Has the Blog Killed the Journalist?


keyboardWhen one of the top reporters at the nation's top newspapers jumped ship to The Huffington Post last week, the rumblings started. Is print dead? (Almost.) Is blogging where it's at? (Yup.)

But in all the print vs. online hoopla over Peter Goodman's defection from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, one salient point has been largely ignored. Is an online writer still a journalist? Or do they get lumped into the blogger category along with the over-sharing blogspot squatter who puts up a yawn-inducing list of what books she's read this month and calls it blogging?

In a particularly vicious attack on "blogging" this week, MomLogic "guest blogger" Kimberly Seals Allers described her NYU and Columbia degrees in journalism as basis for calling herself a journalist -- and no one else need apply.

Claims Allers:

"The lines between real journalists (who do crazy things like fact check and interview other people) and opinionated talking heads (whose real skill is driving Web traffic) got blurred."

That she assumes every journalist "fact checks" and no blogger has ever interviewed another person is insulting at best, ludicrous at worst. Perhaps she's never heard of Stephen Glass, the New Republic reporter who didn't just make up facts but fabricated entire events? Or Jayson Blair, The New York Times reporter who remains one of the Grey Lady's most embarrassing points in history as he faked his way through stories on 36 of the 73 articles he wrote for the paper? Or read blogs like Bookslut, a site that features regular interviews with authors, and is run by a college dropout who worked at Planned Parenthood when she started the site?

But even in a rant that's made oxymoronic by the very title that prefaces her name, Allers finally strikes the nerve that splits the journalist from the "blogger" midway through. Says Allers:

"Seriously, there's a difference between a blog and real journalism. Please learn it. Truth is, there are a lot of people (OK, bloggers and social-media folks) who wake up one day and fancy themselves writers -- or even (double gasp!) journalists. I'm sorry, but there's a difference between writing down your personal opinions in a 400-word post and knowing how to build a compelling narrative arc or how to compile research and interviews into a solid book chapter."

Although being a journalist doesn't take Allers' list of degrees (Thomas Paine wrote what amounted to a newspaper -- was he not a journalist? Peter Jennings had no college degree), the simple fact is not everyone can write. Just as not everyone can play NBA-quality basketball or do complex equations in their head.

But blogging in general has given the world's wannabe writers a forum, and with it, the word has slowly been sapped of its meaning. It isn't journalism that is under attack. It's the art of writing.

Because the basic tenets of the American Constitution leave journalism open. It's not a career for the degree-holders, or as Michigan Senator Bruce Patterson was suggesting this spring, the licensed. Freedom of the press allows for the term to be applied loosely -- as easily as it is to the stringer who writes about the county fairs for the local rag as it is to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Woodward and Bernstein types.

Nor does the existence of a report in an online venue make it un-newsworthy. Yet most online news venues -- The Stir included -- are called "blogs," lumping them in with the likes of the book-lister and the man who chronicles his toenail clippings on Tumblr. All "blogs" are not created equal.

Simply put: journalists can be bloggers. Bloggers are not necessarily journalists (but they can be). What separates the two isn't some mythical ideal of ethics (have you watched Fox News?) but a complicated mix of content, talent, and reader interest. What constitutes "news" is subjective -- hence the thousands of newspapers, magazines, and, yes, online news sites in America.

In 12 years in journalism -- a mix of local and major newspapers, regional and national magazines, and a host of online ventures -- I still can't pitch a home run to an editor every time. What's newsworthy to one editor is bottom of the barrel scrapings to another. And time after time, I have seen drivel appear in a major respected publication because that struck a nerve with someone on one particular day.

That it was paid for doesn't make it good. Or particularly well-researched. Or well-written. In fact none of the so-called markers of a journalist exists in each piece published by a newspaper or magazine. Because journalists, as humans, can be just as biased or unethical as the rest of the lot.

What their online counterparts have done -- regardless of their writing skills -- is to make faking it harder. While opening the door to the drivel in the forms of countless toenail clipping blogs, it's also raised the stakes for pitching to major publications that can now draw on writers from across the nation rather than pay a core group to fly out to distant locales.

It's opened up access to resources for investigative reporting. And it's made a reporter's downfall that much more public -- be it a journalist or just your run-of-the-mill blogger.

The question that you should ask when you read something is not: Did a journalist -- or a blogger -- write this? It should be: Does this compel me to keep reading?

