Steering clear of the pitfalls of guest blogging

The concept of writing for others and having others write for you are time-tested ones. Around the end of last month, Google’s Matt Cutts spoke about guest blogging and how it might hurt more than it might help if not looked over carefully. My thoughts on this issue are pretty similar, but here are Mr Cutt’s:

A lot of new bloggers end up finding ways to measure themselves and their writing: subscribers, hits, comments, and, perhaps most misleadingly, the number of guest blogging pitches they receive.

Guest blogging has two faces: the submitter’s and the publisher’s. And, while both intend to reach a larger audience (i.e. the other’s audience), they also hope to get noticed by search engines and other such institutions who might end up being a gateway to writing for bigger publishers that actually pay.

But, as Mr Cutts points out, guest blogging can have a more sinister intention in mind: blind SEO. When two or three dofollow links become the reason why the rest oft he article exists, something is definitely wrong.

Every blogger — including myself — has receives at the very least a handful of such requests every few months that state they (the writer/s) have original, unpublished content they would like to offer exclusively to us to publish and yaka yaka yaka. And then they come to the point: could we publish it for them and have at least x number of dofollow links in the body?

Bloggers just starting out are probably the biggest victims to such near-spam and they publish that content quite happily, not realising that they are hurting their own blog’s image in the process.

Today Made’s, Garett Moon, has also written well about how guest blogging has become about the link instead of the ideas. I stopped accepting guest writing except from people I know since mid-2013 and, although my guest articles content has come down, I do not see my visitor count being affected all that much. And since I made this website more personal, I stopped accepting guest blogs altogether unless under special circumstances (often decided on a per-request/submission basis).

With so many people out there fighting to get their content published, it was only a matter of time before some of them found rather lowly means to achieve it. Although Mr Cutts talks of being OK with nofollow links as a sign of a sincere gust writing, I fail to see the harm in demanding dofollow links — especially when you are not being paid to guest blog. So the final decision ought to rest entirely on the quality of writing and the substance.

Further, some bloggers look to mass market guest-authored content they can make an offer to publish; the problem with this — apart from it being rather desperate an attempt — is that it is a clear indication that none of those articles were tailored for your site, so why should you want it at all? Guest blogging should be exclusive in that content ought to be made for your website, not that existing content must be given solely to your website: there is a river of difference between the two.

None of this means guest blogging should be shunned altogether; its intentions are pure and they still exist, but we just have to be a lot more careful about what we publish for our own good.

 Cover image: Flickr/Cameron Conner 

On Ghost: a layman’s take on just a blogging platform

When I first got into WordPress, it was a blogging platform. People owned blogs, people blogged, people read, people interacted and the whole system worked beautifully. But then, somewhere down the line, the power behind WordPress freed it from its shackles as a blogging platform and made it an extremely simple way to use as a CMS, no matter how vast the content.

It was a change to live with, whether we liked it or not. And WordPress’ route map deviated from powering blogs to powering websites of all kinds. For a moment, it felt awkward to think I had a blog hosted on a service no longer entirely dedicated to it, but it was short lived.

In spite of all this, I always yearned for a blogging platform that would manage itself and let me write freely. We still do not have such a product, but several come very close. The one with its roots closest to WordPress is Mr John O’Nolan’s Ghost.

The premise

Ghost is built on node.js, currently a complicated mush to set up which shared hosting services do not even allow. I have never set up a platform (well, anything, really) built on node.js before, so I figured I represented a larger section of Ghost’s expected user base.

Mr O’Nolan’s argument is that WordPress started off as a PHP-based service, based on Michale Valdrighi’s b2 (also a PHP-based service) around a time when PHP was as unsupported as node.js is now. But that, he says, does not mean node.js will not become mainstream in the future, given that it is better than PHP and its contemporaries already.

“Technology advances.” He says, rightly.

