Friday, July 01, 2005

Getting Interviewed By A Cornell University Student

Date: July 1, 2005
Subject: Blog
From: Ally M Mead, Cornell University
To: Paramendra Bhagat

Good morning,

I am a graduate student at Cornell University in the US. I am interested in conducting a project on blogging in Nepal in the face of the imposed media censorship. I was wondering if you might be interested in corresponding with me via email and answering a few questions that I have. Primarily I am interested in the motivations behind the blogs, the types of risks that you are taking, and what message you hope to get across to whom. I understand that this is a risky endeavor on your part you needn't reveal your identity to me. A first name or a pseudonym would be fine.

I have a good friend who is at Cornell right now, Pukar Malla. Look him up and say hello to him for me, will you? He is doing his Ph.D in wireless something.

Thank you for your interest in Nepali bloggers. One of the things I attempt through my blog is to get as much attention to the Nepali condition as possible. Your project will help. Please feel free to send follow up questions. And I am sure other bloggers that I know and am aware of will happily indulge you.

Motivations behind the blogs. It is that ringing theme in the movie Braveheart: F-R-E-E-D-O-M! My personal motives are several. One, I do it for emotional reasons. I grew up in Nepal, I care about the country, a lot. The way I have reacted to 2/1, I surprised even myself. I realized I cared about the country a whole lot. Second, the cause of peace, democracy and progress. Third, the larger global context. Some of the tools I have developed in the course of cultivating my blog could be used on a larger scale, I think. Reorganized UN, Proposed Constitution, Methods. Check this out, and let me know what you think of it. Do you think this could have wider implications?

From day one, I have kept my name and identity very public. I don't believe I am taking risks. I feel like I am in a rather unique position to contribute to the cause of peace in Nepal. My distance, that I am in America, actually helps. I have been fair to all three warring factions. And I have kept all my comments public. That transparency helps me build some trust. Naturally, I belong with the democrats. But I have been super critical of them as well. And I have praised the Monarchists and the Maoists when I felt praise was due.

And my reach is more than at the level of ideas and analysis and policy positions. Prince Paras is my high school classmate. Although we are not in touch, I have a friend who I have stayed in touch, who is in touch with the prince, but so far that has not been a political channel. I count democrats like Hridayesh Tripathy and Rajendra Mahto among my former colleagues. I could pick up the phone and talk to them any time, and I do as often as feasible. Through them, I have talked to several other democrats. I might be unique in singing praises of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and his wife. Their progressivism amazes me in a positive way. Dinesh Prasain, a major human rights activist, is a high school roommate. He and his friends run the INSN blog that got blocked in Nepal only a few days back. Dinesh, on the other hand, is at risk. But he does not go into Nepal until the ground reality has changed. Which is what he will do, and as long as that is the case, he is not at risk either.

But I have always presented this blog as a fourth force. A small so far, but a fourth force. I am not a mouthpiece of any political party in Nepal. I am a lone shark. I hope this helps me cultivate some common ground.

My blog is not journalism. This is political work. This is a serious career move for me. I have never been more politically involved before. I have never attempted anything more politically ambitious before. It is just that because I am doing it online, over email and the phone, because I am telecommuting rather than being on the ground in person, to some people I could not be that serious. The internet is the new, big reality. It makes geography much less relevant.

My message is peace, democracy, social justice, economic growth. My attempt has been to reach the leaders in all three factions. My blog is less one of those widely read blogs like Daily Kos and Instapundit, and more like newsletters that get circulated among insiders on Wall Street. It is being read, it has been read by the key people in all three camps. But my influence comes with limitations because the only thing I have to offer is ideas and analysis, I do not hold political power within the context of the ongoing conflict.

First, I am wondering when you began your blog and what exactly prompted it. Do you happen to know how many people visit on a daily basis? How do you come upon your news stories? Do they come from other sources or events you witnessed? Did you ever see anything that you wanted to write about but did not for fear of repraisals from the government? Have you been in fear for your safety because of your blog? Finally, what is it like to be a journalist in Nepal right now? Can you travel about freely and identify yourself or do you need to keep a low profile?

I had a thread at That was long before 2/1. There I discussed Nepal's precarious political situation with anyone who showed up there. Within weeks after 2/1, it was obvious to me my involvement was expanding rather rapidly. And so I set up this blog, which is so easy to do, as you must know. The blog got launched some time in February.

I have not put a page hits counter at my blog. But I do display Google Ads. I have a mechanism to measure how many ads got displayed on any one day. That figure also I only chance upon once every few months. There have been days when upwards of 400 Google ads got displayed on the blog. But that has not been the norm.

I get my news primarily through Google News. But I also visit the INSN site regularly. And a few others. All of those are linked to from my blog and are prominently displayed on the front page.

I am not in Nepal. I am a New Yorker. Some of your other questions do not apply to me. The United We Blog people might be in a much better position to answer those. But I also get on the phone as often as I can. To get people's feedback, and ideas. And see what they are thinking. I am not in the business of getting scoops, more into offering tactics and strategies. Although I did get the scoop on Baburam' release from Maoist protective custody from Hridayesh Tripathy who was in Delhi at the time.

I was in Nepal last year conducting research, and it is amazing to me all the changes that have occurred in this short time. My project won't reach international acclaim by any stretch, but I would like to present this at a national conference at the end of the year and hopefully raise awareness about Nepali bloggers and the situation in Nepal. I hope to hear from you soon.

Please do spread the word. All the best to you. Thank you.



Ally Mead
Cornell University

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