April 14, 2014
The field of journalism and blogging are intersecting, becoming one in the same, just years after they were completely different entities. The two have merged and are now blurring the lines between what constitutes a journalist and what does not. But if you don’t believe me, here’s an argument that I’ll sum up in two minutes of your time.
In March of 2008, a former economic correspondent in Chicago named Nate Silver developed the blog fivethirtyeight.com coined after the 538 members in the electoral college of the United States, but since then the blog has changed rapidly and substantially. Silver’s blog started off predicting elections, looking at advanced statistics to predict who would win each election. His success in predicting the 2008 presidential election vaulted him into the domain of the New York Times where he still continued to do the same research. That same research then predicted the 2012 presidential election, which also wound up being equally successful. And if you’re following along, then you’ll probably be able to guess that Silver was bought out by yet another company, this time ESPN and the Disney brand in 2013. And so, when ESPN announced they would purchase Silver’s blog, they used this language from their official announcement:
“Silver will serve as the editor-in-chief of the site and will build a team of journalists, editors, analysts and contributors in the coming months. … Nate is one of the country’s brightest talents and his insight, journalistic integrity and creativity — all traits essential for creating compelling, quality content — have awed and entertained diverse audiences”
And with that, Silver’s site became its own new site and delivered its own content using advanced statistics on a daily basis. ESPN noted Silver would build a team of journalists, which states he’s building what will be a news site.
So to recap that two-minute argument: Nate Silver’s site went from a blog to a section of news organization to its own organization in just over five years. Which isn’t to say there’s a problem with that, but as the news media landscape changes, we must recognize that so too does the blogging landscape. And as the blogging landscape changes, bloggers must recognize the news blog has become as news site and, must take it upon themselves must take it upon themselves to research the rapidly changing landscape.
Because if they don’t, then other bloggers doing admirable journalistic work are not protected by the first amendment and will not have the access to resources and press events. The lack of accessibility only sacrifices our country’s knowledge on happenings and operation of the government.
Arrianna Huffington founded the site in 2005 as a news aggregator with more liberal/left wing commentary to supplement the site’s news stories. The site took off and with the help of investors, turned into a 24 hour online news source that began to start is own journalism. In a matter of years, Huffington took her site from a news aggregator to winning a Pulitzer prize for its investigative work. In 2011, AOL purchased the Huffington post – yes the same AOL with the “you’ve got mail “ line — and implemented its features onto the site. But as was the case with fivethirtyeight.com, the Huffington Post separated from AOL near the end of 2013, producing its own content like other news sites and still pulling stories from the wire service like the Associated Press.
A branch of the Gawker Media News Group, Deadspin also formed as a blog before turning into something much bigger. It brought sports coverage with the voices of writers who weren’t limited to swearing or posting stories no longer than 10 words and a video. But in 2012, it broke news on the scandal regarding a Notre Dame football player claiming his girlfriend had passed away, despite the woman not existing. Established news sources like CNN, for example, cited Deadspin, and in this case, conducted an interview in this video.
At that same time, the New Orleans Times-Picayune was transitioning from a print newspaper to one that would only be run online. The website featured the same material that would otherwise be run in the daily edition of the newspaper, but did so without printing the edition every day.
Even though journalism features a different production process, scholars note the content between the two genres is relatively similar and is shaped by whatever happens most recently. Scholars do agree that blogging has nearly forced newspapers to start publishing articles online.
Consider the same format that the Times-Picayune used is the same format being used in cities like Newark, New Jersey, Portland, Oregon and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Each one paying journalists that had worked for the same print publication just years prior, into the digital realm only.
And yet even though these blogs are doing journalistic work that is either comparable or more impressive, they would still be denied certain privileges afforded to members of the press, like access to White House briefings. And stopping them from doing good work denies the public of information regarding what’s going on.
Scholars have concluded that bloggers are dependent on journalists, both to reproduce content and create new content. As noted before, bloggers do not have a higher organization to supply them financially, but need the resources of journalists if they wish to create the similar content.
The problem, then, is that scholars’ primary research continues to differentiate between blogging and journalism.