The installation

My biggest qualm is Ghost’s premature public release. The product is not yet ready. (And I’m saying this from a layman’s perspective, wanting to have nothing to do whatsoever with coding at the moment.) Why was Ghost pushed out as a public release when the simplest way to set up a Ghost blog, on my Ubuntu machine, for instance, is to run each of these commands:

and then start production with this:

Ghost is not competing with WordPress, as far as I can tell, because that would not make sense. However, even while Mr O’Nolan did not fork Ghost from the WordPress Open Source project as some have been claiming, few can repudiate that it was built to deliver an attack on WordPress’ blogging premise.

Take a look at the outline of the original Ghost idea, for example. The entire article, beautifully formatted, speaks solely of how Ghost will right everything WordPress got wrong. So it has, indeed, always come down to WordPress. And this means Ghost, to lure users, will have to combat WordPress on a few other things, the biggest and most important of the lot being the famous five-minute installation that WordPress boasts.

In the crowd

Another issue Ghost will have to deal with is that blogging platforms have come such a long way since the 1990s that they are now a dime a dozen, and free services are pretty great as well. Ghost’s confirmed pricing is like so:

And with noncompetitive pricing, Ghost will not hold as much appeal as Roon or Pen, or the pretty weird but interesting concept beind Throwww, or, my current favourite of the lot, Medium, from the people who started the original Blogger.

They all have different ideas and appeals, and Ghost’s biggest card, as far as I know, is expansion: you can build a massive news blog, the next Mashable, if you like, to paraphrase O’Nolan (if my memory serves me right, because I don’t seem to be able to locate the source where I read this).

Is it ready for the public yet?

My answer, in short, is a resounding no. The system Ghost runs on is unsupported by the shared hosting servers used by far too many people (read far too many potential Ghost users) and many have said this already. But even with node.js running, Ghost has failed to market its ease of use as much as it has marketed its focus and scope.

I am quite happy that Ghost is bringing the focus back on blogging, but this is a poor foundation to build an entire product on because many others are doing just that. What more can Ghost offer? It’s website does not make that as clear as I’d like.

I like the markdown v formatted dual display post editor on Ghost, but is that enough to make me want to use Ghost? I doubt it. WordPress’ distraction free writing coupled by a preview on a second browser tab will serve my needs just fine albeit involve two mouse clicks more. I have no problem with two mouse clicks; in fact they let me breathe and think between writing paragraph upon paragraph continuously.

Free. Open. Could be simpler.

Ghost also speaks little about SEO. The term SEO, although largely alient in concept to half of all bloggers, is still a term they have heard somewhere and have increasingly come to be conscious of. Ghost’s ousting of the concept of a sidebar in design in exchange for a single-column layout may not fit well with everybody’s ideology, and definitely not from a presentation standpoint because, while they all want their content read, they also want other titbits of information displayed, from badges to follow buttons to more important things like popular, related and top posts/comments which help increase user engagement.

Further, returning to Ghost’s claim that it can be used to build a single, personal blog or a large scale one, it’s hard to think of a reason why large scale ones will not just prefer WordPress. Because PHP is old? Highly unlikely; it’s the tech syndrome where a product seems old very fast, whereas to the general public things move at a more stable rate. For instance, Android 4.0 is not as ancient to the average smartphone user as we think.

By far the smallest problem I see with Ghost is markdown. I write my articles straight in HTML, including this one, and I have no problem switching to Markdown, but the average user, many of whom have freshly pressed WordPress blogs with remarkable content today (so their ability is not being questioned), could not care less about markdown. Once again, a couple of mouse clicks and a drop-down to set h1 is not too much trouble. Or consider WordPress’ ctrl+1 to ctrl+6 shortcuts that make the job just as mouse-free.

But is Ghost any good at all?

This time round, my answer is a resounding yes. Ghost is promising if not as revolutionary as its creators would like to believe. But, more importantly, Ghost has potential. It is under the hands of some of the finest developers around, already has a beautiful and established visual style — something very important for any product targeted at the non-developer.

I have previously (even if very briefly) spoken of my enthusiasm for Ghost and my intention of holding back my upcoming essays weblog to launch it on Ghost, so any questions as to my bias should be put down with that.

