Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Les Shu Doesn't Think Bloggers are Journalists

He writes:

So, are you still qualified to be a journalist if you didn't study journalism? I ask because an old coworker of mine and I were wondering about it. He studied journalism at Ohio State and does the whole magazine editing thing, but he doesn't consider himself a journalist. He's an editor, he says.

So what exactly constitutes a journalist? Are these fly-by-night bloggers considered journalist? I sure hope not, but they are reporting news, many of them.

I think that the designation of journalist lacks significant meaning ... unless we are talking about legal protections. There's reporting, and there's analysis, and there's opinion writing -- which often fall far short of analysis. There are assignment editors, and there are line editors. They both work with real live people. There are "wire" editors.

Thus: Bloggers are seldom reporters, sometimes makers of analysis, rather more often makers of opinion. Many are wire editors in the sense that they choose what to link to. But the content of what they are linked to is characterized beforehand, and not in a neutral way.

Training helps, whether you acquire it at a journalism school or on the job, not just because you do the work under supervision but because you are working with pros, and there is a kind of osmosis going on. But you can learn on your own, though not simply by doing. You need to read "journalism" to do "journalism."

What would you add? What would you retort?


Greg Pabst said...

It ain't just journalism where these discussions are held.

All of the businesses in communications are challenged with amateur practitioners. Consider...

- reality TV, albeit not quite as improvised and or as amateur as it would like us to believe, commands a huge share of water cooler talk across America. American Idol makes instant stars of (OK, pretty darn good) karaoke buffs, possibly from your corner tavern.

- Wikipedia is quickly becoming the source of choice for organized information, and while any Joe/Josephine Ordinary like you or me can write or edit articles, their army of amateur "juries" seem to work pretty well in accomplishing accuracy.

- My current TIME magazine (February 26, 2007, pg. 51) has a column by time-blogger Justin Fox headlined "Getting Rich off Those Who Work for Free," that essays Yale economist Yochai Benkler on the "economic benefits of 'peer-production' of software and other information products-from your journalism to scientific research to videos of people mixing Mentos and Diet Coke." Get a copy and read about the "Carr-Benkler wager" about whether "open-source" software like Linux or Firefox - as well as other cooperative enterprises, like YouTube, Flickr, Digg - will, in 2011, still be driven by volunteers or professionals.

- And closer to where I live, Gino Bona "pitches" a TV spot to run in the Super Bowl - that cultural Promised Land usually reserved for the most elite of advertising creatives. I've seen more than my share of ad pitches (and made more than I care to remember) and the guy had a solid concept and pitched it really well. Note that the NFL hired a much awarded director, Joe Pytka, to produce the spot and his professional input gave it the luster you expect from a Super Bowl ad. Sort of a hybrid, I guess. You can follow the whole story on YouTube, itself a veritable incubator for amateurism.

- Advertising Age names "the consumer" and TIME names "You" as Person of the Year. And everyone knows you don't have to attend an accredited university and pay tens of thousands in tuition to major in "You" in order to become a professional youist.

I suspect that future historians will rhuminate at great length on this as an era of either
- Big Changes that remade society, or
- a time when we were all fadishly fascinated with our seeming power over and in media, but were soon distracted by something else.

And speaking of fads with the half-life of the big CB Radio scare of the late 70s, I'm sorry, but I just don't get "Second Life."

Though the Mentos-Diet Coke video remains funny.

Greg Pabst

Lia said...

Bloggers are bloggers. They are not reporters, journalists or editors.

That's why society invented a new word for describing the medium they use to disseminate information "a blog" and a new verb to describe what they do "blogging" and a new noun to describe who they are "bloggers."

The great thing about working in an industry that is all about words is it gives you the opportunity to make sure people, places and things are described correctly. I remember hearing stories about editors at The New York Times spending hours discussing what to call the accessory decorating Janet Jackson’s breast when it was exposed during a costume mishap at the Super Bowl half-time show in 2004. There is an entire book about copy-editors at Wired magazine figuring out the right words and style to describe things like e-mail and the Internet.

So by definition blogs are different from online newspapers and magazines, and bloggers are different than editors, journalists and reporters. If they were the same, then there would have been no need to create new words.

