The question as to whether bloggers are journalists is a much-debated and indeed over-blogged one. Try googling the phrase are bloggers journalists and you will quickly find that almost all of the results at the top have the same title and all lead to articles where an extensive examination is carried out on the topic. It makes no difference then, if I did the same. What I want to do instead is, in giving out my opinion, also comment on what I have read so far on the idea of bloggers as journalists.
One reason, perhaps, why the issue is on an all-time high at the moment is because of the Apple Asteroid, a yet-unreleased product which Apple Inc., claims is its trade secret. The big question was thrown to the public openly for the first time recently when three blogs,PowerPage, AppleInsider and ThinkSecret carried articles on the product which was never supposed to have fallen to public eyes. The catch? Can the bloggers take cover under laws protecting journalists and legally keep their sources confidential?
JOURNALISTS AND REPORTERS
Before we ask ourselves whether bloggers are journalists, we ought to ask ourselves who journalists really are. While the term is so often used and we all seem to know what it points to, we must confess that the clear-cut definition of the word is something we do not know as well as we think.
I am not saying this just as a conjecture or because I suddenly realised I did not know the meaning myself. Rather I make the statement with some responsibility: I tried researching for an answer and to find out what the difference between a journalist and a reporter really is. And I came up with nothing.
In fact, bloggers stand squarely in a long-standing journalistic tradition… their roots go back to the authors of the often-anonymous writings that helped to found America itself
Like most off the hand research attempts (which, personally, I do not advocate) I first went to google and what I found quite shocked me. It appeared as though half the world online was debating the same question. In the pith, nobody really knew what the difference was.
Said one answerer on Yahoo!:“Journalism is a process of gatekeeping–from writers to the editor.” He called it a series of gatekeepers. Then the same person went on to state that“Reporters are those who go out, find news stories, and report them through writing or broadcasting.” He then decided to go a step further by also comparing a blogger. “A blog author,” he said, “may very well be considered a reporter who is not practicing journalism (series of gatekeepers).”
In my opinion, this knowledgeable fellow, while appearing very clear on the topic of journalism, seemed to forget that a blogger who may very well be considered a reporter, will, on such consideration, indubitably also become a journalist. Thus the claim that he need not necessarily be practicing journalism fully breaks down.
REPORTERS AND BLOGGERS
After jumping around a few dozen websites looking for a straightforward answer, I decided to gather the facts and come up with an answer myself.
My procedure was simple: find out who a reporter is and what he does, then find out who a journalist is and what he does; and then put two and two together.
It was easier said than done; the whole picture then became clear to me: nobody knew the exact distinction between a reporter and a journalist in the true sense of the words.
Our friend from Yahoo! was right in saying reporters go out (although it makes them look like the only ones who really work!) The idea was that a reporter’s job mainly focuses on gathering the news, building sources in hisbeat, witness events and present information to his chosen type of mass media. A journalist collects and disseminates information about current events, people, trends and issues. While a journalist’s job is called journalism, a reporter is one type of journalist.
So the distinction was clear to me: a reporter is a journalist. All reporters are journalists, but the more important idea here is that all journalists are not reporters.
So now comes my argument against calling all bloggers journalists: journalists are of various types and if there was any point in calling a blogger a journalist (because the term would be a very broad categorisation) we would have to specify which type of journalist we have to compare him to. The answer is that a blogger, in our broad understanding of his activities, is closest to a reporter. A blogger, it would therefore make more sense to say,may be called a reporter.
To rephrase myself, a blogger may be called a journalist if, by the term, we refer to that category of journalists who perform the duties of a reporter. A blogger is, therefore, a journalist, in that he is comparable to a reporter. But the matter does not end here by any means.
LOOKING BACK AT BLOGGING
Blogging does not date back to a time even half as long as that which journalism dates back to. The earliest form of modern journalism can be tracked back to the year 1665, at which time the first regularly published, standard newspaper called the Oxford Gazette(later the London Gazette) came into print.
Modern blogging is a descendent of diary writing or journal keeping. This brings us to two words, diarist and journalist. (The latter refers to a person who maintains a personal journal and, it is needless to say, is not to be confused with the term journalist with reference to mass media.) Diarists/journalists around the early 1990s, with the advent of the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) language, slowly started a mass switch to the same job on the internet. In other words, they began maintaining a diary online. This meant they were to log onto the Web regularly, hence giving rise to the term Web logging which was later blended, after extensive colloquial usage, to blog.
Most blogs rely on other bloggers… this is part of the reason misinformation is spread so quickly online… how reliable is the information? How many degrees from the source of the information is the post you’re reading?
