Uzogh has asked an interesting question (followed by lively discussion) about how much does it cost to build a blog, pointing out, that organizations like Center for Regional Developmen /Transparency International Armenia and Internews Armenia have received grants which include a blogging component. The question is especially important, because most of the bloggers (including myself before working with Internews), do so with no expectations to be compensated, and an ethical question arises as to how acceptable it is to spend money on building a blog. The grant information about the mentioned blogs, taken from Uzogh’s post can be found here:
Blogging Field(s): Elections, Anti-Corruption
Implementation period: 15.02.2007 – 15.06.2007
Budget: AMD 4,840,404.00
Donor(s): USAID Civic Advocacy Support Program, Counterpart International-Armenia
Description: The goal of the project is to promote transparency of 2007 parliamentary elections in view of the pre-election period and the election day itself . The section established on the CRD /TI Armenia website – Election Monitor 2007- targets towards an audience both inside and outside of Armenia, contains photo reportage, articles, interviews, news about associated CRD/TI Armenia work and media monitoring findings related to the elections.
Outcomes: Provision of an alternative source of information and an open forum for free speech and public discussions.
Beneficiary(ies): Citizens, NGOs, political parties, youth groups, media
Date of Grant Letter: 12/27/2006
Contact: Nune Sargsyan
Grant Amount: 25000 USD
Purpose: For filling the gap of lack of objective and unbiased information in Armenia via opening an open/alternative information resource. The site will serve as a virtual information/news resource, which would give free access to all election-related information. It will strive to gradually become a full-fledged mass media means and will translate into an online publication aimed at providing the reader with objective information and thorough analysis of the situation. It will also aim at involving the civil society and giving it not only an opportunity to access balanced coverage and analysis of events, but also to participate in discussions and express their opinions. The categories of the site will include news, media digest, regions, interviews, legislation, sociological surveys, monitoring, elections calendar, information about political parties and candidates, as well as an interactive part – blogs and forums, students, on-line voting, TV and radio, photo and video materials, links. This project is co-financed by UNDP for the amount of $24.000. The first transfer will be made by UNDP in the amount of $24.000 by the end of December, 2006. OSI AFA will transfer $25,000 upon receiving the narrative and financial reports from the implementing organization
Well, if it’s of any interest to you, the CRD/TI Armenia blog is now dead. Well, it’s winding down for reasons that have to do with such issues as should blogs be independent and who controls them. As a journalist and a blogger I found myself unable to work on such a project with too many others trying to take control and instruct me what to do rather than actually post their own entries that last week I resigned.
Personally speaking I think that such blogging should be independent and individual, and that’s what I’ve chosen to do. There’s more to it than that, of course, but am knackered from walking in the door from Markarian’s funeral. Anyway, just to say that the blog will probably finish at the end of this week, or at the latest 15 Apil. Regardless, we’re in the process of winding it down.
I gave CRD-TI Armenia the option to continue the blog themselves, but they said they didn’t know how to, and didn’t have the time. Wish they’d thought about that before they started to dictate and control. It’s normal perhaps, and it is their blog, so fair enough, but it defeated the purpose of the blog in the first place and I chose to leave.
OH MY GOD!
And btw: how much does it cost to build a blog? Well, the answer is a little bit like how long is a piece of string?
Or take web sites, for example. Well, get some free hosting and if you have a computer and internet connection, you can d it for free. However, others like companies and banks or media outlets spend hundreds of thousands on theirs every year. And sometimes more!
And so on. Depends on what you’re doing. However, I do know that I can and have been doing more than the CRD-TI Armenia site on my own http://oneworld.blogsome.com site, and that’s totally free. Don’t receive any funding, any sponsorship for that and so on.
However, as it’s all related to my work, I suppose that’s not a fair example, either. So, I’d guess, blogs can be cheap and they can be expensive if you want translations and transportation to cover things in the regions.
Regardless, finance doesn’t make a blog good or bad, and a free blog can compete and be better than a sponsored one if the information is more interesting, better presented and so on.
As an example, my personal blog (in English) receives about the same number of readers of the English language sections of Armenia Now and Hetq Online. Yet, they receive tens of thousands of dollars in funding — sometimes more than $100,000 in a year — and they have a staff.
For my blog, it’s just me.
BTW: Perhaps you can leave a comment on Uzogh’s post saying that the CRD-TI Armenia blog is being voluntarily terminated. I would, but you need to be a Live Journal user which I’m not. Personally, I think anonymous and other comments should be allowed, but then again, it’s not my site.
