The power of participatory journalism

BLOG IN: Blogs across the country have risen in support of the idealism of Indian Oil Corporation’s Shanmugam Manjunath, reports Sruthijith KK.

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Shanmugam Manjunath was shot dead on November 19. The young sales manager at Indian Oil Corporation was killed by the fuel mafia in Uttar Pradesh. Thanks to extensive media coverage, he has now become a symbol of professional integrity and commitment towards work.

Until November 21, not much was reported on him. That day, a blog Vantage Point said, "…this case is no different from that of Satyendra Dubey. But not a single TV channel has carried this news today. And except for the (Indian) Express Lucknow edition, no newspapers have deemed it fit to report on the front page either".

Much hadn't changed a day later. India Uncut, on November 22, was critical: "Another Satyendra Dubey? Sure, just one difference: the media doesn't seem to care." The next day, Manjunath's friends set up a blog, Remembering Manjunath, along with an online petition to the Prime Minister, demanding "full inquiry and justice".

By then, a trickle had begun. The same day, two newspapers, one news channel and a website carried the story. On November 25, 11 stories appeared in print and channels ran marquees with condolence SMSes.

What had changed, then, between November 21 and 25? A part of the answer is participatory journalism. Following the early posts, a number of bloggers demanded speedy justice and compensation to Manjunath's family.

Signatures piled up online, condolence messages poured in from all over the world, and serious discussions about petrol pump allotments and incentive structures ensued. Media houses responded, carrying prominent edits, and ran campaigns.

When readers influence editorial decisions and prioritisation, it shows the power of participatory journalism. Until now, 'participants' usually shot off letters to the editor. Blogs have made sure these 'letters' are now read by all concerned. This is not to be confused with citizen journalism, which is an alternative medium that exists alongside main stream media. Participatory journalism is where consumers of news take part in or influence its making, within the traditional mainstream media.

The world over, citizen journalism is inspiring (or coercing) main stream media into take participatory journalism seriously. Blogs play a significant role in both, and like in the present case, may be examples of both at the same time.

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