Blogging journalists, and other oxymorons

Media Guardian has just published my piece on the problems posed when professional journalists enter the blogosphere. Extract:

Unlike amateur bloggers who can rant, comment, express bizarre points of view or promote their latest acquisitions and obsessions with no concern for conflict of interest or even internal consistency, we are not mere citizens in the world of the blog and the MySpace profile, and it is about time we stopped trying to act as if we ever were.

Head to their site for comments… see if you can do better than ‘what pretentious, self-important nonsense’ 🙂

Update: Jeff Jarvis has picked up on the piece, but seems to see it as an attack on the unwashed bloggers rather than a warning to my fellow hacks.

Another update [June 4]. The discussion over at BuzzMachine contines, and I’ve just added this, which may help clarify things.

I think Steve makes a really useful point when he points out that ‘we all have reputations, our associations, our jobs’, and mentions 10th graders on MySpace. This discussion – and those taking place elsewhere – is helping me greatly as I try to clarify my thinking on this issue [which, of course, supports Jeff’s main argument, but I’m happy to do that].  It is about reputation, and about whether the things one writes in one place can be seen as separate from things written elsewhere.

My main contention is that once you’re a paid journalist – which I am – then everything that is not private becomes part of the corpus of your writing. Not finished product – I’m with Jeff on that one too, that the articles we now write are the zeroth draft of history not the first, and that they cannot be considered closed or final any more – but part of our output.  Because of that we can’t apply different standards to ‘journalism’ and ‘personal blogging’ because they occupy the same space, one that those who want to comment and criticise have access to.

This applies to a greater or lesser degree to every blogger, and over time, as blogging becomes part of the general conversation, it will apply to more people.  So those who are currently blogging about topics that seem to have nothing to do with work, or the teenagers writing about their drug experiences, should observe the position we professional journalists find ourselves in and realise it will apply to them in future.

It doesn’t mean that we should stay away from blogging, or that what we produce is somehow ‘better’ or more objective. It means we will be judged by it in ways that, at least for the moment, other bloggers aren’t. If we embrace this new world maybe we can use some of the skills we have to provide a good example to those who are speaking online for the first time, but that would take a degree of humility and openness to criticism that few of my colleagues seem able to demonstrate.

5 Replies to “Blogging journalists, and other oxymorons”

  1. I’m in the even stranger situation where I blog for a company. On the one hand I have complete editorial control (I’ve never once been told do/don’t write about this product) and I take part in conversations across the blogosphere, but on the other hand I have the reputation of the site’s brand and the company to think about.

    How do you define me and the thousands(?) of other bloggers that are paid to blog by a company? Am I a journalist or a blogger? Or some sort of hybrid “blogging journalist”?

  2. It’s a good question. I’d say that you’re not a professional journalist, so it’s up to you whether you want to call what you write ‘journalism’. However you are in a similar situation to a blogging professional journalist in that what you write affects more than just your personal reputation. As I said on BuzzMachine, this is something that’s eventually going to affect all bloggers – we hacks are just there first.

  3. I’m serious blogger, you can call me journalist blogger(yes?) & many depends on my blog for information in delhi.

    I keep trying to learn how i can improve my journalist skills as i was never a journalist before.

    Cheers, Rohit

  4. I agree with you Bill.

    I think the problem stems from everyone’s insistence on calling personal online publishing “blogging” no matter what.

    The implicit assumption is that all blogging is of almost equal value, which it clearly isn’t. So if you choose to point out there are varying qualities of blogging, it is thrown back as elitism for the simple reason that it hurts other bloggers’ egos.

    A big part of the reason why this style of personal publishing has become such an enormous success is because it enables everyone to feel as if their words and insights are important and valued. The horrible reality is that some people are very much better at assimilating information, analysing it and writing eloquently.

    All a journalist really is is someone that has been focussing on that process for years – and nothing helps you focus more than having to make a living from it – and subsequently they are consistently better at it.

    My blog is basically a chattier version of my journalism but at the same time it is more journalistic that what I would write if I wasn’t a journalist. Because people who I have professional contact with do read my blog, and it reflects back on my livelihood.

    And so I agree with you. If you want the more solid explanation as to why journalists who have grasped blogging are better than people who have just decided to post their thoughts, it’s in the original content stakes.

    Blogs that point to something and then give the author’s opinion is one thing. Blogs that point to one thing, connect it to another, put it into context, perhaps include a quote from a key person in that area and then include an author’s opinion is quite another.

    The latter is – I’ll make up a term – “free journalism”. The former is blogging. I read the latter and skim the former.


  5. I find myself a little torn.

    My blog has very little to do with my professional interests yet might become linked, is this fair, should I be concerned?

    As a small business mentor my thoughts probably are of interest to potential clients, but my blog is a platform for sharing another of my passions, template design. So should I be overly concerned about crossover? Unfortunately I think I should.

    A very quick search in one of the major search engines for my name will produce hundreds of pages that link directly to my non-professional life. I advise anyone considering a change of career or promotion to do the same, you may find that the decision maker is able to read your private thoughts, and they may very well not find anything offensive, but writing style and online behaviour seem to count for a lot.

    In today’s world many HR executives and middle managers have grown up with Internet technology and use it themselves, they know how to use a search engine. Many of us create online nicknames to protect our privacy, then we casually mention it in conversation with potential employers or perhaps even include in our resume as our preferred email contact. Nicknames can be searched for just as easily as real names.

    I guess we should all be aware the world is entering a new phase where privacy just doesn’t exist the way it used to.

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