If it doesn't, there's always another option just a click away.


Image via DeclanTM/Flickr

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RanaA... RanaAurora

One of the amusing facts about my family right now is that I -- who have no degree in journalism, writing, etc. have a paying writing job. My father, who has a degree in journalism and over 30 years experience in it (including being an editor), has been jobless for two years (him not having a job isn't funny, just the irony). Who is the journalist? My dad, no contest. He understands the AP Style book, his writing skill is superior, he knows lots that I don't. It's not questioned.

But yet, he doesn't begrudge me my job by any means. In fact, a lot of journalists are struggling to find work now because blogging really has taken over. It doesn't take a degree to fact-check, and we have editors for a reason.

I agree with you. The woman you quote comes off as probably irritated (hard to find work, eh?) and possibly feels left behind, since in modern times, a lot more people have the ability to get their writing out there, for better or worse, and unfortunately, it is making her job irrelevant.

Lori Appel

The difference between blogs and journalism, at least in my opinion.... is that blogs are expected to have an opinion.  Journalism, unfortunately, has become too much like blogs where opinions are running rampant.  An OPED piece should be labeled as such.  But of course, it never is.  You just have to figure it out as the reader.  The writer should have the guts, as you do, to at least be up front about what it is they are writing.  OPED vs factual news.

RanaA... RanaAurora

I agree Lori,. That is a great point.

emily_b emily_b

Interesting post ... although, I do get where Allers is coming from. If I remember correctly, she's been on the magazine side of the business for a while and magazines (much more than newspapers, in fact) will fact-check the heck out of a story. There are different liabilities attached and while the NYTimes can retract or amend a fact the next day, wasting precious magazine space -- space that is better served for ads, since magzines are often just vehicles for ads -- a month later is a big deal.

That said, blogs do offer the same flexibility as newspapers in this regard. In fact, misrepesented or incorrect information can be changed instantaneously. I only hope that journalists and bloggers use that flexiblity to their advantage.

My issue with the sort of information one accesses online these days is SEO. Yes, it's a necessary beast but IMO it can make finding relevant and factual information a challenge for even the most seasoned researcher or reporter. I heard a great NPR interview with Kathleen Black, Sidney Harman and someone else about the future of print. All the standard stuff was said, but an interesting question was posed. If it were between a Pulizter Prize winning journalist who didn't drive online traffic and a run-of-the-mill writer who was a whiz at driving online traffic, who would you pick? 

One would hope the prize winning journalist. But...well, unfortunately it's a numbers game nowadays.  

nonmember avatar Michael Castro

This is one of the best articles I've read on the subject of "blogger vs journalists". As long as there is a need to be informed journalism is going to be there, professional journalism that is. Blogger have more freedom to write what they see because unlike the journalists we don't have editors to cut what we write and shape it at will to conform to the company's editorial line.

If come journalists are making the switch to blogging it may be because of the added freedom.

Great post! I'll be following this blog from now on.

nonmember avatar Missy

Interesting. Great points on both sides. I also have a degree in Journalism. But just like any field, paper(the degree) doesn't bring the journalist credibility. It's the experience and utilizing our knowledge and applying it to the real world.
I agree that blogging is a wonderful outlet to let writers and journalists alike have an avenue to express themselves.
But I would just like to say that just as this post is biased, our job is to stay the fine line between our opinion and what really happens.
Yes, there are op-ed sections for opinions and papers with a bias (The Onion) and yes most newspapers may take sides due to the company's bias that owns them (with the exception of probably USA Today).

So cheers to the outlet that blogging has given to the inner writer in everyone!
But give due credit to the journalists who still work alongside the ethics that originated since the beginning of the Freedom of Press.

nonmember avatar forex bonus

As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

nonmember avatar panerai uhren

Excuse for that I interfere ?here recently. But this theme is very close to me. Write in PM.

lovin... lovinangels

I do think that bloggers tend to interject more opinion into their pieces- I can't get to the end of something you've written here without knowing how you feel about it.

And I can't stop reading PunditMom, even though she infuriates me...but she's all opinion, as well. She backs up her opinion with facts, but it's opinion... I wouldn't call it NEWS.

So I agree with Lori. An AP article should present the facts. The stir should present the Stir's writers' opinions on the facts. You still have to use actual facts. (or lose all credibility.)

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