If Ghost creates an installation package that just works and offers a free subdomain.ghost.org usage plan to go with it, it would instantly become a no-brainer for any blogger. It would give back the almost holistic and exclusive atmosphere WordPress bloggers commanded back when Mr Matt Mullenweg’s service was among the most powerful options and definitely the easiest one to get started with.

The Ghost dashboard is more beautiful than WordPress’

I love minimalism. (Is it not rather overly obvious around here?) So I love Ghost’s look and Ghost blog designs. But how many really share this feeling about minimalism?

I also like how Ghost design structures are closely related to those of WordPress. That was arguably the smartest pitch made and one that helped rope Woo in as Ghost’s design partner.

As Mr O’Nolan himself says, Ghost has an unfair advantage since it stands on the shoulders of giants. But in that case, the smart thing to do is make it easy for users to climb from the giant’s shoulders onto yours: Ghost needs to be different in approach, beliefs and looks, among other things, but without requiring users to scale yet another learning curve to use its product.

However, Ghost is less than a year old (if counted from its Kickstarter campaign anyway), so it has a long way to go. And at this rate of progress, I’m sure O’Nolan and his team can make this article null and void in no time.

Lastly, I appreciate certain parts of Ghost’s spirits a lot. In my opinion, the best thing Mr O’Nolan has said about his brainchild so far is pretty straightforward: “Do we want to make millions and sell to Facebook, or do we want to make something that’s genuinely good and serves its users, not its investors and shareholders?”

That is the way to go.

As always, you can get straight in touch with me and share your views.

 Cover image: Flickr/Thomas Leuthard  VHBsign

Blogging manifesto, slow blogging and a cuppa

This is one of those tough-to-write articles that is tough just because you are trying to come up with ways to avoid following what follows. (No pun intended.) But when you write three blogs, including this, a satire column and a science blog, all at once, you try to streamline everything into one, if for no other reason, just to loosen things up a tad.

A lot of people seem to have enjoyed my satire, a genre of articles I myself love writing, and the genre of preference any day. A smaller, but more targeted, group of people have freely discussed my science blog as well. Both of these platforms have died as of last week.

Blogging v content creation

The website (and particularly this blog section you are on) is what I opted to serve as a common platform for all this. What I have been most fortunate in is having readers with enough courage to take news from news sources and who would rather discuss with real people. If you know the blogosphere well, you will realise that better insights come from single bloggers rather than team blogs churning out several articles a day. (Yes, I speak of The Verge, HuffPo, TechCrunch, Mashable, Engadget and the lot.)

I follow these as well, but I use my own blog to voice my opinion. And I value a richer communication that a comment on these larger websites where you voice is one in a thousand on a single page. Not many appreciate the value of this, but I am not here to judge them. It is their point of view (and sometimes a point to oppose just because they believe they have to oppose you.)

But, ultimately, let us not forget that all the abovementioned large-scale blogs began as the works of single people. And people read these blogs just as they would read a more established newspaper, because what counts is the voice, not the person it is coming from. That would be like not looking at somebody’s photographs just because they do not shoot for Reuters or Nat Geo — quite an empty argument I would not want to waste my time on.

Slow blogging

However, some, at this point, seem to choose to go big or, surprisingly enough, go small. Having spoken to many people yesterday (and at times with many people at once) including friends, family and select subscribers, and weighing their advice as I saw fit, I have picked the latter. In this regard, I have come to re-evaluate how and what I blog, what type of articles to reduce, what type to write more frequently, and finally, about three months ago, I joined the Slow Blogging movement — something I had been contemplating for two years now.

We slow bloggers believe that the content created by large group blogs are writing for writing’s sake, not in the spirit of literature or writing as an art form. This was, admittedly, something I used to practice more on my satire network than on this website. I, for one, agree with this old New York Times article I found while rummaging around my Evernote, which brightly says, “earnest descriptions of the first frost of the season are nowhere to be found.”

