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Is a blogger a journalist?

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blogger_vs_journalistThe better question may be, is your blog reliable?

What makes a journalist a journalist? Can a blogger be considered a journalist? More to the point, are you treating your blog as if it were a reliable news source?

Before working in inbound marketing, I spent the previous decade working in news radio. Bloggers had opinions and occasionally could provide analysis, but bloggers were not considered journalists. The term journalist was reserved for people who worked for a traditional media outlet.

When you Google the word journalist, the default answer given is one that you may expect to hear from the traditional media world. It says a journalist is, “a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television.” But, if you go to the Miriam Webster Dictionary (on their site) it will tell you a journalist is, “a writer or editor for a news medium, a writer who aims at a mass audience,” or simply, “a person who keeps a journal.”

Looking at that first definition, one may ask, “why does it matter where they work?” When you contrast it with the second definition, that question gets even harder to answer. For example, let’s say there’s a hypothetical company that is working on a new development that will revolutionize their industry. As part of the project, this company has assigned to someone the task of recording and posting the events of the day as the project unfolds. Upon completion of the project, this person publishes, on the company’s blog, everything they did. Is that person not a journalist? They have accurately recorded events and distributed them to the world. They just didn’t do it for the New York Times.

Almost every item I could find researching this topic included the sentence, “I’ve been a journalist for” and then fill in the number of years they’ve been a journalist. Keep in mind a few things when you read that sentence. First, it comes from a place of perceived superiority. It reads as if to say, “I’m in a special club, and this club’s membership is all but closed.” Granted, most of these journalists likely went to journalism school. There is a lot to be said for that. They have made it their life’s work to learn, not only how to write, but how to responsibly collect and verify the information they share. They have also learned how to sift through that information to find what is relevant to the story and what is not. They have learned the intricacies and nuances that make a journalist a journalist, but, journalism school is not what is in the definition of a journalist.

That means the inferred “club” has solely to do with employment, which is a dangerous proposition in today’s world. In his media watchdog column, Watching the Watchdog, Tim Knight wrote that he doesn’t believe citizen journalists exist. Knight wrote, “Journalists are different from other people. We're trained to report on all sides without fear or favour. We're trained to serve the people, not the powers that be -- which includes governments and our unions and our political beliefs and the nice people who sign our cheques.” While this sentiment is amiable, it is also hyper-contradictory. First of all, being beholden to political beliefs has caused a large segment of America to lose faith in journalism altogether, leading to a demand for citizen journalism. Second, everyone is, to one extent or another, beholden to the “nice people that sign their cheques.” If a journalist is only a journalist if they work for a major news outlet, than that journalist needs to be beholden to the people that sign their check or they will be out of a job, and by Mr. Knight’s description, will cease to be journalists. Add to that, this day and age of media consolidation, and it gets even more precarious. The number of jobs available in television, radio, and traditional print is continually shrinking, while the number of newsworthy events grows.

Knight continues, “Our first, last and only important responsibility is to be trustworthy servants of the people and their right to know the truth about what's happening in their world.” Setting aside the high-and-mighty mentality that he and his approved ilk are the only ones capable of reporting the truth, how can a shrinking number of journalists continue to effectively cover, report, or expose the truth without triaging one story over another, or more to the point, one truth over another? Servants though they may be, they are still subject to the time space continuum, which leaves a lot of the events of the world uncovered.

Knight also wrote, “It's a matter of professional trust. Over time they've earned the trust of their colleagues, their bosses and their audiences.” This raises a few big questions for me. Assuming they still have the public’s trust (and that is a pretty big assumption), how much time does it take to develop that trust? Does a former journalist turned blogger retain the public trust? What did journalists do before they had worked the requisite time to build that trust? And I’m not talking about beat writers here, I’m talking about journalism as an industry. Also, can’t that imply that bloggers have the potential to be journalists in their infancy?

Journalist Saleem Khan holds a different opinion than Knight. In a column on quora.com, Khan addresses the question of whether or not a blogger is a journalist and said it is often a question of process. Khan wrote, “the key difference between bloggers and journalists is one of process. Bloggers tend to offer opinion and analysis that links to news stories reported by mainstream media, while professional journalists tend to gather and report facts and opinion from expert sources.” Khan went on to talk about how most journalists have taken up blogging either as a more relaxed form of communication, or as a “behind the scenes” view of the process inside the story. He continued, “while all journalists may be bloggers, not all bloggers may be journalists. That does not preclude bloggers from committing an act of journalism.” Or journalists from committing an act of blogging, I suppose.

(Not to get off topic, but I wonder if a journalist blogging about process isn’t journalism in and of itself. The process plays into the finished product and allowing the reader into that process could easily change their perception of the story.)

While Knight submits that one must be employed by a news outlet to be a journalist, Khan suggests that the process that goes into the reporting of a story is what makes a journalist. Some U.S. courts have taken on cases that involve aspects of the overall debate, but never the root question of is a blogger a journalist. In fact, one of the biggest cases taken on, Obsidian Finance Group vs. Crystal Cox, was a great example of blogging being the polar opposite of journalism. However, that case has been used as the basis for countless opinions on why bloggers are or are not journalists or should be afforded the same protections as journalists.

Getting back to Khan’s column, he concludes with, “I view bloggers vs. journalists as a largely irrelevant debate, particularly in terms of audience/community engagement because people vote with their attention. The real question: How do we ensure that people get the news and information they need to be effective, responsible citizens, irrespective of whether they seek it from bloggers, journalists or some other source?”

I agree with Khan and feel this is the crux of the argument that we should all take back to our pages. When blogging for your company, you should treat it with the same level of respect as journalists do for their craft. There should be an expectation of, if not a demand for, truth. While no one can take themselves or their company completely out of their writing, there should still be a level of objectivity that brings credence to what you write. There should be the opportunity to build the same level of trust with your site that there is with a newspaper.

As for a resolution to the question of “is a blogger a journalist” I think we’re nowhere near a definitive answer. Journalists have worked for years to earn that title and are feeling intruded upon by new media. Meanwhile, not all bloggers assume the responsibility of journalistic integrity. Personally, I feel it is up to the blogger to raise the bar. Earn the reputation. Point to your work and challenge anyone to find fault in it. Live up to the standards in your blog that are required for print, and your brand will see positive results.

Introduction To Business Blogging

Topics: Content Creation

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