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Bloggers Are Not Journalists

I know a few bloggers who fancy themselves citizen journalists. It takes a lot of work to be a journalist. I often stop bleeds for my children, administer medication and homespun remedies, but still I am not a citizen medic. I’m just a Mom.

Bloggers have immense value as we offer commentary, opinion and enlightenment. What we don’t offer is balanced reporting, and we certainly don’t adhere to journalistic standards. I am not saying that bloggers don’t have value, or that bloggers don’t break stories, but even the best bloggers with the best of intentions are more akin to columnists than to reporters.

Blogs, like many newspapers, begin because the founder has an agenda. Agendas are not necessarily bad things. The agenda may be World Peace. The agenda certainly could be Get Free Things or Promote Myself. There are any number of reasons one may start a blog, inevitably they evolve or die. Like everyone else, my blog started in one place, and grew to another. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know this is not journalism.

There are plenty of journalists who have blogs. The slow death of the daily newspaper has sent an incredible number of talented writers online. Almost without exception journalistic standards online are not being met. When is the last time you got a phone call from a fact checker? Before an assertion is made are there three independent sources to verify? There are two sides to every story, and quite often a third, fourth and fifth, does your story show those? If not, it’s a nice story, but it’s OP/ED, it’s not journalism.

Do not get me wrong, I love bloggers. I’m a blogger, I read you. I want to emulate you.

I’m just putting the call out for bloggers to please self identify as bloggers. Because when we call ourselves journalists, it’s like we’re the crappiest journalists you ever saw.

The Society of Professional Journalists has their ethics code posted online. It’s a good starting point.

61 thoughts on “Bloggers Are Not Journalists”

  1. Great post. As a current blogger/former journalist, couldn’t agree more. Blogging and journalism can and should complement and inform each other, but bloggers calling themselves journalists does a disservice to both.

  2. Good points, but isn’t OP/ED a form of journalism?

    Don’t journalists write fluff pieces?

    My Mac’s dictionary defines journalist thusly:

    25 years: reporter, correspondent, columnist, writer, commentator, reviewer; investigative journalist, photojournalist, newspaperman, newspaperwoman, newsman, newswoman, newshound, newshawk, hack, stringer.

    A lot of bloggers are reviewers, commentators, correspondents and columnists. Some are even hacks.

    Most bloggers aren’t striving to be news reporters. But that’s only one kind of journalist.

    And remember, there are journalists who keep getting assigned fluff pieces. They’re still journalists.

  3. Really? Are bloggers calling themselves journalist?

    Who wants that pressure? (lol)

    Bloggers can turn into journalist and vice versa, but one is not the other.

    You are correct Mrs. Gottlieb!

  4. They just have to be recognised as different things. I’m a career journalist (well, writer really, for a teen magazine) and I blog, but my aims are very different with both. One is a paid job where I fit house style, submit my copy to subs for fact-checking and spelling & grammar, and don’t necessarily write what I feel, and the other is a vehicle for my thoughts and opinions. I certainly wouldn’t, on the basis of my blog, refer to myself as a journalist. I suppose the problem is that we’re in an in-between phase right now where there’s no term for bloggers, who are increasingly accepted by mainstream media and given the privileges accorded to full-time journalists (certainly in terms of UK fashion bloggers).

  5. I don’t agree with the universal declaration that a blogger is not a journalist, because it is possible to write a blog with journalistic style and integrity, and some bloggers do just that. But it is fair to say that bloggers are not ipso facto journalists, yes; I’m not even sure I’d go so far as “columnist” as a default. A blog is the functional equivalent of a soapbox on the corner. Anything more than that requires conscious, directed effort.

  6. I do agree. Unfortunately, many “journalists” are no longer really journalists either.

    I think in redefining these terms for current times, we should consider both groups as influencers. This includes journalists, bloggers, newsletter writers, and the guy that stands out on the street with a sign and bullhorn.

  7. I agree and disagree. I agree that just because you can create a blog and type some words in, that does not a journalist make. However, just because you can write some words down and print them on paper, doesn’t make you a journalist either.

    That code of ethics is voluntary and there is no impetus on the journalist or the paper to maintain it other than their own desire to do the “right” thing (har) and the fear that the public will find out and they will lose readers. Most of this country’s papers, which in fairness are far more objective than just about any other country, have their own agenda and while they may be more thorough than your average blogger, I read them with that in mind.