Scholars’ definitions of blogs have changed over time since they were used most frequently at the turn of the 21st century, but not all agree on a universal definition. Together, Wilson Lowrey and Jenn Burleson Mackay first define blogging as “the production of easy-to-create Web pages with regularly updated information, commentary, and links of public interest, wide and narrow” in their article, Journalism and Blogging: A test of a model of occupational competition. Others call it “a communicative practice that allows people to connect, converse and share information in a digitally networked environment.” But scholars do agree that blogging happen in an online, digital forum. This much is evident and is still true today.
These definitions of blogging focus on the digital format as the primary similarity because the topics of which one blogs about and the regularity with which one blogs all differ. Lowrey and Mackay refer to blogging as a primary focus on news and politics, while Lowrey also thinks of blogging as a watchdog in an ealier piece of his. Researcher Samskrati Gulvady, though, notes blogging can be about a “range of topics” for anyone with an interest on a given topic.
Internet conglomerate Google created its own blogging service — aptly named Google Blogger — to put ones favorites blogs in that spirit. Now, scholars have opened their research to more specific blogging niches, like those that center on food or politics, or even about blogs about journalism and media. Blogs, then, can discuss the same topic as a newspaper article, structured in a way that a journalist might otherwise write about, but differ in the medium.
If blogging is the distribution of information by the many and for the many, then journalism is the distribution of information by the few for the many, a sign of an ever-changing media landscape, according to scholars. Lowrey says in his earlier article, “From one perspective, bloggers are individual, atomized publishers. Turn the prism, and they become connecting strands in a vast network.”
According to author Bonnie Brennan, journalism was made up of a select few people who reported, researched and wrote articles on the news of the day for a limited audience. But now, she says “Within our mediated society, everyone who blogs or owns a cell phone may be considered a member of the press.”
Journalism, according to Brennan, differs in that it requires the act of fact checking as an example, instead of taking someone’s word on his or her experience. A journalist gets multiple perspectives and determines what questions need to be asked to get them, but this difference is that one person writes for the needs of many with a paying audience in mind.
Bloggers, though, work primarily for themselves and make little money if any at all, unless advertisers invest otherwise. Although Lowrey and Mackay do not explicitly state it, due in part to a lack in their research, journalism — that which does not include the opinion/editorial section in this case — is written in an unbiased, more removed tone while blogging is said to be more opinionated and personal. Journalism, though, is still being shaped and is changing to meet an audience that is shrinking more and more in circulation size by the year.
But the primary difference has always been that newspaper is rooted in print and that to go online was a less formal way of presenting the news. If the print edition cost more, it became a more credible source of information.
This research between the two genres exemplifies not only how two genres and positions can merge together despite their primary differences, but more importantly, it shows how fast the merger can happen. If this rapidly changing environment moves too fast, it makes future research on these issues harder to do.
Bloggers and journalists don’t just borrow from each other; they borrow from radio hosts or TV news anchors to produce new material. Social media, too, has provided a platform to eliminate some of the need for personal blogs or even blogs that share information.
So, bloggers need to track and analyze how news blogs operate and how much of that operates as a news site. Journalists too need to track theses changes, but the scholarly work being done today has not adequately kept up with the speed at which both genres change.
So why does this matter? Why do we need to classify bloggers as journalists or even journalists as bloggers? What matters is the news coverage, right?
That’s right. What matters is the complete, accurate coverage of current events and leaders. If those events and leader aren’t covered, then we risk failing to hold our government or corporations accountable for their actions.
Right now, bloggers can’t be considered journalists unless they meet the following seven criteria set forth by a judge in January (provided by Forbes):
- Education in journalism.
- Credentials or proof of affiliation with a recognized news entity.
- Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest.
- Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted.
- Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources.
- Creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others.
- Contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story.
There are several issues with the judges ruling, so I’ll go point by point and demonstrate why that’s unfair.
- As a journalist at a student newspaper, I don’t have a full education in journalism. I have two years of experience, but there’s no bachelor’s degree on my wall that says I have a full education. But, as the New York Times recently wrote, college newspapers are filling in the void where other established outlets do not. My work at The Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan’s student newspaper, is comparable to that of the Ann Arbor News. This rule also ignores the fact that other established journalists, like Silver, didn’t go to school to be journalists. But if he worked for the New York Times, does that change the situation? And unless the Huffington Post has an education in journalism, its Pulitzer Prize doesn’t qualify it as journalism?
