Blogging and journalism: it’s a graph, not a line

Romenesko is linking to this from Adam Lashinsky at Fortune:

I’ve been coming around to the opinion that bloggers are just journalists and that the oft-discussed distinctions aren’t meaningful. Let’s just say I’m in the minority. Old-school readers can’t stand these folks for their perceived lack of standards, and the new crowd (my panelists were no younger than I am) wants nothing to do with fuddy-duddy readers. I’m willing to make the same prediction about blogging that I made 10 years ago about “Internet” companies: In 10 years there won’t be an distinction. Blogging will be part of the multi-media spectrum.

So let’s repeat this once more.

Being a blogger does not make you a journalist any more than being a journalist makes you a blogger.

Journalists can (and more and more, they do) blog. People who have blogs are not typically writing journalism but have the opportunity — thanks to the technology — to perform acts of journalism and see them reach a wide public.

Lashinsky wants to erase the line between “journalist” to “blogger,” but it’s not a line, it’s a classic four-quadrant graph. There’s an X axis from “not blogging at all” to “blogging all the time,” and there’s a Y axis from, say, “writes the equivalent of a private diary” to “writes exclusively about public affairs.”

Calling blogging “part of the multimedia spectrum” speaks to the pro journalist’s perspective, for whom the blog is just one more form to explore. That’s a relatively minor aspect of blogging; the real excitement lies in the far wider reaches of the blogosphere that are filled with non-journalists who are beginning to figure out that journalism is no longer a closed guild.

I tried to explain this when I started my blog in July, 2002, and still think the explanation holds:

Bloggers can be journalists any time they practice journalism by actually trying to find out the truth about a story. A journalist can be a blogger by installing some blogging software and beginning to post. These words should be labels for activities, not badges of tribal fealty.

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  1. Christov

    I think I agree with you, but you are leaving out the biggest issue of all–what, exactly is a journalist? Someone is not a journalist because they cover public affairs. A dedication to finding out the truth is one part of it, but also is not a sufficient condition for being a journalist. Being a journalist means following a set of ethical guidelines, procedures and practices that have historically been found to get the reader closest to the truth in a way that is fair to all parties. A dedication to finding out the truth doesn’t make me a journalist, just as a dedication to justice in the form of punching the guy who insulted me doesn’t make me a part of the legal system. It’s they network of established practices that makes a journalist. Americans don’t like procedures, and journalists don’t like to think of themselves as part of a system, so this idea may not find much acceptance.

    I think eventually there needs to be an established code for journalism, and if someone claims to practice journalism they have to follow the code and put this claim on their website. All this talk of “standards” is too diffuse. Let’s make the standards explicit for all in a simple form that doesn’t take enrollment in J school to understand.


  2. “Journalism is a process, not a product.”

    That’s been my best explanation of what you are talking about above Scott.

    To the commenter above. I think SPJ has a good set of guidlines:

    But it’s not something you can “enforce.” Journalism is a process of “collecting information, filtering information, distributing information” – and adding value.

    You need to be accurate, fair and thorough. (objectivity is a lie).

    But this is not something you can enforce – there are no J-police except the readers – and luckily the readers can now bite back really easily and enforce this themselves.

    The only problem is that now the appearance of a scandal is just as bad as a real scandal. Other than that – game on!

  3. Christov

    I agree that there are currently no J-police. But if there were a guild or organization, perhaps the spj, that would provide a good-housekeeping seal of approval to those that promised to follow certain guidelines, and you had an ombudsperson to address complaints by readers and other journalists, you actually would have a system that policed itself and enforced a certain level of quality.Hmm, sounds like a project for some high-powered, bought-out journalists.


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