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A year ago, I remember myself talking to people about blogging and explaining what is actually blog and blogging. Now we have some 1000 – 1500 blogs and around 200 active bloggers or I would call them opinion makers at Armenian content internet.

Blogger and journalist reporter-arm states that, “Bloggers are free individuals and can write what they want and how they want in their blogs. This is the exact essence of the matter. Blogger and physician Artmika says, “In any event, this is how my voice gets heard. I see that I can assist in making changes.” Another blogger, theoretician Kornel, states, “The blog is sort of like my notebook. Everyday I jot down things and in order not to lose those references and themes I put them in my blog. In addition, I see the comments of my readers.” The blogger Observer, who also comments on the Armenian blogosphere, says, “Today in Armenia there’s a very active blogger community and they are active outside the borders of the internet as well. Apparently, these people are active citizens with a definite orientation.”

Interest in the blogs doubled especially during the pre-election period in 2008, along with the creation of blogs and websites of the various candidates. Now, there are already blogs of various organizations, initiatives, groups and individuals as well as blogs covering a certain development or issue. Examples are blogs regarding the boycotting of Eurovision, preparations for the next public rally, the release of political prisoners and blogs which forward questions to the president. Through the means of internet communities, groups and bloggers, propaganda is effectively at work within the Armenian network.

“The issue is that political circles and people in general have started to seriously think about transferring their activities to the virtual arena”, states Gegham Vardanyan (http://reporter-arm.livejournal.com/) and adds that the blog is one of the tools used to attract an audience.

“Blogs are news sources. This became apparent after the previous elections and one of the reasons for their development is perhaps the growth of the internet’s popularity in Armenia” observes Samvel Martirosyan (http://kornelij.livejournal.com/) He also jokes that the growth of blogging is also linked to the Armenian character. “When somebody starts to work at something, others join in also.”

Mika Artayan, a resident of England who is author of the “Unzipped” and “Unzipped: Gay Armenia” blogs (http://unzipped.blogspot.com/; http://gayarmenia.blogspot.com/), believes that the Armenian blogosphere is currently in a development phase and that, in comparison to other countries of the South Caucasus, Armenian blogosphere is more varied and established. Artmika foresees that, “The role of the blogs in terms of information will only grow with time. Following the example in western nations the influence of bloggers on political, social and cultural life will increase. Such long-term prospects are quite realistic.”

Artur Papyan (http://ditord.wordpress.com/) suggests a distinct model regarding the growing importance of the role of bloggers. According to him, blogs are run by individuals with ties to the news outlets and reporters. Thus, news outlets cover themes discussed in the blogs and issues covered by the news outlets are discussed in the blogs.

Observer states, “In my estimation bloggers are in the 30 – 40 year-old range that are users of the internet and more or less belong to the middle class. Consequently, their opinions cannot possibly reflect the views of the society at large. However, due to the fact that bloggers are active not only in the internet but in their daily lives, has attracted a great amount of attention to the blogs.”

The issues of concern to bloggers vary by country. In one country bloggers might be fighting to receive certification on par with news outlets. In another country, the main concern of bloggers is to remain anonymous and not exposed publicly. In yet another, bloggers are attempting to resolve technical problems by the use of telephone blogs. Finally, there are countries where bloggers have to overcome the legal restrictions placed on them. What they all have in common is their attempt to exercise their right of expression in various forms. In this context, the development of the blogosphere in Armenia was the result of its being an informational alternative to the channeled news outlets. This was particularly evident during the days after the declaration of the state of emergency in March.

Today the number of blogs continues to grow but, according to Kornel, that mass hasn’t yet taken shape. According to him, for a time a struggle took place which resulted in the blogosphere dividing between liberals and nationalists and later a polarization based on “personalized politics” started; essentially along the lines of “Levon supporters” or “Levon opponents”. Observer also verifies that blogging is serious work and points to the Global voices on-line and TOL bloggers who are paid to blog.

“According to information at my disposal, the National Security Service attempted to offer money to people or to coax individuals to start-up blogs covering certain specific pre-election topics or to publicly chide certain candidates. In his opinion, when it is proposed that bloggers “get paid to propagandize” this signifies that the influence of the blogosphere is already quite massive.

For-profit blogs have extensively spread throughout the world. There are those that accept advertising and others that write review regarding the latest models of telephones or photo cameras.

Kornel relates, “I don’t know if getting paid to run a covert ad is OK, or the opposite. There was the case of a top economist who ran a blog and received a rating. Later on he published a few negative blurbs about a certain company. As a result, the shares of that company dropped drastically, the firm went bankrupt and closed its doors. Afterwards, the blogger was taken to court and during the trail he confessed that he had taken money from a competing company.”

Individuals also gain a following in the blogosphere just by the comments they leave; when they don’t have their own blog or when they don’t frequently post articles if they do. It is through the posting of comments that blog articles are thoroughly expanded upon and the issues involved exposed.

“We must understand that, for example, the people following livejournal came from the forums. They are the same names, the same photos. They simply migrated from one network to another, more up-to-date one”, states Observer. He notes that the attraction of blogs lies in their freedom. Unlike forums, they do not have moderators or administrators and that the relationship between author and the individual posting a comment is more equitable.

“A news outlet blog creates a feeling of kinship with the reader. Also, they cover issues that aren’t written about in the main pages on the paper” says Observer, noting that all the media outlets would do well to create their own blogs since “forums” are out-dated. Kornel however counters that the blog of the news outlet is the news reporter himself; reporters must have their own blogs. “When news reporters run their own blogs firstly they gain recognition and furthermore the news outlet undergoes a process of socialization”, he states and underlines that editors must encourage that their reporters run their own blogs.

Artmika says that his primary sources of information remain the news outlets but that the role of blogs in this context has doubled.

“The advantage of the blogosphere lies in its diversity. However, one still encounters personal insults and the use of uncivilized language”, says Unzipped, the author of Gay Armenia. He started the blog with the intention of raising the issue of the rights of homosexuals in Armenia, the Diaspora and the South Caucasus in general, placing the issue in the context of the defense of human rights.

“In general, issues and problems related to the life of homosexuals are raised in the pages of Gay Armenia. Also, manifestations of homophobia are covered since these also surface in the pages of the Armenian news media. I run Unzipped to expose issues related to Armenia in general and those which I find of interest’, recounts the author.

“I don’t consider myself a blogger in the classical sense. I’m more a carrier of the traditional media but it seems to me that all of this must be consolidated. All reporters must see what is taking place in the blogs, as a source of material”, states reporter-arm.

Artur Papyan says, “It is the human, subjective factor that’s important for me in the blogs and it is precisely this that differentiates blogs from the news outlets. What I find especially attractive in the blogs are the “charity drives”, when the bloggers get together and raise money for a child’s operation, for example.”

“I find that blogs are already competing with the news outlets but that this fact isn’t fully comprehended. This is clearly evident when the activities of the blogs and news outlets are compared side by side. Here’s a fairly crude example. Our news outlets don’t operate from Friday evening till Monday afternoon. Many news stories that take place within this time frame can only be found in the blogs. At the very least, the blogs are way ahead of the Armenian media on these off days”, says Samvel Martirosyan.

“One writes about politics, another about her female musings and another about knives or automobiles. The interests vary. One writes because of the lack of real contact. The more varied the society, the greater the difference in the blogs; the more numerous the colors, the better”, concludes reporter-arm.

Shushan Harutyunyan
For Armenian version check here http://old.hetq.am/arm/society/8254/