- The biggest problem here is that with just under 1,500 daily publications and fewer TV stations nationwide, the probability of finding an organization to provide credentials can be harder than finding a democrat in Alabama. Credentials are needed to attend events, so this rule means that only those who are already established may be considered journalists.
- If evidence of journalistic standards — which by the way, also aren’t even defined in law — is needed, does that mean I need to record a video of myself every time I edit or fact check a story. That would take the selfie to a whole new level.
- Even when I interview athletes or coaches today, I can’t always take notes. If I don’t, am I not a journalist on those days? I’d be willing to bet that’s not every journalist takes notes, especially those who are TV reporters and are out on the streets conducting interviews in real time.
- I’m sure that no one would want to disclose his or her source, but how exactly does one show mutual agreement?
- I’ll note it again, only because I think it’s important, but neither Fox News nor MSNBC are considered independent of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. But they still are considered journalists. How does one measure independence from a topic in the first place?
- This one might be the most fair, since getting every side is the sign of good reporting, but I’d refer you to the above bullet point about objectivity not being a factor in determining journalists.
You can see there are several questions left unanswered to this and no real way of defining a journalist. I don’t know the answer, and I don’t expect to, but I do know that it would be unfair to use a classification system that excludes so many from the field.
Bloggers, essentially act as journalists today, certainly now more than ever. But many will argue, and rightly so, that not every blogger is a journalist, as the idea of “mommy blogger” reporting suggests.
Maybe you’ve seen it, and maybe you have, but the new avenue for technology has opened up more avenues for mothers to post pictures and status updates of their progress along in pregnancy. Then they post updates as the baby grows up.
Here’s an example with the full link included so you can see the name of the blog: http://journeytobabylucius.wordpress.com/
You’ll notice there’s no reporting of politics, sports, movie reviews or editorials. It’s pictures, a couple of rambling thoughts about having a child and more pictures.
This isn’t a news blog. I agree that it’s a (far too) personal blog by someone who has every right to post.
But I disagree that bloggers aren’t journalists for this reason because it’s important not to look at who is doing the reporting, but what is being reported. The pictures of the baby aren’t meant to be news, but if they were used in a post to demonstrate something like the rising trend of obesity in children supported by a recent study, then the same blog would qualify as a news blog.
Consider the logic of the argument, not the credibility of the author before judging whether someone is a journalist. Good journalists, as I’ve learned through experience, strive above all else to publish the truth in the clearest and fairest way possible. If the information were also not in the public’s interest, then that wouldn’t count as journalism, as well.
And there are several bloggers out there who make for good journalists. But there are also plenty of journalists who would not qualify for the job they hold. And perhaps it’s this distinction that matters, not the medium or the publisher.
Proven research that points to bloggers being journalists can give more access to journalists at government press conferences, sporting events or corporate talks that would otherwise exclude the general public from the resources and information there.
Bloggers could otherwise be sued for libel and slander, if not protected by the first amendment’s freedom of the press clause. Otherwise, freedom of speech would provide less leeway to write and report on sensitive events.
It’s important to note that bloggers wouldn’t be sued because of the medium by which they transmit information — the first amendment protects those on TV just as much as it does a pamphleteer, according to University of Michigan professor Faith Sparr.
But they wouldn’t be subject to the same shield laws that protect them from revealing their sources or the same rights to retraction that newspapers and TV stations have.
The truth is that there is no answer to what makes a journalist and what doesn’t. Anyone could literally wake up tomorrow, decide to start investigating something, get both sides of the story and publish it, and it might be better journalism than something by CNN. They could do it again the next day, and the day after, all on a blog platform, like this one, and could very well be journalists.
The field is still evolving as we speak. Research doesn’t show what is actually happening, which is why there needs to be more conducted. Otherwise, writers are stuck living according to the standards set forth by one judge.
In a time when more and more newspapers are cutting back, denying individuals the chance to inform is detrimental to making decisions on their well being. If they don’t know that one president stands to expand healthcare and the other plans to restrict it, then voting for restricted healthcare could prevent them from affording a chance to make them healthier.
With a larger, more informed press, the public has a chance to benefit in learning more that might otherwise be kept private, holding others accountable and providing a more informed democracy.