  8. I’ve worked in close proximity to journalism, and have been a blogger for several years. Totally agree with you. Bloggers can play a big role in promoting great stories, bringing them to new and broader audiences, and shining a light on questionable practices to keep folks honest. Also, blogging subject matter experts can be enormously valuable resources – providing informed opinions, insight, expertise, and leads to help inform real acts of reporting. I look forward to a growing symbiosis, as we all get better at disclosing our policies, motivations and sources of income.

  9. Based on the majority of blogs I read and follow, you are absolutely correct that blogs = Op/Ed. The only exception I see is in sports reporting – I follow a couple soccer bloggers who make it clear they are reporting news (citing sources, using links, etc), but frequently include analysis (opinion). Which begs me a question – does sports reporting come under your definition of journalism?

  10. I understand this completely. We have an acquaintance with a BA minor in history who calls herself a historian; she doesn’t do any work in the field, research, writing, teaching, etc.., but feels she is on par with and often better than the PhDs who have put in the time, studied, continued education, published books, articles, teach, and research…

  11. I was asked by another parent at my son’s school what I work on when I run off to the library when our kids are at school. ” Oh I write for a website.” ” Are you a journalist?”

    Hell NO!

    I explained I have my own blog and also am staff on a website where I write another blog.

    “It’s sorta like a column I guess?” I explained when she was clearly not familiar with blogs.

    To me journalism is like most other professions, something you are educated specifically for, trained and work your way up in. You don’t start by getting a log in on Blogger.

    I think there are some bloggers who are journalist but the vast majority are bloggers, and there is nothing wrong with that title, take pride in it!

  12. Haha! This is a timely post for me considering the whole c-section debate that’s happening on Twitter. I’ve been blocked by the Feminist because she didn’t like my opinion, she didn’t like that I didn’t spend HOURS researching facts and figures to come up with my lay opinion, and that I think she’s silly for always checking numbers before she speaks.

    The minute I have to get facts and figures before I open my mouth (or boot my puter) I think I’m moving to a different country.

  13. Shouldn’t the responsibility also fall on the readers to be critical readers of their information sources? I just wonder about your intentions here…feels like a reactive piece.
    That being said; I do agree.

  14. It took me months to finally start a blog. It’s a personal matter, but I get your point. I understood “blogging” to be open to anyone with an opinion or purpose, and the internet.

    People are funny. Calling myself anything other than an asshole with internet, would be like calling myself a black-belt because I can kick you in the shin. lol

    I wonder if there could be a site, not left, not right, but with just the f-n truth from trustful and qualified news journalists. Allowing sponsorship should only be about ad space though, not content.

    Just my humble and uneducated opinion…

    Thanks. Nice content. I feel better about the thought of calling myself a “blogger” now. :-)

  15. Yes, you’re totally right of course. But bloggers can still do well to review those journalistic ethics and become familiar with such practices as fact-checking (at least find a couple Google sources!) and proof reading. Of course, a blogger doesn’t have to do any of it, but their credibility will only extend as far as their research and qualifications.
    And all the more reason we need to find a way to keep real journalists in real jobs.

  16. I have worked both sides of the fence. A passion for writing led me to become a journalist. Lack of pay led me to a different field. I love being a blogger.

    As a blogger I write what I want to write. Some of my posts could have been submitted to publications where they would be viewed differently than upon my blog. Probably would have been given more weight than they received at my joint.

    The distinction doesn’t bother me.

    I agree with an earlier commenter that the reader bears some responsibility for determining what is real and what is not. Too many people blindly accept what they see in writing as being factual.

  17. I think some of the drive to use the term “journalist” comes from the reluctance in many cases to let bloggers access information, e.g., ask company officials questions, attend product launch events, have access to review units, etc. Because too many of my PR brethren have been too slow to recognize the importance of these new voices, bloggers who are trying to truly cover things in a “journalistic” manner have been forced to call themselves whatever they need to in order to gain access.

    To be clear, I agree there’s a difference between a blogger that’s got a free blog account for the sole purpose of scamming some free products or samples and someone who’s truly working to build an audience and have a voice. Quality — and journalistic standards — can live in both the traditional and “new” media, and they can also be absent in either. I once had a business reporter for a major daily ask my boss what a megabyte was when he was assigned to write an article on the launch of a new hard disk drive. I expect better from anyone who wishes to take our time.

    Overall, however, I agree with your post. But a journalist can be anywhere, as can a non-journalist.

    Oh, and I did some very rudimentary coding this weekend. I’m now calling myself a “Citizen Software Engineer.” Love it! I might even get cards!