First of all Uzogh == Ruben Muradyan.
I will update my blog immediately.
As for commenting in my blog – you are welcome!
It is mostly in Russian, but sometimes I write in Armenian and English.
Hi Guys, I see I missed all the important discussions? The problem is – today is sort of my course graduation day, and whatever little I have written today has been done under enormous time pressures over breakfast and lunch…
So anyway – Onnik, I’m really sorry that the Transparency blog didn’t work out for you that well, but then, like you are saying, you have the Oneworld blog, which from my point of view is real capital – a value in itself. I was too late to put a comment on Uzogh’s blog, but now I guess I don’t need to, because Uzogh has one more post on the issue here.
Well, anyway, I like being free and independent, so perhaps its for the best. However, it raises an important issue regarding blogs that was actually asked as a question to me from a YSU Journalism student when I did a presentation on blogging to about 30 1st year and Masters journalism student last week.
Basically, is it possible to make a blog sustainable?
Simply put, I guess, is it possible to derive an income from blogging. I’m sure there are cases, but my response was as I see it from our (i.e. journalists) angle, blogs are another medium through which potential clients and publications can read our work or see our photography. In that sense, blogging can lead to commissins and possible employment. However, is this the only way?
Advertising would be one option, I suppose, but that field is really weak and nearly non existent in terms of the online media in Armenia so blogs wouldn’t be any different and probably would fare worse, so the only other option would be sponsorship and funding. However, then this other very real question arises. If blogs are meant to be person and individual, and if even professional media blogs are meant to be independent, does such support threaten the very thing that makes blogs so unique for now?
That is, as a medium which is really free from any higher editorial control and influence. Comments welcomed.
About independence: The minute I feel any pressure from Internews Armenia regarding the content of my blogs I will simply abandon Internews and continue my blogs independently. However, I am enjoying complete/unrestricted freedom at the moment, that is exactly why I like working with them.
About sustainability: I don’t think advertising or commercial sponsorship of blogging is an alternative. Armenia is too small, internet user base is insignificant and it is unrealistic to think, that blogs can be anything more then the medium of a select few. I’ve started getting 150 hits on the English, and 60 hits on the Armenian versions of this blog and I suspect, that most of those 60 come from the 150 who just want to check out the Armenian version as well, so let’s be honest, and estimate my readership at 150 max. So, does my blog present any commercial interest? I don’t think so – what do you think? Does my blog mean anything in terms of influencing democratic discourse in this country? I DON’T THINK SO!
At this point blogs in Armenia are an individual medium (and I prey the God that they stay that way), hence, the personality of the blogger determines a lot of things. I don’t think anybody can make Onnik go against his principles, I don’t think anybody can make me write something against my will, no matter where is the source of my funding or how much they pay. I am a blogger, not a prostitute. Nobody can buy me! However, having funding for blogging helps a lot – and I acknowledge that, and I encourage that.
So anyways, I plan to establish an Annual Blogging Award for Armenian bloggers. I’ve already laid back a small sum of money from my Internews salary. It will be something symbolic, maybe just a little monetary prize and I plan to hold the award ceremony in July or August. The time is ripe for that. Although our blogs have no influence over the developments in this country, our blogosphere is just fantastic. I’ve researched some of the other blogospheres (Georgian, Azerbaijani, Indonesian, Burmese, etc.) and I can claim that with full confidence.
To conclude, let me thank all the Armenian bloggers for “being” and to invite your comments on the issues of the influence blogs have over the political processes in the country and their value in terms of being a source for advertising revenue.
Blogs if implemented correctly can become powerful marketing and promotional tool. In many cases, even if the person doesn’t get paid for the actual blogging, blogs help create connections and indirectly promote the bloggers’ other services (if they are offering any). In some cases it can be viewed as a non-ending job interview:-) Therefore, more and more companies in the West are hiring active bloggers to post for them, which also helps them control in some ways the agenda and the message about their organization or company. If the blogger is getting paid, he or she should understand that whoever pays is going to dictate his or her views. Lucky are those bloggers whose interests and moral values overlap with the one’s who pays them. But that doesn’t happen very often.
Nanul, I don’t want to go into this further for now, but I understand your point about paid bloggers being the ones who are expected to work for someone else. However, I would like to point out one thing now that uzogh has released details of where the money came from.
