Should journalists be licensed? Should they be given some sort of special card that says they have undergone the rigorous training necessary to objectively report the news, and thus be given special access to government officials, sporting events, and other newsworthy goings-on?
Christine St-Pierre, Quebec’s culture minister, believes so. She is creating a plan for “a new model of regulation of Quebec media.”
In other words, she wants the government to determine who is worthy of being a “journalist,” and thus excluding people who don’t work for traditional media outlets.
As in, not bloggers.
It’s a familiar refrain: newspaper writers and other big-J Journalists don’t like bloggers. We’re not real journalists, they say. We haven’t had the education or training. We’re not held to the same rigorous editing and writing standards that they are. And so, this makes them the arbiter of deciding what is real journalism and what isn’t.
Australian writer and web developer Aaron Holesgrove echoes St-Pierre’s sentiments, claiming some moral high ground that bloggers may not occupy, simply because we don’t work for newspapers or TV stations.
We’re not objective. We present opinion as fact. We use anonymous sources.
I guess in that sense, most cable news stations aren’t journalism either. Neither Keith Olberman and Sean Hannity are objective, and both present opinion as fact. And as far as anonymous sources go, I see them quoted in news articles all the time. They’re the ones called “someone familiar with the facts” or “someone not at liberty to speak to the media.”
But there are plenty of bloggers who report the news objectively. They report on nothing but facts. They don’t use anonymous sources any more than the real newspapers. And when it comes to writing and editing, they’re the masters of their craft.
The American Reporter is an online-only newspaper that, by the strictest definition, could be considered a blog. They’re the first Internet-only newspaper, as well as the largest online alternative newspaper. But they’re a newspaper first, and a blog second. So what does that make them? (Full disclosure: I’ve been their humor columnist since 1997.)
Apparently You Lose Your Journalism Card When You Go Online
So what’s the deciding factor between a journalist and an online hack who is looked down upon by the very people he seeks to emulate? Is it the writer’s employer? Are we journalists because we’re paid by newspapers and TV stations? Are we non-journalists because we’re freelancers and free writers? Is it our education, or lack thereof? And what about the people who used to be journalists but aren’t any longer?
There are plenty of examples here in Central Indiana of people who took their work from the print and broadcast world to the online world. They were laid off or removed from their positions, found a home online, and became bloggers.
Ruth Holladay, former firecracker columnist for the Indianapolis Star has held her former employer’s feet to the fire for more than four years now on her own blog. Paul Poteet is a former meteorologist for WRTV, the local ABC affiliate, and found a second home online, parlaying his TV celebrityship into an online presence most of us would kill for.
But neither of them work for the large media conglomerates that once employed them. Does that mean that they are no longer worthy of the term “journalist?” Did Ruth have to hand in her journalist card when she started publishing her words online? Did Paul get suddenly struck stupid, and no longer able to read a weather map, when he left his TV station?
On the national scale, a couple years ago the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Denver Times became online-only newspapers. The P-I folded their print edition and went online only, while the Denver Times was born out of the ashes of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.
No one would (seriously and credibly) argue that these two newspapers are no longer journalistic sources just because they are online-only. And yet, there are people who will say that Holladay and Poteet are no longer journalists because they’re not employed by large media conglomerates.
So where does that line get drawn? I’m a professional blogger, but I’ve published a newspaper column for nearly 18 years. Am I only a journalist when my words appear on dead trees? Or do I carry that mantle and responsibility in every kind of writing, including here?
Bloggers Are the Pamphleteers of Old
Back in the 1700s, pamphleteers were those people who wanted to express their opinions to a large group of people, and did so in their own proprietary platform. Today’s bloggers are yesterday’s pamphleteers — we don’t have access to the machines or process to broadcast our opinions via mass media, but we do have the communication channels through WordPress, Blogger, Posterous, and about 40 other blog platforms.
We use blogs to express our opinions and stories, the same way Thomas Paine expressed his support for the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
Is blogging messy? Yes.
Is it prone to misuse and abuse? Of course.
Do we make mistakes or go overboard in our opinions? You bet.
I see the same thing from professional journalists too. Slanted news stories, over-hyping and sensationalizing news (and weather!), and even plagiarism and fabrication (anyone remember Jayson Blair?).
Still, I think journalists hold themselves to their self-imposed standards, while most bloggers do not. That’s what makes journalism an institution to be trusted as reporter and watchdog. But if bloggers want to be taken seriously as a form of communication, we need to step up and start following those practices as well.
In the meantime, you big-J journalists, blogging isn’t going to go away. No matter how much you deride the form, it’s only getting bigger and more powerful. You know what’s going away? Print media. You have a choice. Teach us how to do it right, teach us how to do it well, so you have a place to land when your employer figures out that two 20-somethings can do your job for a fraction of your salary.
