Bloggers v. journalists, and other false dichotomies

Over at Matt Dickman’s Techno/Marketer blog there’s a good conversation going on about blogs v. journalists, journalism v. citizen journalism and other issues.

Matt asked the following questions:

  • Can a newspaper include blogger content and have editorial separation?
  • Are bloggers and journalists separate anymore?
  • If they are, are they bound by the same code of ethics?
  • Does paying the bloggers create the conflict of interest?
  • Do you think the Plain Dealer would have pulled an editorial piece under pressure from a politician?
  • Can traditional newspapers survive against pressure from citizen journalism?
  • What if no money had changed hands and the bloggers just contributed? Does that change things?

Well, here’s my soapbox … er answer.

A blog is a medium, not a type of writing. Someone is a blogger because they write in a blog. That writing can be as neutral and as fact-based as what we hope for in other forms of journalism or it can be as opinionated and non-fact-based as it wants. These people appear to have been hired because of their partisan opinions not because they are bloggers. If you substitute the word writer for blogger I find that most of these questions answer themselves.

• Can a newspaper include writer content and have editorial separation?

Yep. They’re called columnists. If reporters choose to include content from blogs then they must disclose information about the blog as they would with any source (“a liberal think-tank” “a company spokesman”)

• Are writers and journalists separate anymore?

Let’s ask if you can you be a writer and not a journalist? Yes. A journalist has to be someone trying to discover and publish facts in as honest and balanced a way as possible. Many writers do this, some are journalists and some are not.

• If they are, are they bound by the same code of ethics?

Are all writers bound by journalism’s code of ethics? No. But if a blog writer wishes to have his or her work considered as journalism then he or she has to do whatever is necessary to disclose all possible conflicts of interest. Just like if I’m trying to get a friend to believe me a product is great I make it clear if I stand to profit from the use or sale of that product.

• Does paying the writers create the conflict of interest?

No. It just means that the paper is treating these people as they would any other contributors. Writers should get paid for their work.

• Do you think the Plain Dealer would have pulled an editorial piece under pressure from a politician?

Maybe, but only if was marked as news and not as opinion. If a piece in the paper is clearly marked as opinion and doesn’t contain libel or slander then no paper worth the name would have pulled the column.

• Can traditional newspapers survive against pressure from citizen journalism?

Does this mean that what newspapers publish is non-citizen journalism? As a journalist, I’ve never seen much difference between these two ideas. One person has a branded venue and was hired to work there because his or her employer thinks he or she has the needed expertise to write for them. A citizen journalist is just a journalist who works without someone else’s brand certification. If the citizen journalist is good enough then in time he or she will become known as a brand of quality. Or, as it is also called, a freelance journalist.

• What if no money had changed hands and the writers just contributed? Does that change things?

No. Newspapers make it clear that they don’t endorse the opinions of people whose writing they run for free (the letters page). They also should make it clear that they don’t endorse or support every opinion that is published when they pay for those opinions.

Are the folks who have written all those stupid stories about “Facebook is destroying the economy” journalists? Not by my standards. Are they bloggers? Not unless one turns to a blog for a lack of perspective. Are they paid reporters? Apparently.

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5 thoughts on “Bloggers v. journalists, and other false dichotomies

  1. Con — Thank you so much for your input on this issue. I was hoping that a traditional journalist would weigh in to widen this conversation. I really appreciate the enormous effort that you put in to your response. You’ve confirmed a LOT of the notions that I have, but may not be shared on a wider section of journalism/blogging.

  2. Con, nice summary.

    I confess I don’t get why people are having such a hard time with these concepts. Traditional media outlets are no less diverse than blogs in terms of reliability, accuracy, analysis, agenda, etc. (Are the National Enquirer’s writers ‘journalists’ just because they do a newpaper on newsprint?)

    It’s all about what you’re putting out there, regardless of the medium.

  3. I just blogged about conflicts of interest in the mainline media. It might be interesting to think about whether there are such conflicts on-line.

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