My blogging manifesto

To wrap it all up formally, I took some time to write down my blogging manifesto, which brings about a new approach to my blogging habits. Specifically, the manifesto aims at a blog that,

  • is more personal and transparent to read
  • is more rich in terms of its literature co-efficient
  • is built to make sure readers receive more for the time they give to read it
  • is a rejection of immediacy, as Todd Sieling puts it, meaning content is served slowly, well-baked than hastily burnt
  • is evaluated with a fine-toothed comb before publication
  • is built on the ideals of high respect for its readers

The manifesto is 50-points long and geared towards fulfilling the above intentions. Click the large, attention-grabbing button below to read it.

This will be that last post I write (unless absolutely necessary and justifiable) which deviates from the points of the manifesto. My next article, however, will conform to the 50-point manifesto more strictly while, ironic as it may seem, making blogging and reading more enjoyable.

VHBsign

 

 

P.S. I hope you’re enjoying the minimalism after the newest redesign and update on this site. Problems? Suggestions? Get in touch with me.

V H Belvadi Weblog 2.0

If, for some reason, I became geeky enough to allot myself robotic numbers, (and I daresay I am not far from it,) then perhaps the beta version of my blogging would be my first two weblogs—which I opened simultaneously. One of them outlived the other, although I do not remember which, but in the end they were both replaced by the first stable weblog. By social paradigm we shall call it 1.0. This I had hosted at Blogger and had quite a bad experience. Some say the platform has improved since, but I for one would not consider returning.

Needless to say, it did not last long. Perhaps not even a month. It was then that I opened three other weblogs: I was experimenting on all the platforms out there. I was in school, so I was interested in the free services (only.)

This experimenting phase lasted about a year by which time I had concluded that WordPress.com was the best there was. Then I opened my first truly stable weblog—not stable as a namesake. Almost a year or two later I decided to up things a bit. I began writing more often, made mistakes, corrected myself and it brought me to a level where I could say, with surety, that I had gained enough experience blogging. It was time to enter the higher grounds; the real world of blogging, where readers are everything; content is king; and if you could not cater to these two needs, you were left to bite the dust.

It was not as harsh as I probably made it sound, but then—to make a long story short—things gradually rolled on to the present, about a couple of days back, when I noticed another one of those urges to up my blogging. I had gone as high as I had hoped, so it was time to go higher.

By now I had a regular stream of writing; blogging—unbelievably, to some—had become commonplace in my schedule. At about the same time everyday, like clockwork, I could sit and write—much like brushing or bathing—with ease. And without writer’s block. That was one side to it. The other was what I had realised from the day my Weblog 1.0 began to this day: the fact that—although content was still king—readers were not always everything.

My own belief that runs this blog is that it is not important to amass readers (leave that to CopyBlogger, Mashable and HuffPo) rather to keep them. It is somewhat like Google’s bounce rate. Work towards reducing this. The way I looked at it was that it was better for a blogger to write because he loved it (why else would anyone do anything?) and then let the cream of readers associate themselves with him, stick with him and make a difference to him.

Now the word cream is what we call in physics as relativistic. The cream is not a definite section of society, rather a class sculpted uniquely by a blogger and which has no bearing whatsoever on any other blogger.

It is but a natural phenomenon we are forcibly bringing into existence. It boosts the blogging spirit and delivers to the reader. Two birds fed with one berry.

Now, coming back to the day I was talking about, I realised that I had enough confidence and experience to take it to the next level. Call this V H Belvadi Weblog 2.0 if you will. But the main question that laid before me was, what is the difference going to be?

In other words, how can I convince somebody that is is radically different enough to be called 2.0? My answers were surprisingly simple: First of all, my outlook of blogging has slightly changed. I have decided to cut down entirely on my non-textual publishing. In other words, my weblog will mostly host my writings, essays &c. which would mean that it would be analogous to my writing portfolio.

Secondly, the design has got a largely professional look, a catchy jQuery slider, slick, elegant typeface and heading styles and a smart connectivity boost between the blogger (me) and the reader (you.) Look around and you will soon know what I mean.

Thirdly, I recently opened another venture to showcase my photography skills. J’adore clicking pictures and so I decided to put them up on my (roughly) regular photoblog. Lastly, I like it!