Justin Hall began a blog formally in 1994 when he was a student at Swarthmore College and he is regarded as one of the earliest bloggers in the business (if it may be called so) today.
But Professor Christopher B Daly of Boston University thinks otherwise. I recently happened to come across his article where he believes that ‘in fact, bloggers stand squarely in a long-standing journalistic tradition. In this country, their roots go back to the authors of the often-anonymous writings that helped to found America itself by encouraging the rebellion against Britain.’ He believes that this was the earliest recorded form of blogging, and it dates back to Thomas Jefferson!
WHAT DOES A BLOGGER DO?
At the moment I shall answer this question with respect to a personal blog (not a corporate blog) because that is all that concerns us. A personal weblog, while staying true to the meaning of the word, must really be a log of one’s life on a daily basis, it often veers away to become an effective means of communication between the blogger and the general public.
This means a blogger might want to maintain his unique, personal domain (no pun intended!) while delivering to the readers what they will find interesting to read. And, no matter what niche the blogger blogs in, his readers are nowadays looking to learn his views and often the right information regarding current developments in the niche.
This induces in the modern blogger a sense of responsibility; responsibility to deliver trustworthy news to his readers. So a blogger nowadays not only maintains a personal log/diary to entertain you, but also gives you the latest news. Take a look at most google search results and you will find that they are all weblogs.
Perhaps what will remove most doubt about the latter (that people rely on blogs for news these days and that blogs have a potential to keep up to this demand) is the statistics that, collectively, blogs on the internet have a far higher reach in terms of readership than traditional media! In fact, as of February this year, there were roughly 165 million blogs in existence!
The Gizmodo case
Back in April 2010, technology blog, Gizmodo, managed to obtain a confidential prototype of what was believed to be Apple’s next iPhone. They were skeptical at first but then managed to ascertain that it was the real thing, so they dis-assembled it and reviewed the whole gadget inside-out. The result was this controversial piece of writing on their website.
The device was apparently lost and found at the Gourmet Haus Staudt, a German beer hall in Redwood City, California, and Apple wanted it back. The abovementioned three bloggers also managed to get a hold and the next iPhone was all over the internet–something Apple had neither planned nor anticipated.
In no time a case was slammed over the bloggers and Apple wanted to know how they managed to lay their hands on the gadget, and the Californian judge trying them was faced with a new question: should he order them to give out their sources or should bloggers be allowed to keep up the confidentiality of their sources like journalists/reporters, all in the name of their job?
The case went on for a long time, the judge decided that bloggers could not take cover behind press-protective state laws and asked them to spill the beans. But the fever had caught on in the blogosphere.
BLOGGERS AS JOURNALISTS
We have not hand just a handful of bloggers reporting events today; in fact we have, as I said before, more bloggers reporting events than journalists. And bloggers are reporting it as much from the scene as journalists. Yet, what makes them different?
Remember the comment we heard above that bloggers do not have gatekeepers? That is what makes a blogger different.
The worry is that a blogger who does not research anything… (but) focuses only on his personal take on events… should call himself a journalist.
Los Angeles Times media critic, David Shaw, recently argued that bloggers should not be considered journalists because ‘they have no experience, they have no editors, and they have no standards.’
I beg to differ: any new journalist would also come under the first category because he still does not have any experience. Blogging is a field where we grow with experience, by writing, and journalism (or reporting, if you will,) is no different. I also believe it is terribly wrong to say a blogger does not have an editor. The essence of blogging is that a blogger is his own editor. The third point comes parenthetical to this one: a serious blogger, (we shall leave out those nincompoop ones) no matter what niche he blogs in, has standards of his own, standards he, himself, has set for himself, to conform to.
Perhaps journalists have an impression of superiority, a heightened sense of their job, that makes them so conservative about the use of that term; and perhaps calling bloggers journalists makes it appear to them like their job can be done by anybody and therefore they suddenly become defensive. Shaw’s statement clearly proves the fact to me. After all, calling all bloggers journalists mean adding another 165 million people to the journalist workforce!
CAN BLOGGERS BE TRUSTED?
Now whether bloggers can be trusted in the information they give us has been a brick wall behind which journalists have long taken refuge. Can bloggers be trusted as much as professional journalists in their delivering the news?
Whatever you or I may think ourselves, the fact speaks rather gravely. Statistics from a joint study by PRNewswire andPRWeek suggest that 91% of all bloggers turn to social networks eitheralways or sometimes for research purposes, as opposed to the 35% among reporters.