Basically, I contacted the donor with the idea and wrote the proposal. CRD-TI Armenia were an organization who said they wanted me working for them during the election period and would allow me to push the project through under their name.
However, as nobody in that organization knew about blogs, everything was pretty much up to me. Anyway, I was Project Director. However, while there were also technical issues that caused enough headaches, a number of things happened that seemed to conflict with the idea of blogging or being an independent monitor of the election.
Still, as you said, even though the blog was paid for by a donor who accepted my proposal which was written entirely by me and not CRD-TI Armenia, it did exist with their name on it. I accept that, and concluded that it was not possible to work under those conditions.
It’s just a pity that they then admit that they can’t do it themselves and will now terminate the project. Anyway, let me put it like this. It’s better that I can now be seen as independent and impartial for the election.
Another interesting aspect to blogs within an organization — conflict of interest. Last weekend, for example, CRD-TI Armenia and Sksela acted as one so how can I write about the latter on the former’s blog, and then how can I write about Sksela as an independent journalist as I intend to do?
So, even without some of the other problems that ranged from the technical to editorial control, which I believe would have challenged the impartiality of the blog had I agreed, I would have experienced more and more problems as time went on, so made my choice, and it was mine.
Instead, I think the importance of blogs in the election is for there to be a plurality of opinion through a multitude of independently-standing blogs run by individuals and organizations which theoretically should balance themselves out through commenting, trackbacks and so on.
Ultimately, though, while I was willing to leave the blog in a form they could continue, but which they have decided not to accept, it was a personal decision. I value my independence and it as a blogger it was what attracted me to the medium.
I realize that all blogs will reflect the opinion of the owner, and am more than happy to promote and help develop such blogs which I continue to do, but I wouldn’t like to see blogs in Armenia follow the model of the print media, for example.
Yes, a plurality of opinion exists there, but I also believe that by linking to other sites and other sources of information as well as through commenting and trackbacks, we have a far more powerful medium for communication and discussion.
I also believe that ultimately, there should be an unwritten code of conduct and system of ethics. Opinion is fine, but the one danger facing blogs in a country like Armenia is the same as in other walks of life — credibility and accuracy of information.
That was also part of the project as well. Without it, election monitoring would have been difficult when it comes to reporting possible violations of the electoral code, for example. Personal opinions? No doubt about it, we need more of that, but from a variety of people throughout the country.
Perhaps this is the main need, and the main problem still to resolve, although I agree with Observer’s comment on Uzogh’s blog. The Armenian Blogosphere has come a long way from a few years ago. Here’s hoping it continues to evolve. Unfortunately, however, many Armenian organizations and individuals still prefer to be in “competition.”
This also needs to change.
Correction, you made the point above.
As for havign influence, don’t be so sure. Some things can change, I’m sure. Not much, but perhaps it’s a combination of things — a holistic approach to change. Still, the task would be easier if Armenians weren’t seemingly always in competition with each other.
I guess that’s another reason I like blogs. Through them, others who could be outside the traditional and established network of NGOs, International Organizations, Government bodies, and political parties can have their say too.
One hope of mine, for example, was that blogs could also make all of these guys accountable. Yes, people are looking to hold the Government to account and practice accountability and transparency, but I personally believe EVERYONE needs to.
Onnik, thanks for your contributions. One important point about the ethics issues – in the About section on this blog I have put my Disclaimer and Code of Ethics. The code of ethics is the one Internews uses, it is for journalists, but I believe it addresses most of the ethical issues I’m facing when blogging as well, so I try to obey the rules set by it – with some success I hope. However, I have been thinking of creating some sort of specialized blogger ethics code for some time now – but nobody seems to be interested, so perhaps its still too early for that. What do you think?
Nanul – I’ve been thinking about the point you made “If the blogger is getting paid, he or she should understand that whoever pays is going to dictate his or her views.” for quite some time now 🙁
The problem is, how do you reconcile the need for freedom and the understanding, that whoever pays is going to TRY to dictate their views? Is it possible?
Well, as you say, the Code of Ethics is really for mass media and not bloggers. Not they shouldn’t abide by such rules, but that something far simpler is necessary. I also think there needs to be some kind of declaration which amounts to bloggers linking, quoting and commenting on other bloggers posts rather than read something on another blog and post it as if it was their own.
This is important for one main reason. Without linking, commenting, trackbacks, quoting and so on, there is not real Blogosphere. Yes, the number of Armenian blogs is growing, but what we don’t have is a Blogosphere which joins blogs and bloggers together even if we agree or disagree with each other. This doesn’t help us realize what blogging could achieve — a plurality of opinions and the start of an online discussion.
