I was part of a very interesting discussion some time ago among some lifestyle bloggers. The question we batted around was “Is a blogger really a journalist?” There are important implications depending on the way you answer that question.
What was my opinion? As a “mommy blogger,” I do not consider myself to be a journalist. To me, that’s taking upon myself a professional title that I haven’t earned. Merriam-Webster defines a journalist as “A person engaged in journalism, which is the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio.”
Admittedly, some bloggers are also journalists, but most of us are not.
To me, it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of things. We know instinctively what constitutes blogging and what constitutes journalism.
A quick rundown of differences:
- Journalism is almost always a paying job as in, you are an employee of some type of official media outlet (newspaper, station, network, etc.). Blogging is generally a hobby or creative outlet, although it can be monetized. Getting paid or compensated for posting on your blog doesn’t suddenly turn you into a professional journalist; it simply means you’ve turned a past-time into a money-maker (good job, by the way!).
- Journalists are subject to rigorous media standards like in-depth research, fact-checking, keeping meticulous records of interviews and conversations, getting all sides of a story and other such requirements. Bloggers are not officially subject to any of these restrictions. Sure, it’s nice when a blogger does his due diligence and cites all sources, but it’s certainly not expected and definitely not consistently done. Nor do most bloggers have any legal or professional ramifications to fear if they do not do all the above.
- Journalists may be required to have certain credentials, affiliations or degrees. But anyone can publish a blog.
- Journalists (objectively, we hope) collect, write about, and edit news. Bloggers (subjectively) write about what they are thinking, feeling and doing. When a blogger does share “news,” it is not in an official capacity, nor is he subject to any of the standards or sources mentioned above.
Why do a lot of people argue that bloggers really are journalist? There are two reasons, I think:
#1 Bloggers considered themselves to be part of “the Media” because they are publicly publishing content. Although bloggers can certainly influence news reporting, and even serve as eyewitnesses, it’s still a big reach to say that a blogger is a journalist. A federal judge in 2011 actually ruled against a blogger who blasted an attorney online and then tried to make the case that she was “whistle-blowing” as a professional journalist and deserved the standard protections offered to the media. The judge pointed out that the blogger in question had no media credentials or news entity affiliations, and there was no evidence she had thoroughly checked facts or gotten all sides of the story before publishing.
Engaging in some of the same activities that journalists engage in (such as publishing content) does not make you a journalist any more than engaging in some of the same activities that doctors do (diagnosing and treating illnesses in your child, for example) makes you a doctor!
#2 Mistrust and dissatisfaction with the mainstream news outlets has caused many to view bloggers as “citizen journalists.” With no ties to “the establishment,” there’s this idea that bloggers can give us more honest, unvarnished content. But I would argue that still doesn’t make you a journalist. It just means you are a blogger that has attracted a following because you share facts and opinions skillfully, consistently and honestly and thus have become a trusted voice.
Words have meanings. It aggravates me when people use inaccurate words to describe themselves. As a blogger, it might make you feel more “professional” to call yourself a journalist, but in reality pinning this label on yourself is unfair to real journalists who are subject to a lot of stringent requirements. Many of them have spent years in training and have even earned degrees in the field. It’s a professional distinction that I feel Joe Blogger shouldn’t just grab for himself without cause.
I realize that journalism is changing, and the definition has broadened, but still. A blogger is a blogger and a journalist is a journalist. You can be one or the other, or both at the same time…..but they are not the same thing.
Every time I post at my family blog I’m thankful that I do not have to rigorously fact-check, conduct interviews, do in-depth research or keep records of conversations before posting about my daughter’s lastest potty training adventures!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think bloggers qualify as journalists? Or is this term used too broadly?