Abraham Olandres runs some of the country’s most visited web logs: pinoyblog.com, pinoytechblog.com and yugatech.com. He is among the very few Pinoy bloggers actually earning enough from their sites to pay for web hosting and other expenses. Abe said in an e-mail interview that a month’s earnings from his Google AdSense account are enough to pay for a year’s hosting and domain expenses. Below are transcripts of my e-mail interview with him for my “See it, hear it, blog it” article for Sun.Star Cebu during the 2005 Cebu Press Freedom Week.
Max: Professor Jay Rosen of the New York University said early this year that the question of bloggers vs. journalists is over. He says the “question now isn’t whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn’t whether bloggers “are” journalists. They apparently are, sometimes.” Do you agree with his statement? Do you see yourself as journalists in the mold of reporters producing original news content or more of opinion writers who comment on news items?
Abe: Although I tend to make opinions on news, I find myself making the news or passing it up so that more people can be made aware of it faster. In that sense, one might consider the blogger a journalist.
Max: Editor Scott Rosenberg of Salon says: “journalists need to move away from the notion that journalism is a mysterious craft practiced by only a select priesthood—a black art inaccessible to the masses. We forget the derivation of the word journalist: someone who keeps an account of day-to-day events.” Do you agree with him? Do you think blogging has shattered that perception of a select priesthood that defines what is newsworthy?
Abe: Over the years, the line that separates the bloggers from the journalist has blurred. Yet one thing remains the same, journalists are part of the establishment while bloggers are the alternative to the mainstream.
Max: In a blogging conference early this year at Harvard University, participants agreed that “The acts of “blogging” and “journalism” are different, although they do intersect. While some blogging is journalism, much of it isn’t and doesn’t aim to be. Both serve different and valuable functions within the new evolving media ecosystem.” Do you agree with this? Do you see this happening in the Philippines or will blogging still be in the fringes of that media ecosystem because of the low Internet penetration in the country?
Abe: Filipinos will still rely heavily on traditional media. The major stumbling block in our country is the low penetration rate of connectivity to the masses. This may be possible for western countries but until the time that the Philippines is vastly wired to the net, we will get stuck with the same old ecosystem.
Max: Tom Curley of the Associated Press says there is a huge shift of balance of power in our world, “from the content providers to the content consumers.” He says “professional journalism is no longer sovereign over territory it once easily controlled” and that its influence in the public discourse is no longer singular. He says: “When 90 percent of the op-ed style writing was done on actual op-ed pages, editorial page editors had sovereignty over that region of public dialogue. With blogging and the online space generally, that rule is gone. Opinion in reaction to the news can come from anywhere, and the bloggers are frequently better at it than the sleepy op-ed page ever was.” Do you agree with him?
Abe: Exactly. Bloggers are inherently voracious readers and more passionate about their opinions. It has become an open season — journalists are always outnumbered by their blogging critics.
Max: While mainstream media can find good use for blogs to re-engage themselves in the community conversation, they should use it in a way to draw in more outside voices. Bob Cauthorn says mainstream media misunderstand blogs because they “simply further expose the staff members who are already well exposed to the public.” He says these efforts “scarcely register in the big picture because media company blogs adhere to the old top-down, we-talk-you-listen-punk publishing model.” Do you agree with this?
Abe: The establishment has always been that way. It’s always one way, downstream. Blogging encourages and thrive thru interaction. Maintreams media can be very authoritative in spreading information and opinions while blogging has democratized it.
Max: Mark Glaser, in a 2003 Article in Nieman Reports, says that “because of Weblogs, journalists are being brought down from their ivory towers.” He says that blogs provide an even bigger voice for non-journalist readers. He did say, however, that “the attention of bloggers can’t help but make journalists do a better job in their reporting.” Do you agree with him. Has this happened in the country? If not, do you see this happening soon? Did the “community conversation” in Philippine blogs on the Gloriagate scandal affect mainstream media’s coverage of the issue?
Abe: With blogging, everyone has a voice, everyone can have their turn and give a piece of their mind. It’s all the matter now of who’s more credible and who’s more believable.
Max: In discussing the impact of blogging, Glenn Reynolds says “the realization that anyone (or lots of people, anyway) can report news or write opinion pieces just as well as famous people is likely to undercut the status of celebrity journalists and pundits.” He says that “most media celebrities became famous because other people lacked access to the tools of the trade. That’s changing now.” Do you agree with him? The Sassy Lawyer is an example of how mainstream media was able to recruit from the blog world. Do you see more of this happening in the country, that mainstream media look to bloggers to improve its current staff?
Abe: If you’re a blogger who joins mainstream media, are you a blogger first and a journalist second? Or is it the other way around? A journalist who becomes a blogger is common but a blogger who becomes a journalist is rare and Connie is a first in the Philippines. However, I find that there will come a time that conflicts of interest will eventually arise with this kind of setup. It’s still unchartered waters to me.
Max: Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University, sees the difference between traditional media and Weblog communities this way: “The order of things in broadcast is ‘filter, then publish.’ The order in communities is ‘publish, then filter.’ The filtering is done through a Darwinian system of good blogs flourishing because readers keep returning to it. Do you agree with this statement?
Abe: Survival of ths fittest. It’s by this natural selection that makes the more appealing bloggers more prominent and more trusted by the reading public. There’s no censorship. What you get is raw and unadulteration commentary — this is more palatable compared to the often bland delivery of mainstream media.
Max: Where do you think Philippine blogs are heading? Do you see it becoming a major part of the reading diet of Filipinos or do you think that the low Internet penetration rate will hinder it from becoming that? Do you see Pinoy blogs becoming as influential to society as their counterparts in the US are?
Abe: If we talk about numbers, pinoy bloggers are still a very small minority. However, we’re seeing that political blogs are fast becoming the major source of information by the Filipino surfing public. My Pinoy Top Blogs Project has 3 political blogs consistent on the top 5 list.
Max: Are you earning from your blog projects? Are the ad earnings enough to cover expenses in running these projects?
Abe: There’s been a significant amount of revenue from my blog projects. I’d say that a month’s earnings from AdSense could very well cover a year’s hosting and domain expenses. And that does not include locally paid ads and affiliate marketing we get once in a while. Revenue growth has been pretty steady at 20 – 30% a month so I have a very positive outlook in the contextual advertising arena.
Max: Do you see Pinoy Tech Blog as competitor for online versions of tech publications or newspaper tech sections?
Abe: I noticed that local tech publications do not focus on the more relevant news and issues. hey mostly cater to enterprises and businesses which the ordinary Filipino reader do not have interests in. This is where Pinoy.Tech.Blog intend to cater which has a wider online readership. My intention is to provide relevant, timely, practical and interesting news and information about technology to the surfing Pinoy.
Max: Do you think tech companies should start inviting blog contributors to press conferences or briefings?
Abe: Bloggers have already carved a niche of their own on the internet. A significant percentage of online readership have relied on bloggers for opinions and feedback. I believe it’s time that bloggers also be considered to attend and participate on these offline events.