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    Am I a Journalist or Blogger?

    by Mark Glaser
    March 3, 2008

    i-a353ab9e115d50a60156f26467336415-Two dogs.jpg
    I struggle nearly every week with an identity problem: Am I a blogger or a journalist? Most times, I can take the easy way out and think of myself as the nouveau blogger/journalist or journalist/blogger — but which one comes first? nags my inner pigeon-holer.

    Last week’s blog post (or was it a long-form piece of journalism?) on MediaShift about the blurring of the line between journalists and bloggers left out one big example: me. I often struggle with how much personal information I want to put on this blog, how much I want to make it about me and how much it is about the world outside my bubble. In this case, I probably failed on both counts, ignoring myself as an example, but then injecting myself in the sources I chose for the story.

    I was criticized in the comments for using the same old tired examples of journalist-bloggers and not including enough non-journalist bloggers, not to mention interviewing only men. Fair enough, and it’s the one sin of journalists that I’d most like to change in what I do: only talking to the same group of “experts” for each story. I would like to broaden my range of interviewees and sites that I cover, and am hoping that Jennifer Woodard Maderazo as associate editor is helping to do that each week.

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    But back to my identity problem. My career as a journalist has jumped around from print to online publications, and my work has appeared in trade magazines, daily newspapers, email newsletters, text books, glossy magazines, glossy books, blogs, academic websites, and more. So I shouldn’t necessarily be defined by where my work appears. I don’t remember calling myself an “email writer” even though at one point it seemed like most of my work was designed for the email format.

    At the moment, I am living on the border between blogger and journalist. I am a blogger who is published at a traditional media website, PBS, with most of my posts being published without an editor (such as this one). And once per week, my Digging Deeper posts are edited first by a PBS producer, and I very much appreciate that editorial filter when I am doing more in-depth work.

    I prefer to post longer pieces to MediaShift, and perhaps they read more like columns than blog posts. Many people have described what I do as an online column for PBS and I rarely would correct them on that. But I also do want people to comment on my posts, and tell me when they think I’m wrong. Plus, I do update posts with more information as I get it from readers. That seems more blog-like. And I follow the discussion on various blogs to see where my posts lead.

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    Playing the Perception Game

    Personally, I’d rather not spend my time worrying whether people think I’m a journalist or blogger or journablogger or whatever cross-breed I am. But there are times when the question does matter, and I have to consider which one I am to get what I need.

    If I am going to a conference and planning to do live-blogging, then I tell them I am a blogger. But in some cases, saying I’m a blogger can have an adverse effect, similar to the problems of getting press credentials for some bloggers.

    A couple years ago, I tried to get a press pass to cover the music portion of the South by Southwest conference for MediaShift. I told them I was a blogger for PBS, and their response was, “We don’t give out press passes to bloggers.” What if I had told them I was a columnist for PBS?

    When I first contacted Google News about getting MediaShift into the sources included on the news aggregator, their automated response noted that “Google News does not include one-person websites in its sources.” I took that as code for “bloggers” or at least one-person blog sites. I later petitioned them to include me by pointing out that I did have an editor and was distributed via PBS. In the end, they agreed to include MediaShift.

    So while the distinction between blogger and journalist (if it ever really existed) has slowly dissolved, all the infrastructure around recognizing who a journalist is — from press credentials to legal protections has changed very little. So whether I really am a blogger, a journalist or a blogger/journalist might not matter to me, but it will matter when I’m trying to get a press pass or if a judge wants to ferret out my anonymous sources.

    What do you think? Does it matter what my identity is, or how people view me? If you’re a blogger/journalist, how do you deal with these issues? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Photo of dogs fighting by Raleigh St. Clair via Flickr.

    Tagged: journalism journalism skills weblog
    • I’ve had similar identity issues. Every time people ask me what I do – if I’m tired and don’t want to go into it, I sigh and say I’m a “blogger.”

      In truth, I work in social media (citizen journalism, network journalism, whatever you want to call it). But I am first and foremost – a journalist working in this field.

      Let’s remember: blogs are a content management system, not a genre. Journalism is a process – it can be done on paper, in video or in a blog. So if what you do is journalism – then you are a journalist.

      For better or worse – we have come to conflate “blogger” with “non-journalist content producer” or “amateur” for short.