I hope you find my new home online (as I like to call it) appealing to your tastes. And even if your browser is too slow for it, it should not hold you back on reading the writings published here. Also, you might find some publishing not loading, or some pages just staying blank. It is alright. Those are just chat or audio or video posts I have hereforth decided against writing.

Do let me know your thoughts.

And, quite importantly, many thanks to Galin Simeonov for designing this website (for a price, of course, but let us give him a hand: at least he made it for me at an affordable rate!)

À bientôt.

Bloggers, reporters, journalists and the fine line in-between

 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,PowerPageAppleInsider 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 of the San Jose Mercury

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.

IN CONCLUSION

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?

Bloggers, reporters, journalists and the fine line in-between

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? Continue reading

16 Ethics on Twitter: Think Before you Tweet

CNBC’s blog, flopping out, gave me the ‘think before you tweet.’ Given that Twitter is fast becoming the ultimate source of information exchange online, it is not surprising if you find yourself one day following President Obama or Gaddafi or the guy in the corner of your street… or even me! The important thing to know in such times is that as tweeters we have certain unspoken of, yet unanimously accepted, set of rules–or rather ethics–to keep up to. But how many of us actually do that? Below I have listed few that I could think of and you are most welcome to add to them as you please.

  1. Tweets are read by others so if you don’t want even one of them to know what you think of an international political crisis, there is no point in sharing it with the others.
  2. Nobody wants to know what you dined on so please do not take the trouble of tweeting that you are at such a restaurant, eating such a dish and paying so much for it.
  3. Tweet what other will benefit from and not the fact that a coin has two faces. How many of them do not actually know that? I doubt they would find themselves on Twitter even accidentally.
  4. Tweeting is not letter writing so do not say thank you through tweets. Or hello or good-bye or any such courtesy for that matter, unless it is so important that it will surge your tweeting community ahead in some manner. Use Direct Messages if it is really necessary.
  5. Re-tweets are not to exchange pleasantries and neither are mentions. <Celebrity’s name here> re-tweet me! It would mean a lot to me! Of course it would, but how useful would you be as part of an active tweeting community which actually has serious tweeters? (Yes, such tweeters do exist.)
  6. Not knowing when to tweet can help you lose your job. ‘Nuff said.
  7. A simple rule of thumb that can take you a long way, safely, is do not tweet anything you would not actually want to tell your followers to their face.
  8. Twitter is not a backyard for your musings so stop thinking aloud on twitter.
  9. Stop marketing your product or self on Twitter because, if you have not already bothered to read through it, one of the first terms you agree to when joining Twitter goes so: [You will not] sell, rent, lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to Twitter or Twitter Content to any third-party without prior written approval from Twitter.
  10. Just because the term Twitter stemmed from meaning ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,it does not mean you can tweet useless collections of words.
  11. Stop trying to create trends by hash-tagging every word in your tweet. If it is worth it, it will become a trend with no help from your part.
  12. Do not converse on Twitter or cuss around because, while Twitter is not a chat room, it is not any more private than a humungous ball everybody in the world attends.
  13. Direct Messages are not cheap marketing solutions so stop asking people to buy your product or get a membership with your company. Say thanks for following instead or, better yet, do not send Direct Messages unless you know that person and are sure you will not be wasting their time sending such private messages.
  14. Nobody need follow you back. Get it out of your head that someone needs to follow you because you followed them. It is not a favour they owe you, nor an action you ought to expect. Remember that you followed them out of your own free will and not with them holding a gun to your head. You wanted to read their tweets, and they are glad to share it. If they do not want to read yours, stop forcing them and–childishly–stop unfollowing them!
  15. Twitter is not all about followers rather about quality tweets. It is better to have ten followers and thousand quality, useful tweets rather than thousand followers and ten rotten tweets.
  16. Twitter account monitoring softwares play spoil sport because they are only interested in followers. Automatically following tweeters and unfollowing them if they do not follow you back is lame. See my 14th point. And if you are on Twitter for followers, you would be better of taking my advice and deleting your account. You will then do many people a great favour.
Have you thought of more such Twitter ethics? Share it below!