Indeed, this is what is lacking in Armenian society as a whole which is why I would appreciate it happening in the Blogosphere.
Anyway, re Nanul/Observer comments, I think I accept Nanul’s original comment, and I think it is the personal decision of the blogger. Actually, the same issue relates to journalism as well — paid journalists and freelancers and so on. Nevertheless, I do worry about a day when this situation makes it possible that the initial point of blogging is lost.
Also, if blogs become more and more mainstream and content is dictated by other factors, will they become more and more discredited as alternative sources of information? Actually, perhaps this is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time before mainstream blogs become the most widely read. On the other hand, we can still have our own personal blogs out there in an attempt to allow for that plurality of opinion, and through comments, trackbacks and the like still have some kind of checks and balances.
Meanwhile, an update on the CRD-TI Armenia situation. They’ve now contacted myself and Zara (the Armenian administrator) to tell us that in our contracts they made a mistake and put the net salary as higher than they budgeted for and submitted to CASP. Therefore, if we’d be so kind, would we kindly forget about that first contract and sign a new contract with the lower salary that they originally intended on Friday. Funny, I might end up owing them money this way. 😉
Still, let’s look on the bright side. The way things are done here in Armenia is always something worth writing about. You have to laugh, perhaps, because otherwise we’d all be crying.
Guys, may i interrupt ?
i guess you’re taking things toooo serious – blogs, and journalism and elections and life in armenia as well – :)))
uhu! es mihatn el xmenq qani chi sksvel… (do you know that anektod?)
tuuu, sksec (c) :)))
[email protected] skseeeeeeeeets :))))))))))
why not? for a change :)))))))
…damn it, time to change!!! 😉
i am for :))), actually this is what we have to do in Armenia to keep walking. I am serious, I’ll share some ideas with you when you’re back ! and post a link tol Vardan-Sauron he is number one flooder in LJ ;))))
…damn it, time to change (c)
:)))) классика жанра !
this discussion is really interesting – but i gotta go have a beer with friends… after all this is one of my last days in UK! 🙂
you’re gonna miss it
Isabella, you’re a little biased in this perhaps when you’re actually now cooperating with CRD-TI Armenia and Sksela was mentioned. It’s funny to hear you try to interrupt a very important discussion with a comment that in actual fact most Armenians would address to you. Or maybe you’re becoming as apathetic and as uninterested in standing up what you believe is right like those Armenians you’re usually critical of?
Funny old world. Like I said, I suspect you made the comment in order to disrupt the conversation. As I said, Sksela and CRD-TI Armenia are working together so we can see you as something of a partisan observer in all of this. Certainly, one should never take employers trying to change contracts and backdate new ones less than seriously, or indeed, anything such as a conflict of interest and the such like.
Or, after all those Sksela events, and for all your talk of human and civil rights, you’ve changed your mind now — especially when the conversation involves an organization that you consider to be in partnership with yours. So, too serious for you? Don’t read it, although it’s interesting how you manage to try to interrupt conversations, and even more interesting how everyone seems to obey.
Still, good attempt. Looks like you succeeded with Observer 😉
And Isabella, if you noticed, the title of this post is about blogging and the elections so, if you don’t like it, go somewhere else and try to control everything. Either offer your own opinion and discuss, or perhaps find something better to do with your time. As I said, this post is on blogs, elections, journalism, and blogging. Next time perhaps you shouldn’t bother to click through although I suspect your comment was aimed at achieving something else.
Onnik – I think there has been a misunderstanding here? OK, I’m usually dead serious when it comes to blogging, but because we were engaged in another discussion at Isabella’s blog the “flood” I was making there overflooded here 🙂 Even the most serious bloggers are entitled to some humor sometimes, don’t you think?
Onnik – don’t want to get into any quarrel with you, really. Just didn’t notice where and when i was trying to control anything and when and how I was ever asking for your advise what to do with my time ?! Your comment just comes to prove that you take everything too serious, even naive and meaningless flood. I deliberately disregard your tone and wilfulness to exacerbate mutual relations based on unknown for me reason.
I see nothing wrong with this comment. It pretty much sums up the situation — this post is on blogs, elections, journalism, and blogging. Too serious? Hey, go leave comments on other posts or even your own site, but first of all two thing.
i) This blog post was directly related to me and involves me as the person who wrote and presented the CRD-TI Armenia blog to CASP.
ii) I am using the comments section to respond to and raise various issues that have been raised as a result.