Where the line gets blurred is that some reporters and journalists have blogs. But that’s not how they earn a paycheck it’s largely a promotional act. Some bloggers do earn money from blogging (or so they claim). Good for them. They are still bloggers.

I think the problem lies in the line drawn in the sand by public relations, and other flashy gatekeepers, when admitting media to glamorous events or conferences. Bloggers usually are turned away at the velvet ropes and then complain about being snubbed because they didn’t have reporter or journalist in their title. That’s a silly excuse.

A reporter at the Sonoma Index-Tribune (which I was in 2001-2002) isn’t getting into a red carpet shindig or executive conference in San Francisco any faster than a blogger in the city. But if a blogger had 108,000 legitimate daily readers like the San Francisco Chronicle claims than I would assume the well-read blogger and the city newspaper reporter would get equal treatment. But that doesn’t make the blogger a reporter.

I could write an even longer post on the reporter vs. writer question so bloggers shouldn’t feel slighted that I consider reporters, writers, journalists and the myriad of editor titles all different.

Here’s an example of how I use the terms. When I work for newspapers I call myself a reporter. But when I work for magazines I call myself a writer.

Writers sweat over words for days trying to make them elegantly flow on a page. When you’re a writer, you spend hours re-writing things because “they don’t sound right” and they need to “flow” or “sing.” This is not what most reporters do because they are on daily deadlines without the luxury of time. Really good reporters can write elegantly on deadline but in essence they are reporting what happened that day so they are still reporters even after they put a Pulitzer on their mantle.

I hardly call myself a journalist except when being ironic. I haven't earned that title. Journalists are people who devote their lives to covering a cause be it a war-torn area or a sub-culture of society. Those assignments have to do with life journeys and chronicling subjects, which seems more fitting for a journalist to do.

People flow in and out of different occupations. Since I’m a freelance writer some days I’m a reporter and on others I’m a writer. If I don’t work for a while I’ll probably be a blogger because the only copy I am generating would appear on my blog.

Often bloggers try to slip behind the media door to receive perks such as event invites or Shield Law protection and that’s where this debate turns into a nasty "us vs. them" battle. And in this sense it is us against them. Bloggers have been around since 1994. They haven’t even begun to fight First Amendment battles or gone to court to protect sources, as reporters, journalists and even some writers have done. Bloggers haven’t laid out any moral or ethical boundaries for their craft and they sure haven’t been fighting to get reporters and journalists Shield Laws in states where they go unprotected. So until bloggers stand with reporters, journalists and writers on these types of issues they will never be admitted into the club.

So, for now, if bloggers want to be reporters than they should go work for a newspaper or start their own newspaper. And if bloggers want to be writers than they should get hired at a magazine, become a freelancer or write a book. There are ways to attain reporter and writer status. We all paid our dues (and college tuition). We begged for unpaid internships and worked three jobs to make rent in order to get our foot in the door. We wrote stories no one read for newspapers and magazines no one remembers. We get up every morning and try to make the public respect the media just a little bit more (and we wish cable news personalities would do the same).

Reporting isn’t rocket science. If bloggers want the title of reporter than they should earn it. And as far as calling bloggers journalists, well that title is even further away.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I just don't worry about who has the title of journalist and who doesn't unless that blurring of names causes problems for serious investigative reporting or substantive international journalism or substantive local reporting. Two of those problems:

1)readers/viewers becoming even more confused about which news sites are credible and which aren't -- many a blogger is full to the brim with lies and errors; if I concede that bloggers are journalists, I must add that only some are journalists, or that if all are, most of them are very *bad* journalists -- which is not quite the same thing as not being a journalist;

2) a growing preference among readers/viewers for blogs that give it up for nothing and thus destroy the economic model of a newsroom where people are paid to go get the news. At first, of course, blogs may simply feast on what the newsrooms provide, circulate it, increase the audience for it, get the news out there. But if fewer people pay those who produce the product, then the product dwindles and degrades as newsrooms contract, contract, contract. And then we are left with a world of amateur journalists.