To paraphrase an old quote by writer Rex Huppke, “It’s funny when journalists mock (blogging). It’s also funny when people about to be eaten by a bear mock the bear.”
Bloggers who want to be journalists need to step up their game. Journalists who are destined to be bloggers need to get over themselves. Because one day, just like newspapers replaced pamphleteers, blogging is going to do the same thing to the newspapers.
Photo credit: Manin The Moon (Flickr)
Further to my previous post, I forgot to mention I wrote my own post recently about the melding of journalism and marketing, here:
What if you are both a blogger and a journalist? :) Both my husband and I have degrees in Journalism, and both maintain blogs. As for myself, I am keeping up a blog as part of a business school project; for my husband, he maintains a blog on behalf of his employer. While I don’t consider myself a journalist (since I’ve worked in the commercial real estate industry for the past 10 years now and not in Journalism), I certainly don’t think it’s necessary to qualify bloggers in the name of upholding journalistic standards. Especially when many journalists themselves don’t do a good job of this (as evidenced by the above-referenced examples in your article above coupled with the fact that our local newspaper is commonly riddled with both grammatical and fact errors).
Sounds to me like Christine St. Pierre is having a hard time grasping the nature of the changes that have taken place in the way people are communicating today. She’s probably seen a lot of her fellow coworkers lose their jobs due to layoffs and the restructuring of the media industry. And it’s probable that she is fast-becoming nostalgic about the lack of quality writing available on the web, or in print publications for that matter. But more than anything, what’s happening here is that she’s watching the culture she once knew rapidly change and shift info something new and different right before her very eyes, and this is her (ill-fated) attempt to slow or stop that reality from occurring.
I agree with most of what you said, although I question whether education is necessarily a good qualifier to be a journalist. After all, I’ve been a newspaper humor columnist for almost 18 years, but I don’t have a journalism degree. I have been paid for it though, but not for the first several years. So was I a journalist then? I was published in real newspapers, but was not getting paid. (That’s a whole different post.) I do have a degree in Philosophy though. Does this automatically make me a philosopher? (I’m a marketer, which makes a professional bullshitter, but now I’m on the applied side of BS. My degree is on the theoretical side.)
And what about former newspaper writers who turn into speechwriters, PR professionals, and even novelists. Can they, should they really call themselves novelists? Why can’t professionally-trained and college educated speechwriters, PR pros, and novelists look down their noses at these former journalists and say they’re not “real” speechwriters, flaks, and novelists? Should they?
After all, there are speechwriting degrees, PR majors, and MFAs. The journalists learned how to write for newspapers, magazines, and TV. You could argue that writing is writing, but they don’t have the necessary training to write speeches for politicians, organize press campaigns, or to write creative fiction. Yet no one but the snootiest of those groups would ever deny that the journalists cannot and are not worthy of calling themselves by this new occupation.
(Hmm. Maybe this should be a new blog post. Thanks for the idea!)
There’s no mystery here. It’s simple English and logic- you either hold a degree in Journalism or you have written a journalistic piece for an employer (virtual or “IRL”) been paid and spent that payment on something concrete (like a power bill). If you have done neither you are not a journalist by a sensible definition of the word. Not enough bloggers get the respect that they want and to be honest there are a lot out there that don’t deserve it, however if you look into the world of broadcast and print journalism there’s not a lot out there who get the respect they want either, although many get the respect they don’t deserve. From a business point of view it makes sense to lock up shop and go online. A newspaper no longer needs the liquid assets to invest in printers, paper boys and ink. I personally subscribe to Vanity Fair on my iPad… does that make the writers at VF any less than they are? No. I think these image issues will iron themselves out in the not so distant future, until then it’s dog eat dog out there. There’s thousands of bloggers, if you want to be recognized then have something to say and say it well.–jumps off soapbox
Great post, Erik. What I’ve found disturbing is an argument that some are making the other way, that “Journalism is Dead” because we have blogging, so we don’t need news outlets we’ve known up to this point (TV, radio, newspapers) or “traditional” journalists anymore. There’s plenty of room for both. I think we still need those news outlets that help frame the issue for people to understand. Sometimes it’s completely biased (hello, Fox News), but we still need journalism to help us choose where we stand. If blogging is going to have a seat at the journalism table – which I believe it deserves to have and doesn’t need some special license – it needs to be thoughtful, original content that helps gives our audience a clearer picture of the issue at hand.
I suppose my issue is more with aggregators that just find a whole bunch of stuff on the web on a given topic, repost it and call it “news.” Whether bloggers or traditional “journalists,” we still need help deciphering the meaning of current events/trends from authorities we can trust. Do you need a special designation for that either way? Heck no.
I posted on this a while back if you’re interested in checking it out:
Obviously, these folks forgot how newspapers started. :)