      That is not the case. Give Bob Woodward a blog – and he is still a journalist. Give my mother her own print product – she is still not a journalist (sorry mom).

    • Interesting you mention Google News and news blogs – we just got GN to move us out of G-Blogs and into G-News after repeated requests. Our first one was denied with the explanation that there was “no clear structure” to our site – certainly the content has a structure so we thought they meant the lack of a “masthead,” as, at the time, we were producing our site anonymously. So after we went public, we tried again, and finally just made it. Two of us co-publish the site, but I do 99% of the reporting/writing/editing (including reviewing reader contributions for possible posting). Re: the “how much personal info to get into” — we started our site as much more of a personal observation/opinion blog, and over 2 years it has evolved into a news site that is written more casually than a newspaper, to be sure, but fairly devoid of opinion and personal color, for better or for worse. It just doesn’t feel right any more – we’re counted on to help let people know what’s going on in their community, not to tell them what we’re up to. But every blogger/journablogger has to decide what fits with his/her/their site’s mission.

    • It may be useful to back up a step here.

      I heard Jimmy Breslin flogging his new book on Bob Edwards Weekend. He said [more or less] that he doesn’t know what a journalist is [What, somebody who keeps a journal?], but he knows what a reporter is.

      That may be hyperbole, but it’s a useful distinction.

      Folk who decide to keep a diary — or contemplate their navel — on the web may be journalists, but they aren’t reporters and what they write is not news.

      Folk who write the news, whatever their medium, are reporters.

    • Hello!
      I saw your ‘blog’ while doing a Google News search on “anonymous sources” and thought I’d introduce myself.

      At the first of the year, I started an online “news and opinion” source for my community in order to help its citizens keep track of what is going on in town government. We post stories about town government meetings and opinions by ourselves and our readers. However, unlike other news sources, we have chosen to remain anonymous.

      Without going into the details, we perceive some problems in our local government and some of the decisions that they are making. Unfortunately, our local newspaper only comes out once every 5-9 weeks and keeping up with what is going on in our town government is difficult unless you take the time to find out using public information requests.

      Our town has made no effort to put up a website to help keep its citizens informed and some members of town government would like to keep it that way.

      Currently the town is very quietly trying to rewrite their entire codes and ordinances, some of which are required to hold public hearings. Our website has helped bring to light their efforts despite their attempts to keep information from the public.

      We have posted government meeting agendas, minutes, and audio recordings of meetings on our website so that anyone wishing to find out what the town is working on, can do so without having to go to our town hall, where they would have to pay for this information.

      We live in a very small community of 300 year-round residents and 2500 summertime residents in an remote woodland area.

      Our community has the highest property values in our state and steadily rising property taxes are making it difficult for working people to remain in the community.

      Many people at now at the decision making level of government are from large urban areas and have only become residents relatively recently.

      Recently a group of these people tried to push through a new ordinance that most members of the community did not want.

      Their attempt was unsuccessful, partially due to the efforts of our website, which helped informed people of what was going on in a very timely fashion.

      We have received much criticism for choosing to remain anonymous, especially from candidates that are currently running for Town Board in our upcoming election in April.

      We have chosen to remain anonymous for our own personal protection as some members in our community have suggested that other community members may try to cause us bodily harm to those responsible. There are other reasons as well.

      We are still in our initial growing stages and are still trying to gain the public’s trust. We invite and challenge our readers to point out any factual errors in the information that we post and invite people to submit their opinions, allowing them to do so anonymously, if they prefer.

      We do not accept advertising and our efforts are not motivated by profit.

      So far our readership has grown steadily. However, I stress to our ‘reporters’ that since we are anonymous, we have to take great care that the information that we present is accurate, and if we do interject our opinions, we try to do so in a way that our readers can easily tell our opinions from our facts.

      Consequently, we walk a thinner line than a newspaper as our readership could vanish the instant that we post something that just isn’t true.

      Do you know of any other “anonymous”, legitimate news sites? Is such a thing possible?

      We think so.

      Edward Itor
      Madeline Island News Organization

    • Journal-ism
      Web-logging.

      Acts of recording over time, both.

      If you’re journal-ing or logging your thoughts and posting them in print or online it hardly matters which badge you put on that.

