work for you. During the festival, he also launched Loose Wire: Making the Technology Work for You which he describes as an accessible book you can read in the bath!
Shalini Akhil is an Australian of Fijian Indian heritage and has recently published her first novel, The Bollywood Beauty. She's also does stand uo comedy. We just had to include her when we heard she has two blogs and confesses to being "a bit of a nerd"! (When I mentioned the cyber cafe across the road, you should have seen her eyes light up!)
Shalini's main blog, Kai-India is about her everyday experiences of being a published author. The other, i, writer is more personal. She says she wanted to blog anonymously when she began, but of course that isn't possible once everything you write about is a dead giveaway as to your identity.
Since many in the audience were people who had thought of blogging but weren't sure of the technicalities of setting up a blog, we tackled that first - Jeremy giving a quick dummies guide to what blogs are and how to get started.
Deepika threw in some pretty interesting facts and statistics from her reading - this lady really researches! (Did you know that almost all the top 100 bloggers in the US are journalists or professional writers? Or that Technorati is now tracking over 50 million blogs?)
Deepika had some pretty good questions to throw our way, beginning with: how did you get started and what keeps you going? (I blogged about this a short while back.)
But the discussion got most interesting when we were talking about the position of bloggers vis-à-vis the print media, and whether the one was threatened by the other. We were able to talk about how bloggers not only draw from the print media (now increasingly online) but also in many cases feed back into it. (I gave the example of one of my posts being picked up by USA Today and another by the Guardian - could have given several more.) I also mentioned the fact that blogs fill a gap where there is little or no coverage of a topic in the print media. (How many pages are there for literary news in the local press?)
Deepika and I agreed that it is often frustrating to do an interview with a writer and get a ton of great material from it, but only have a few hundred words to squeeze it in to for more conventional media. Blogs give us the space we need to give our material (which we feel should be in the public domain) justice.
We also talked about privacy issues, problems with wierdos and stalkers ... and one issue we haven't talked about here, but both Dina and I are beginning to connect the dots ... Malay women bloggers suffering abuse and hacking from their (male) readers if they dare to step out of line in some way. (Under investigation - if you have a story to share, e-mail me in confidence.)
During the questions, someone asked how we'd feel if someone "stole" our writing from the blog. I realised (with something of a sense of shock) that this simply isn't an issue for me. I'm very happy if my writing gets picked up and quoted elsewhere - provided that I'm credited. I want my words out there. I want them to travel. (That's egotistical, but aren't all bloggers shameless self-promoters?) I've also realised that I'd rather write for my blog and post it here than I would sell my words to newspapers and magazines. That also has surprised me.
All of us on the panel that day were incredibly positive about blogging - an enthusiasm many in the audience (and we had quite a crowd) shared. And others who haven't yet dipped their toes in the water, I hope are inspired to try.