Anyway, serious? There are some very serious issues relating to the CRD-TI Armenia blog, some of which are unforgivable. Yes, the issue is very serious, so please think again before you interrupt a discussion.
You wouldn’t do it in person, so why do it online?
Still, let’s look at Live Journal and indeed, Armenian society and perhaps we can now understand why there is no real discussion and debate going on in either.
Onnik – I can’t accept the point about “thinking again before you interrupt a discussion”, because you just can’t apply the rules of face to face conversation to a blog discussion. In fact I welcome and encourage everyone to intervene and interrupt.
All the other points – well – they are your opinion, and you’re welcome to share them, as is everyone else on this blog.
PS: I have been able to recover your earlier comment – it seems like Akismet Spam catches comments when people post too many too fast. Sorry for the technical difficulties with that.
Well, it’s your blog and you get to determine how things proceed, but let’s look at a certain reality. There is proper discussion on most blogs, but very little on Live Journal sites because it follows another approach. Indeed, Live Journal sites are blogs, but don’t really encourage discussion at all. They’re more for friends or associates to exchange pleasantries and usually agree with each other. Preaching to the converted, like most political organizations and movements in Armenia and leaving the majority disenfranchised and excluded.
Like I said, we have an “active” blogosphere in terms of number of sites. However, it is not a blogosphere in so much that it follows the general Armenian model of development in almost every walk of life — say nice things about your friends, avoid anything that challenges the image of your inner circle, don’t link to other blogs, exist only as part of your own group of sites and never move out of your circle to realize there’s a far bigger world out there, and interrupt “conversations” when you don’t like the way they’re going.
As I said, this post and the original was made to kind of raise doubts about the CRD-TI Armenia blogging project. Observer, you used the post to argue your case and respond to that. I did for myself and also pointed out that because of issues which I was unwilling to accept such as poor technical stability of the blog, conflict of interests, and political bias within CRD-TI Armenia, I resigned. Was this too serious? Hey, it’s the election we’re talking about.
Everybody, including Isabella who is trying to create a youth movement along the lines of those pre-revolution in Georgia and Ukraine, is serious on this one. So I find it incredible that she cut in like that with such a flippant statement. What distressed me even more, because of the way that most Armenian Live Journal users work i.e. they are more friends than part of a blogging community, her interruption was allowed to disrupt a serious conversation that does need to happen.
For example, Uzogh does make an interesting point. There are millions of dollars in circulation for the election so where is it going? Transparent elections? It needs to work both ways, in my opinion. Maybe the CEC needs to put a ceiling on expenditures for Civil Society in the future if political parties are supposed to work within those limits. Unfortunately, much of civil society is politicized and some of them are taking sides when the only thing that really matters is democracy.
Thankfully, some NGOs are working properly in this regard, but others are not.
I agree with Onnik on the lack of serious discussion in Armenian online communities. What I have observed is that a lot of young Armenians in their 20s (early-mid-late) behave online like the way teenagers do in Western world. Educated, smart with a knowledge of foreign languages, and with an access to Internet, yet they choose to use this powerful medium only either to access porn sites (true mostly for men) or to spend hours and hours of their valuable time in online dating communities and chat rooms. I understand that we have biological urge to mate, and that most of the young Armenians are deprived of privacy, but I also get upset to see that such a capable force is not producing anything useful or contributing anything constructive to the development of Armenia. Therefore, very often we see no difference in communication styles, regardless of the tool they are using–SMS messaging, chat rooms, discussion forums, blogs, or ICQ.
This is my general observation. Isabella, nothing against you. I don’t know you or what you do. Maybe you are one of the few who actually does something useful.
BTW: I initially told USAID/CASP that the blogging project would only need around $4,000. As the Armenian Administrator pointed out to me this evening, it’s time to check where the additional money was going. Still, it’s civil society in Armenia, and as we know, the NGO sector is pretty much run like personal and private businesses. That’s another reason why I’m tired of the way things are. Often the mechanisms for corruption in the NGO sector are EXACTLY the same as they are in Government. The only difference is scale, but that’s not because of any angelic demeanor, it’s a matter of how much money there is to siphon off in the first place. I’ve seen too many fake receipts submitted in so many well-known NGOs that I’d say it’s time to look to force that sector to become self-sustainable and certainly to introduce tighter mechanisms for oversight and transparency.
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