Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bloggers vs. Journalists? Or, Bloggers as Journalists?

May It Please the Court has an interesting post up recently. It's regarding a letter from the Attorney General of California, soliciting comments. Essentially, what the AG wants to know is whether bloggers are journalists.

I know I'm not the first to comment on this, but it's difficult to have a sincere discussion of blogging vs. journalism. It's difficult because the two are at the same time completely interrelated and mutually exclusive. Make sense?

Of course it doesn't.

I can blog to my heart's content, and I've got about zero chance of ever scooping a mainstream media outlet. I'll link them like crazy, but I just haven't got the resources, or the time, to devote to the gathering of original content to place here. No blogger does, really. Oh, sure, there are "professional" bloggers who, I suppose, live for nothing else, just as there are attorneys who live for their work. I fall into neither category.

Now, a sincere discussion of bloggers as journalists, that's a different story entirely.

First, let's define "journalist."

Three results appear when you hit Google and search "define:journalist."

Princeton University defines "journalist" both as "a writer for newspapers and magazines," and also "diarist: someone who keeps a diary or journal." Do we get some help there? Not really. As I pointed out above, inherently interrelated and mutually exclusive, right?

San Diego State University, in a glossary of journalism terms, defines "journalist" as "Someone who works in the news gathering business, such as a photographer, editor or reporter." That definition is a little more helpful I suppose, although it still (coming from a school of journalism) needs to be taken with a grain of salt, no?

And finally, we have the singularly helpful definition provided by Wikipedia, stating that "journalist" means "A journalist is a person who practices journalism, the gathering and dissemination of information about current events, trends, issues and people." Thanks.

But let's go with good ol' Merriam-Webster. A "journalist" is "1 a : a person engaged in journalism; especially : a writer or editor for a news medium b : a writer who aims at a mass audience 2 : a person who keeps a journal "

Kinda wraps all the other definitions up in a nice little package, doesn't it?

The conclusion to be reached from this cursory examination of the term is that, yes, bloggers are journalists. At least, each and every blogger is a journalist in one sense of the word or another. Take me, for example. I am definitely "a person who keeps a journal," and "a writer who aims at a mass audience." Granted, I fall terribly short of the mass audience, but that's beside the point. What I do here, I do because I hope that someone, somewhere, will learn something from me that they otherwise might not learn. My efforts similarly fall under the category of "gathering and dissemination of information," etc. All blogs are like that, really. The only difference between blogs is readership. We're reminded constantly that something is "newsworthy" only if the public is interested in hearing it. Jokes about the obvious (due to my sitemeter) non-newsworthiness of this particular blog aside, I believe we're left with the threshhold question. That is, should we (bloggers) be recognized as journalists, regardless of any lack of formal training in conventional journalism? Should we have access to the rights and privileges afforded to members of the conventional journalism community?

In answer, I'm going to leave you with one particularly applicable statement from the link on May It Please The Court, referencing an essay by Jay Rosen on PressThink:

"Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, and blogging means practically anyone can own one. That is the Number One reason why weblogs matter."

Thank you, Mr. Rosen.

Now, where's my fedora?


Easton Ellsworth said...

What is blogging, anyhoo? Well, the kind of blogging I appreciate most is high-quality writing or media publishing that delivers timely, accurate reporting, or adds creativity and variety to this world. I'd consider the former journalism in its own right.

PG said...

I don't think that the "person who keeps a journal" definition ever is what is meant by journalist when we're discussing "journalist's privilege," or what would be more accurately and narrowly called "reporter's privilege." If it is worthwhile to give reporters a privilege against subpoenas and other forced disclosures of information, it is because otherwise they are unable to gather information and disseminate it to the public; their sources will assume that both identity and any information disclosed will be easily accessible to the government. Reporters' ability to disseminate information to the public usually is considered to be in the public's interest.

I wouldn't consider myself a reporter at all. If someone subpoenaed me over anything I've ever written, I would not feel that it was doing a disservice to my readership (of about 5 people), because almost everything I've written about has its source in publicly available information. I would consider myself an *analyst* of news, particularly that which relates to the law, but there's no need for an "analyst's privilege."

Aggle said...


I don't consider myself a reporter, either. A "ranter," maybe. A "bag of hot air," sometimes.

My point in my posts is that, despite the lack of actual "media" credentials, there exist out there bloggers who deserve the same protections MSM reporters receive. That is because they are doing precisely the same kind of work.

I would never presume to state that just because someone keeps a blog, anything and everything they write thereon should be considered "Press," thus qualifying it for the added protections given the Press by the 1st Amendment.

I would merely submit that some of our legislators are going to far in declaring bloggers as de facto non-journalists.

I say we should err on the side of freedom. That's all.