Also, 64% of bloggers and 36% online reporters look to Twitter in this regard, compared to a mere 19% newspaper reporters and 17% print magazine reporters. The catch here, as Jeremy Porter of Journalistics says, is that ‘most blogs rely on other bloggers–and anybody they find on social networks–as sources for their stories. This is part of the reason misinformation is spread so quickly online–many bloggers are copying each other… if bloggers are getting and sourcing all their information from other bloggers, how reliable is the information? How many degrees from the source of the information is the post you’re reading?’
BLOGGING IS DIFFERENT
It so happens that the subtleties that make blogging different also make it appear less trustworthy.
The major factor making blogging stand apart is the close contact between the writer and the reader. The writer can write, can receive comments from his readers and reply to them straight away doing two things in the process: one, involving the reader to be a part of the story, and two, letting down his guard as a trusted reporter because, as soon as he involves himself in a discussion, he gives away his personal opinion, making himself appear biased.
At least one of three bloggers is considered a legitimate journalist outside his web log.
A typical journalist, on the other hand, will never get in touch with his readers and neither will the readers directly do so. This makes the journalist’s own views completely invisible (for he cannot express himself in the newspaper or on live television.)
A second important recognition that blogging enjoys is, in fact, this. The blogger can freely show his opinions and it tends to creep in at times making the true facts hazy.
But this is definitely not something to be generalised. There exist bloggers with great control over their expressions–at times greater even than reporters–and they deliver the news, cut, dried and straight.
Therefore, while blogging is different, it has so happened that those few bloggers who express themselves have, unfortunately, become the face of the entire blogosphere. If bloggers want to earn the title of journalists, this is one image they will have to get rid of.
THE PUBLIC OPINION
Yet, in the core, bloggers and journalists are not all that different. As EFF attorney Kevin Bankston puts is, “They [bloggers] are people who gather news, and they do so with the intent to disseminate that news to the public. The only distinction to be made between these people and professional journalists at The New York Times is that they’re online only.”
Also, as Jessi Hempel, staff editor at Business Week, New York, tells us, “…some organizations have begun to legitimize Web logs as a valid grassroots form of journalism. In 2004, bloggers… received press passes to cover the conventions during the Presidential elections. They have broken major news stories.”
Nicholas Ciarelli who shut down his blog, ThinkSecret, due to Apple
In fact, Nicholas Ciarelli, who writes ThinkSecret under the pen name of Nick dePlume, is a journalist for the Harvard Crimson. This is surprisingly true in many cases: statistically, at least one of three bloggers is considered a legitimate journalist outside his web log.
When I first went about trying to find from bloggers what they thought about calling themselves journalists, I received an almost alternate yes and no pattern of answers as if the entire blogosphere was equally divided upon this matter. As I later found, I was not very far from the truth because 52% of all bloggers believe, with conviction, that they are journalists.
Yet, just because half the bloggers say they are journalists, it does not make them so, says Porter rightly.
In spite of all this, the opinion seems to hold true even in case of a generalisation. Indeed the Californian judge alone seems to have a conservative, radically meaningless outlook.
Dan Gilmore, ex-tech columnist, San Jose Mercury
Dan Gillmore–technology columnist at the San Jose Mercury News for a decade before leaving last year to found Grassroots Media, a project to encourage citizen-based published content–writes on his blog,‘By [the judge’s] bizarre and dangerous standard, I apparently stopped being a journalist the day I left my newspaper job after a quarter-century of writing for newspapers.’
One comment I found on a discussion regarding this topic quite clearly sums it all up: You obviously use all the means and tools that have been considered the domain of the journalist all this time and are a journalist in every way except that the platform you use is a blog and not a newspaper. In every way you work like a journalist, except you have the freedom to bring in as much of your opinion as you like.
The worry is probably more that a blogger who does not research anything at all and focuses only on his personal take on events he hasn’t even been present at should call himself a journalist. Or believe that most news is opinion.
My opinion? (As a blogger I would rather have it called my verdict!) While you may, presently, get neither press protection nor press privileges, as a blogger, the ultimate decision to call yourself a reporter while being well founded, is still in your hands. If it gives you the sense of being a higher authority in writing than just another one of a million bloggers, then by all means go around town calling yourself a reporter. If what matters to you is your writing and if you are satisfied with it, my own belief that blogging is a whole new art must suffice. All in all, it should really not matter what you title yourself as so long as you write something worth my time.
But this question will remain open for a long time to come, in my opinion, so feel free to debate it below–even if we will never arrive at a definite decision that will satisfy every single person, blogger or not.
What is your stand on bloggers and journalists? Is blogging a whole new level? Are bloggers right in calling themselves journalists? Can the laws of journalists be used justly by bloggers?