Blogging vs Journalism & Kazakhstan vs Borat

by Nathan Hamm on 9/26/2006 · 7 comments

See the important update at the end of the post.

I may or may not get around to collecting and laying out my thoughts on the blogging conference I attended in Almaty, but one thing that kept coming up repeatedly was blogging and journalism. Attendees from the region seemed bent on drawing a clear line between the two.* (The bottom line for me is that there is no clear line between the two, though blogging is distinguished from traditional journalism by having personality.) More often than not, participants who spoke up characterized bloggers as being less responsible and professional than journalists. I am not particularly convinced that is much of a problem as pretty much only the cream makes it to the top. Furthermore, I don’t think too much should be made of journalists being superior to bloggers because plenty of them are not so hot themselves.

For example, check out this story on Kazakhstan and Borat. While Kazakhstan has tended to make too much of Borat, journalists, it seems to me, are going to great lengths to reveal an enormous conflict between Kazakhstan and Borat and to portray official Kazakh acts as reactions to Borat when possible. Incidentally, this is great for both Kazakhstan and Sacha Baron Cohen. The latter gets free movie promotion and the former gets a fair deal of press making clear that it is not a land of Jew-hating, gypsy-hunting peasants.

Elicia Murray’s story is interesting though. In some ways, it is like a typical blog post. She lifts much of her story from other sources. For example:

The Times newspaper in London reported that Kazakhstan had also bought airtime on US and international satellite channels to show advertisements presenting a better image of the country.

The Times reported comments by a Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yerzhan Ashykbayev: “We understand that Borat is a kind of satire, but it is just a pity that Mr Cohen chose Kazakhstan as the origin of his hero … As far as I know, he has never been to Kazakhstan, although there have been efforts on the part of some people here to invite him so that he can see what our country is really like.”

Bolding added for emphasis.

Further, she makes assertions of fact that do not appear to be backed up with evidence. She says about the latest big movie release in Kazakhstan,

Kazakhstan has invested $53 million in making the historical epic, Nomad, to counter what it sees as the damage inflicted upon the nation’s reputation by Borat.

It’s fairly clear to me from taking the 15 seconds to look up the movie’s imdb page that the odds of it having been made as a response to Borat are almost nonexistent. I don’t know why Miramax would have put money up behind something that is all just part of a Central Asian government’s campaign against a British comedian.

Not that I think there’s anything particularly wrong with Murray’s story even if the part about Nomad could be far more accurately reported. (For background on Nomad see an earlier post here, and for discussion of the film’s recent release, see neweurasia Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.) But her story does underline that the line between journalism and blogging is extremely blurry and that not too much time should be wasted on trying to put each in its own corner.

*Which, considering laws on media in, for example, Kazakhstan, does make some sense.

See the rest of the post for the Nomad trailer.

Australian journalists are, it appears, feeble-minded. Perhaps we should say that there is no clear dividing line between journalism and blogging, but that there is one between journalism and blogging on one hand and Australian journalism on the other.

Why do I say this? Here’s another member of the Aussie press saying Nomad has something to do with damage control concerning Borat.

BARNEY PORTER: But constantly irritated by the Borat character, the film has struck a raw nerve with Kazak authorities.

So much so, that the government is spending more than $50 million to create its own film featuring an 18th century Kazakh warrior named Mansur, who’s on a mission of courage and romance to united the Kazakh tribes and free them from the invaders from Mongolia.

I don’t know why this is bugging me so much, but it is so easy to discover that while there is a political and nationalistic side to Nomad, it has nothing to do with Borat. Why would the Russian and US production companies involved, not to mention Milos Forman, the executive producer, care the slightest bit about striking a blow against Borat for the proud people of Kazakhstan? Maybe, just maybe, they could care less, the movie has nothing to do with Borat, and some journalists are just stretching just a tad too much to create a bigger story than actually exists.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Laurence September 26, 2006 at 12:14 pm

Welcome back, Nathan!

W. Shedd September 26, 2006 at 2:11 pm

I should have paid closer attention to the fact that you were going to that Almaty conference. My friend, Elena Skochilo of Bishkek was also in attendance. She has maintained her own blog, while also formerly serving as editor-in-chief of I believe she is currently working over at IWPR – as well as photojournalism assignments. She also contributed much of the photography at “Revolution Revisited”

I think she is probably a very good candidate for someone who is blogging, but not educated as a journalist.

Laurence September 26, 2006 at 5:02 pm

For those interested in the “journalism” v “blogging” squabble, a conference organized by yours truly at the National Press Club in Washington DC, on July 15th 2002, might provide some background to the US side of the debate:

…that is the Blogosphere in action — self-referential, self-reflexive, self-analytical, self-correcting, universal, instaneous, decentralized, emotional, rational, and available for continuous updating, response, and review. It shows the strength of the Blogosphere as a network of responses.

In the words of William Quick’s January, 2002 posting on DailyPundit:

“I PROPOSE A NAME for the intellectual cyberspace we bloggers occupy: the Blogosphere. Simple enough; the root word is logos, from the Greek meaning, variously: In pre-Socratic philosophy, the principle governing the cosmos, the source of this principle, or human reasoning about the cosmos; Among the Sophists, the topics of rational argument or the arguments themselves. ..”

Dolkun September 26, 2006 at 9:38 pm

“… blogging is distinguished from traditional journalism by having personality.”

Amen to that. (Though in fairness, some magazine reporting and British newspaper journalism also allows some personality to shine through.)

On Nomad v. Borat (wait a minute. That’s a brilliant title for teh Borat sequel). The most obvious proof of the lack of a link is that Nomad was filmed in, I believe, 2003. That’s not to say the Kaz govt. didn’t invest in it for a bit of a nationalistic ego boost, but the filming couldn’t have been related to Borat.

Nick September 27, 2006 at 11:58 am

Well, the guardian has been jumping vigorously on the blogging bandwagon and, ooh, several decades after everyone else, they’ve finally got round to the Borat business.

Anna September 27, 2006 at 12:37 pm

“The most obvious proof of the lack of a link is that Nomad was filmed in, I believe, 2003.”

Yep. As I recall, the filming of Nomad is as epic a story as the actual film. Filming, not filming, change of directors, filming new scenes, stuck in distribution, etc etc etc.

And doesn’t anyone else think it’s odd that, for a monument to Kazakh nationalism, the male leads are an American and a German?

Nick September 27, 2006 at 1:58 pm

And doesn’t anyone else think it’s odd that, for a monument to Kazakh nationalism, the male leads are an American and a German?

Too true – but this is the movie business we’re talking about. I’ve seen films with John Wayne as Chingis Khan, Alec Guinness as a bedouin prince, Omar Sharif as a Russian poet, Gary Cooper as Marco Polo, Yul Brynner as a Siamese king … and let us not forget the controversy about Chinese actresses playing geishas. It’s the nature of the beast.

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