    1. Hello Doyle. Point well taken. I absolutely agree that times are changing and it’s difficult for PR colleagues to stay up. While I still get the Denver Post delivered every morning, my favorite news source is @mashable.

      However, from the standpoint of a young public relations professional and social media researcher, it’s not ethical for bloggers to call themselves journalists just to “gain access” to events, sources, etc.

      Similar to public relations practitioners, journalists also have a code of ethics where they must be transparent in everything that they do. Even though a blogger might not be the same thing as a journalist, would it be that much of a stretch for them to be held to the same ethical standards by checking their facts and disclosing anything that would compromise their story/post to (1) provide credibility for their blog and, (2) more importantly, be fair to their readers?

      1. Liz, I think we may be talking semantics here, which is my larger point. Is it ethical for a blogger to say he works for the Denver Post, for example, when he does not? Absolutely not. However, to say I write for Mashable, for example, and describe myself as a “journalist” as opposed to a “blogger” does not, in my opinion, cross an ethical line. It is then up to those in charge — often PR folks — to give or not give access based on that information. In my opinion, in many cases, that access has been too slow in coming because of a fundamental lack of understanding of these new voices.

        In another example, what about a freelance writer who applies for press credentials to cover an event without a specific assignment from a news outlet (he may just be hoping to sell stories to one or more)? Is that person a journalist? For the purposes of access, I think he is. How he chooses to cover the story, use facts, follow ethical guidelines, etc., will determine if he fits the definition we’re discussing through his work.

        However, I have to again point out that there is good and bad in both the traditional and new worlds, in coverage and in “ethics.” When I ran the PR department for a large hard drive company, I can’t (and also won’t!) tell you how many “journalists” — this was before the rise of the blogosphere — offered favorable reviews in return for a handful of hard drives for their office. This strained my own ethics! Getting reviews was my job, but I knew these “journalists” were simply shilling for hardware! Believe me, lack of disclosure is nothing new and did not arrive with the blogosphere. Here’s the good part, though: I can’t think of one of those publications that’s still in business, in print or online form. Why? Readers will vet out the shills from the reviewers in fairly short order. Give glowing reviews to enough crappy products and you’ll discredit yourself soon enough.

        John Metzger wrote a piece on this topic, based on his experience as both a technology magazine editor and PR professional:’s-new-blogging-disclosure-laws…/ John’s point is well-taken: if you want to write/review and act like a journalist, do your best to follow the rules many of us expect. Those who do deserve access and our attention. Those who don’t will soon enough be back to whatever they did before.

        1. Doyle, thanks for responding and allowing me to pick your brain on the line between journalist and blogger and the ethics that are associated. You’ve given me much to think about.

          Jessica, props to you on a very thought-provoking blog post!

  18. The traditional definition of Journalism as unbiased reporting of facts, giving equal weight to “different sides to a story,” is a lovely, idealized one. It’s also one that isn’t really all that practiced in certain media outlets. And “agenda,” coverage bias, non-coverage bias, etc all exist, because the journalists, whether they’ve gone to J-school or are out on their own doing the best they can, have perspectives and have personal biases. I understand that journalistic ethics etc wants people to separate themselves from this bias. Heck, in the primary season a journalist was fired from Fox after telling McCain she voted for him.

    As these biases are repressed even further, the tendency for the mask to slip gets worse. I think the best way to go about it is for journalists to actually disclose any conflicts of interest and personal biases, whether it’s on their staff bio page or something. The rise of the web as a source for information has basically proven that no one is fully trustworthy, including capital-J Journalists.

  19. Well, considering the press conferences I have recently attended, it’s lucky for the journalists that bloggers were in the room asking some of the best and most interesting questions.

    I’m a blogger, not a journalist, but is it wrong for me to want them to do their jobs better?

  20. Doyle’s right.
    Many make the error of associating a format (newsprint or online) with the quality of content that resides in it.
    As an extensively trained journalist who spent a long time in the profession, and now as a blogger, I believe the professional journalist, in about 90% of cases, doesn’t meet the profession’s standards and doesn’t deserve the title or credit.
    Most people believe journalists are biased. I place more weight in the transparently subjective views of many bloggers than most major news organizations.
    As a result, I believe many bloggers deserve the title of journalist in your context. And most newspaper hacks do not.

  21. You said it exactly. Blogs are opinions that may or may not include facts. Some are simply rants and others are based on actual data. Both have value and both are becoming “mainstream media”.

