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)