Lia doesn't want to call them journalists. The nomenclature doesn't bother me. The challenge is will these blogger/journalists -- these unpaid zealots and/or hobbyists -- actually do the reporting, take the time, balance the sources (which at the end of the day you really do need to do), recognize their biases and try to be fair in spite of those biases, do the dull nuts-and-bolts meeting stories in spite of having no interest in doing them; give up their hobbyhorses in favor of the full spectrum of news.

And do all this without being paid to do it. I think it's Jay Rosen (at NYU?) who is part of an effort in which citizens contribute money to a kind of blog/ journalist clearinghouse, each donation targeted to a particular story the donator wants covered. Then, the editors at the clearinghouse organize blogger journalists to work on such stories. The editors advise and compile, and voila...

Voila, what? But the point is that traditional news media are losing eyes. I assume that the bloggers *have* to be part of the solution if we are to save journalism. We can't simply say they aren't journalists. Perhaps, the challenge is to figure how to push them toward journalism??

I end with question marks. This is a blog. This is a conversation in progress.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Already with a clarification. Of course, most bloggers are personal essayists. But there are plenty of bloggers, almost all political, who see themselves as doing a kind of journalism.

Let's consider Matt Drudge. A journalist? I would say a partisan journalist who is often a bad journalist. But you could say the same of Rupert Murdoch.

L. Shu said...

My apologies if I am repeating stuff that any of you have already said, but I quickly skimmed through everybody's comments and got the gist of it. So, from reading Lia's comments, there are bloggers and the act of blogging. So if I'm blogging, am I still a journalist or am I now a blogger? Also, two of my journalist friends left the magazine world to work on blogs because these blogs wanted "journalism" authority for their sites, basically credibility (not really for their journalism skills). So are they now bloggers? And blogs are touted as new media/new journalism, and many traditional establishments are getting into the act (Time Inc. is making lots of headway into it, and so is Fox). I believe Time was firing a lot of its staff (and some important sounding positions/bureaus, too), but they seem to be still hiring for the "electronic" version of the site.

Or are we just making a big deal out of nothing?

Jacob Marx said...

It is my understanding and belief that although there is a difference between bloggers and journalists, they both are members of the press. Meaning, even though they don’t share the same responsibilities, they do share the same rights in terms of free speech. Credentials should not a distinguishing factor in who is eligible for the First Amendment’s Freedom of the Press rights. However, although I feel bloggers and journalists should share the same right to free speech and press, I do not feel that bloggers have the reputation or the credibility to be seen as members of the Media. Here I distinguish between the press, which has the ability and right to publish information, and the media, which has a responsibility to publish truthful information. Bloggers should not be treated as credible sources of information, just has the John Daily show should not be viewed as an adequate form of news; but, bloggers should not have the right to post/ publish any information that conflicts with someone else’s rights. Journalists however, as members of the Media, have a professional, legal, and ethical duty to tell the truth and therefore, can be treated as the gatekeepers of information but, just as bloggers, should not be allowed to publish any information that is harmful to another person’s rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). A journalist is not the same as a blogger; a blogger is a simple civilian of which cannot be assumed by others to make the honest decision in publishing information—a journalist is above this. He has a legal responsibility to publish truthful information with full repercussions of the law and public. Just as a suspect is innocent until proven guilty, a journalist is to be deemed truthful until proven dishonest. A blogger is the opposite—he is both guilty and dishonest until proven otherwise. This is my mindset at least when I am reading published information from bloggers and journalists.

Jessica said...

Journalism is a business. It has standards of ethics; it holds its staff to certain responsibilities. It pays people to follow agreed upon rules and guidelines. One of its main rules is being objective (though as a feminist media critic, I don't think this is the best way to approach journalism), so it's purpose is not to give opinions. As the classic saying goes, "Just the facts, ma'am."

Blogging is only new in term, not in meaning. Joe Schmo down at the corner store reads the paper and then he tells his friends his comments, insights and feelings about what he's read. Joe is a blogger before there was the word "blogger." Bloggers give voice to the effects of journalism. Bloggers are the peoples response to coverage, to issues--they use journalism as the springboard for discussion.

I have always thought that journalism should be a springboard. Present the facts to the community and let them blog about it. Let them take action. Let them have a voice.

Go journalists! Go Bloggers!

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