  22. I think it’s time for new definitions as well. Under the old set of definitions, a journalist was the newspaper guy and a blogger was the nerd in the back bedroom. However, we have successful examples like the Drudge Report and Huffington Post that have become mainstream sources/aggregators on their own. People don’t read their hometown newspapers, but read these sites instead. It may hurt the feelings of a Medill grad to not be considered the only journalist in town, but we are moving towards a place where there are bloggers who have serious standards and journalists who function only as columnists, even on the front of section A.

  23. Great blog. I write for a magazine as a journalist. I write for Fast Company and From the Desk of a Steeleworker as a blogger. I always identify whether it is for the monthly magazine article or for one of the blogs when I ask for info, quotes, etc. I am a great speaker. I am a good blogger. I am a so-so journalist. And I will always be honest about that! Thanks again for your post.

  24. Can’t agree more with that? But as you said even newspapers have an agenda. May not be completely unbiased. But reporting does have certain ethics. Of course, there are cases on a rouge journalist flouting those norms. It happens in any profession.

    But the power of interent when it is a too way medium, has certainly made possible for everyone to create and distribute content. But over a period of time, it will consolidate. The good ones (read, reliable) will prevail.

    I have some similar opinion on Twitter and journalism. Let me know your thoughts.

  25. Unless we are bloggers who are also journalists. As a blogger with over 15 years of journalism experience, and one who continues to work professionally, there is some overlap. But I hear where you are coming from. I do not like it when people are are activists try to say their online activism is journalism.

    PunditMom aka Joanne Bamberger

  26. If you’ve worked both sides of the fence, as I have, you know the difference between what you see and what you feel about what you see. I get what you’re saying about journalists vs bloggers, but I don’t think you can generalize so much. There are umpteen (at least) blogs out there and they deal with a host of topics from umpteen perspectives. You seem to be saying that what marks a journalist is clarity of vision and an absence of bias. I just listened to the BBC World Service report on Haiti, and the journalist was anything but unbiased. He had an agenda and he did what he had to to promote that agenda. It’s great that you’re airing this, Jessica, but as always, be wary of setting your arguments up as black and white; the world we live in has many shades of gray.

  27. Aren’t bloggers just people who have blogs? I mean, some of them aren’t even writers. Just because housewives cook, doesn’t make them “Chefs”. But I think you kind of made that point already.

    When it comes to blogs, they are what they are and will be judged and categorized by their readers, not their authors.

  28. I don’t even like the term blogger. Since ANYONE can technically be a blogger. It merely defines the hobby that I enjoy, which is blogging. It is not earned, it is not given. I would rather consider myself “some guy who has a website that some people find interesting.” Because I had to work hard for THAT title. Or you can just call me awesome.

  29. I’ve been a journo for 25 years and still am occasionally. Been a blogger (my own, and paid) for four. What’s the difference?
    Not much really. It’s basically information transfer, but in different formats. All I ever wanted to do was educate people, and I do it in both formats.
    Only difference I can see is that in blogging I have to be my own editor, and therefore have my own code of ethics. So now safety net.
    On the other hand, I don’t have to bend my stories to fit some editor or publisher’s agenda.
    While I liked the concept of the honest and heroic journalist and tried to believe it for many years, the reality was that it was often much more false and self serving.

  30. I am so not a journalist. t find it laughable when I show up at events and they issue me a “press pass.” When I read an article in the NY Times or even the NY post, in no way can I do what those journalists do.

  31. You’re right about that. Although the for-profit media seem to have less credibility as we become a more politically divided country. FOX News has no credibility with anyone of liberal leanings just as NPR seems to be on the s***t list for conservatives. It’s very difficult to know where reality lies. And I see where Oliver Stone is still saying the JFK shooting is an “American fairytale.” I have a sense that I can generally trust NPR and the BBC, but a number of Brits laugh out loud when they hear me say that, so who knows? The broader set of sources we can monitor, the more likely we are to encounter the truth, assuming we know it when we see it. Biggest problem for those who try to stay informed, as least about some subjects, is that there are too many sources. Many questionable. We live in interesting times.

  32. I once called myself a “cow girl”… that was in junior high. I wore Wranglers and Justin boots. I had a wide selection of long sleeve button up shirts with crazy patterns. I even had a horse. But… as much as I looked the part of a cow girl… the real cow girls were barrel racing at the rodeo. I had an intense fear of barrel racing…

    So I do agree with you Jessica. Even though I have been handed a press pass to attend certain events… that little badge does not make me a journalist. It makes me a blogger that remembered to wear her Wranglers and boots in order to get an exciting story to share with the readers of her blog.

