Journalists vs. bloggers: Round 16

Christopher Allbritton, a freelance journalist and former reporter for the AP and the New York Daily News, does not want us to call him a blogger. He does have a blog, but he is a journalist, and he wants to keep that distinction good and clear. You can read why in his blog post on the subject.

I have no argument with Allbritton. His post brought to mind an older post at another blog — a post I’ve assigned to my journalism students to read, as they prepare to launch their own blogs for my class.

Steve Johnson probably shouldn’t be called a blogger either — he’s written five successful nonfiction books, including Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005) and Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (1997). Johnson wrote a post last year titled “Five things all sane people agree on about blogs and mainstream journalism,” and I’m requiring my students to read it so they don’t drive me crazy by writing about these things that have been written about a thousand times already.

Johnson’s post is quite short, so I’m only quoting one of the five items here:

(4) Professional, edited journalism will have a much higher signal-to-noise ratio than blogging; examples of sloppy, offensive, factually incorrect, or tedious writing will be abundant in the blogosphere. But diamonds in that rough will be abundant as well.

It’s fine with me if Allbritton wants to emphasize that MOST blogs are NOT journalism. Equally fine if he hates to be called a blogger. I won’t call him one.

If you add up every word in one day’s newspaper, how many of them are journalism?

If you sort all the newspapers in the world into two stacks — good journalism in one stack, not good or not journalism in the other — which stack will be taller?

Some blogs have journalism in them some of the time. ’Nuff said.

(Link to Allbritton’s post via Martin Stabe.)

11 Comments on “Journalists vs. bloggers: Round 16

  1. In reality, though, isn’t he both a blogger and a journalist? The way I see it, blogging is the medium, journalism is the genre… or something to that effect. After all, I’m a blogger but I don’t see myself as a journalist because the subjects that I typically cover don’t seem to fit well into the category of journalism. And whether he likes it or not, I consider Allbriton to be both a journalist and a blogger.

    To me, saying “journalists vs. bloggers” is like saying “journalists vs. newspaper writers”.

  2. Meg, I do think you are on to something here. I read that post of Allbritton’s earlier this week and thought it a bit funny.

    Yes, I hold journalists and bloggers to different standards: I see blogs mainly as conversation and judge journalists by the standard of their reporting.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t use a blog to do reporting, after all a blog is just a publishing platform, and you can do great reporting via a blog – as along as you stay true to the format.

    For my own part, I’m both a blogger and a reporter, and those are two very different kind of roles, yet they feed and inform each other.

    At times they are conflicting: like when other journalists try to cast me as a representative for the blogosphere, yet I am also a media reporter in real life – that can lead to tricky situations where I’d rather not comment for fear or misrepresenting the issue.

    Still, I’m very comfortable with both identities, they overlap to some extent, and I’m struggling a bit to get to Allbrittons problem, but, if we try interpret his post in the best possible way: maybe it’s just that he feels Jay Rosen is mixing his cards a bit, which would be a valid point. And yet, it is, to continue on Meg’s line or reasoning here, a bit like saying that I write features, but am not a feature writer because I was trained as a news reporter, or not?

  3. Mindy, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “If you add up every word in one day’s newspaper, how many of them are journalism?” Not many actually due to budget cuts in many newsrooms. The main stories maybe, but many are just reworded press releases from company PR people, or pieces written by local freelancers that have loose ties themselves to journalism.

    I think journalists who have traditionally worked for print sources in a physical space such as a newsroom, feel that transitioning to the web has somehow cheapened their craft. Fortunately, students in today’s journalism programs have no such distinction. To them, good journalism is good journalism no matter what the medium of distribution.

  4. David and Mindy: red rag to a bull on this one. I think you are mistaken to restrict the definition of “journalism” to so-called “hard news” which appears in the early general sections of most newspapers, or at the top of broadcast bulletins. This negates the work of more than 50% of hardworking journalists around the world who bring their audiences reports on science, food, arts, technology, education and loads of other fun and diversionary stuff. Journalists write and edit obituaries, letters pages, leaders and op-ed, horoscopes, gig guides, sport and horse racing results, music reviews, vox pops, travel stories and crosswords. We do gossip columns, pointers, fact boxes, indexes, headlines and interesting layouts (packages on broadcast) anywhere in the publication/bulletin.

    It’s a very diverse thing, our business, and I think it’s reached the stage of maturity where we can legitimately refer to how we as professionals practice “journalisms” … our audiences look to us to take them out of the boxes of their everyday lives, not keep them in because we can’t find the way out of our own box, imposed largely by capitalist industrialists and 19th century/20th century technologies. of course bloggers are journalists.

  5. “Fortunately, students in today’s journalism programs have no such distinction. To them, good journalism is good journalism no matter what the medium of distribution.”

    Boy, I wish. In publications where some content goes in print and some on web, I have, in my (admittedly limited) experience always encountered the web being used as a consolation prize for stories not quite ‘good enough’ for the print editions.

    When students file news for the newspaper I edit, one of their first questions will be ‘will it be in the print version?’.

    The fact anyone can make a website for free will always mean that web content is considered ‘cheaper’ by both creator and consumer.

  6. John, I never said journalism means “hard news” to me. I completely agree that science, food, arts, technology, education and much more can be the stuff of real, solid journalism. The stuff I would label “not journalism” includes advice columns (a la Dear Abby) and real estate features that are actually shameless promotions for developers or decorators, for example. In spite of the shrinking news hole, some newspapers stuff themselves to the gills with syndicated filler.

  7. Meg, Kristine — I would say a person can be both a journalist and a blogger. I would say one can do journalism in a blog, but very few out of all blogs contain any journalism — or try to. People are using blogs for all kinds of subjects and purposes, and so there’s not much point in trying to come up with one definition to enclose all blogs.

    That said, I don’t see much benefit in debating the labels. If someone does not want to be labeled as a blogger, I won’t argue!

  8. Geez, I thought Jay Rosen had already settled this. 😉 Seriously, I can’t muster enough anger or angst to debate this simplistic “professional” who wants to separate himself from the masses (who, by the way, keep his bills paid through their patronage of the advertisers in his publication).

    I’m happy for anyone who deigns to don the mantle of “journalist” without the added designation of “blogger,” but bristle when they suggest the two can’t mix, or that a “blogger” can’t also be a “journalist.”

  9. Pingback: Students, get money to blog « Reportr.net

  10. Mindy,

    I agree. Allbriton can call himself anything he wants.

    However, I am concerned about why he’s so adamant about it. I get the impression that he and many journalists see “blogger” as a derogatory term. And if fact, I’ve heard more than a couple news commentators talk about “bloggers” negatively and as if we were all the same.

    I’d like to see more journalists be proud of being bloggers. I, personally, have a lot of respect for professional bloggers that aren’t afraid to use this new medium.

    However, the more that talented writers distance themselves from their fellow bloggers, the harder it may be to show to others that not all bloggers are emo high schoolers ranting about their troubles (nothing personal against them, but I dislike being mislabed, too).

    ————

    David,

    I love what you said: “Fortunately, students in today’s journalism programs have no such distinction. To them, good journalism is good journalism no matter what the medium of distribution.” I do hope that is the case (and I suspect that is true to some degree).

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