  33. As someone that was paid nothing and put in incredible hours as a reporter at a small town newspaper, bloggers should be thankful they aren’t journalists. It’s not easy. Agree. Whole heartedly with your post. I had to pay much money to get a degree and got my ass chewed by my editor if I didn’t do the above. I ramble, but I stopped to comment, because you made me wonder some stuff. If a blogger does adhere to the normal journalistic values and practices, is their blog a blog anymore, or is it an online e-zine or something else? Does it matter? Are there any bloggers out there acting as journalists? (I come from the print world, and honestly don’t know so I ask).

  34. My years of training as a journalist want me to thank you for this post.

    Nothing drives me battier than a person who has access to a keyboard call themselves a journalist just because they wrote something. Yes, I know some journalists are hacks and some bloggers *do* write pieces that a trained journalist would be proud to call their own, it’s all the others out here in the Internets that drive me buggy.

  35. Journalists that fact check? Pah!

    Maybe in a few of the top publications that are well funded and founded on good journalistic principles. The problem is that nowadays commerciality is king and many journos have to forsake their principles for an impending deadline. Now is better than late and accurate.

    I agree that very few bloggers are good journalists, but I vehemently disagree that journalists don’t have an agenda. Any paper, any website and pretty much any publication has an agenda that they spout throughout their articles, to reinforce or undermine their standpoint.

    To say that pretty much all bloggers write with a more defined agenda than a journalist, is in my simple bloggers opinion, plain wrong.

    But in the interest of a balanced discussion, I’m happy to hear otherwise!

  36. I totally agree and I am so glad that you addressed this! I am happy to identify myself as a blogger….I feel free to spread my beliefs and opinions and sometimes interact in vigorous debates. The amount of work and study and qualifications that come with being a journalist are not for me, not at this place in my life….and I’m okay with that.

  37. So are blogger’s the new columnists? But aren’t columnists considered journalists? Where is the line between reporting facts and giving opinions?

    In the case recently of Gizmodo’s Jason Chen. Isn’t Gizmodo’s primary existence based off reporting technology news, getting the story before the other tech news sites, fact checking their stories, writing on a deadline? That sounds an awful lot like journalism to me.

    The same can be said about other sites. However, if it is considered that a person is a blogger if their work is only published online, then where’s the offset for the online only news outlets like (who employs actual journalists from ‘recognized’ sources like NPR and an assortment of newspapers).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m a journalist by any means. I often don’t even attempt to write about both sides of the story, but I do my fact checking to make sure I’m not writing crap.

    Like my comment, this whole situation is mired in confusion and lots of points to consider.

  38. I couldn’t agree more. As a blogger, quite frankly I wouldn’t want to be considered a journalist because it would take away my freedom to shout my opinion out my readers. That’s the fun in blogging… to offer your opinion. Journalists don’t have that luxury. Thanks for the insight!

  39. Why do people use the term ‘blogger’ and ‘citizen journalist’ interchangeably? And why are both terms so often uttered with a sneer?

    I’m a blogger. I’m not chasing a Pulitzer. Nor am I after a book deal. I spend 10-15 hours a week writing two separate blogs because I like to write about stuff I’m passionate about. Other people play squash. Or catalogue train details. Or drink themselves into oblivion. I’m not sure exactly what people like me have done to deserve such opprobrium from Andrew Marr, other than it being a good excuse to grab some headlines. Which is exactly what he did. Cheap shot, really.

    And if by “a lot of bloggers” he has the political blogs and forums in mind, maybe he should think that the kind of behaviour you see on the likes of Guido Fawkes is just a reflection of the playground behaviour so often seen in the political sphere on which they are commenting? The rest of us are, by and large, quite civil and reasonable people, really.

    My thoughts on the subject:

  40. I was hoping to comment on the Cooks Source post, but I see you removed it.

    I’m having an identity crisis. I have a BA in Journalism and wrote for newspapers in Ohio and Illinois for about four years before entering the PR/marketing world. I’m about to launch a blog that will provide news, resources, events, etc for expecting and new moms in Chicago, but there will also be a personal blogging component to it. I’m calling myself “Editor” as I have several people contributing to the site. I’m curious what you think of that title.

    At the very least, you have me thinking about a lot of things — advertising and how I choose content, to name just two.

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