      Except of course how each of the respective fields view you. Somone can have a US passport and and Irish one, a dual citizen. And then flash the US one in JFK and the Irish one in Dublin. Easy access both ways.

      But perhaps it’s really an issue over quality that’s driving your question.

      Maybe it’s more like other creative fields where there’s recognised authorities. A film maker who is recognised by the film business, through financing and exhibition of a feature in major festivals is certainly viewed differently to the video blogger whose work is on Blip.tv. They both produce dramatic content for consumption, there are individuals who work in both fields, but when an established authority judges their work as worthy, they acquire a certain status. A status that the Blog world can only accord in terms of popularity, a ‘top ten’ or ‘top downloads’.

    • I propose the term: digital journalist. Clearly there are elements of both blogging and journalism in web reporting. And the bite-sized shortness of the posts suggests something other than traditional long form journalism. Therefore: digital journalist.

    • I propose the term: digital journalist. Clearly there are elements of both blogging and journalism in web reporting. And the bite-sized shortness of the posts suggests something other than traditional long form journalism. Therefore: digital journalist.

    • I propose the term: digital journalist. Clearly there are elements of both blogging and journalism in web reporting. And the bite-sized shortness of the posts suggests something other than traditional long form journalism. Therefore: digital journalist.

    • I propose the term: digital journalist. Clearly there are elements of both blogging and journalism in web reporting. And the bite-sized shortness of the posts suggests something other than traditional long form journalism. Therefore: digital journalist.

    • I vote for “digital journalist,” though i hardly need to, since that comment posted three times. Great column.

    • Steven

      As a reporter and a blogger, I have to agree wholeheartedly with Greg Hankins, above. Amen, and well stated.

    • I am not a reporter, by Greg’s definition am a journal-ist,a web-logger who keeps an online personal log of stuff important to me. I feel that your identity as writer does link with ‘how you source your information’ and as such imp to me as reader. As for how people view you, that matters too if am a new reader,a history of credibility reassures me.<: )>

    • I also agree with Edward Itor’s view there:…since we are anonymous, we have to take great care that the information that we present is accurate, and if we do interject our opinions, we try to do so in a way that our readers can easily tell our opinions from our facts.
      The important issue here is Reader-trust.

    • I also agree with Edward Itor’s view there:…since we are anonymous, we have to take great care that the information that we present is accurate, and if we do interject our opinions, we try to do so in a way that our readers can easily tell our opinions from our facts.
      The important issue here is Reader-trust.

    • The question of earning and keeping the reader’s trust is the important issue here for the author as Edward Itor points out there.

    • Mark, thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one dealing with this question. This is a great discussion.

      I began my life as an independent journalist as simply a lark — an offshoot from my career as a tech marketing consultant. I decided I liked reporting on conferences. I began doing that in 1997 in the form of an email newsletter, which encouraged replies and discussion. And that was long before I’d heard of anything like a blog platform. Thus, many people think of me as an early blogger, even though I didn’t launch a formal blog till several years later.

      In the meantime, I discovered I liked this thing called reporting and began offering my conference reports to publications, who were happy to run them on their online sites. Thus, I managed to become something of a professional journalist (freelance), since I was getting paid for these stories.

      With my newfound sideline “career,” I also began writing technology articles, opinion pieces, and white papers on various IT related topics — and my earlier experience as a tech-literate marketing writer certainly helped in this regard. Such work, which became a major source of income, enabled me to also call myself an “analyst” (and an “independent” one at that, meaning at least I was self-employed if not completely unbiased).

      Where am I going with all this? I don’t know, but it sure is fun talking about myself! [ha, ha] I guess I’m getting to the part about becoming a blogger (in 2005), which, when it came to income…well, there was no such expectation, unfortunately! But we, of course, all know it’s something one does primarily because of passion. The good news, however, is I soon learned it could lead to other good things in my consulting life.

      Anyway, Mark — back to the topic. I do have the same identity crisis you refer to when I’m requesting press credentials, only worse. Do I say I’m a blogger, a freelance reporter, or an analyst? I guess I end up saying all three many times, if the conference doesn’t yet know me. Whether they think I’m crazy or not is another question… :-)

      I, too, have occasionally run into a conference that says it doesn’t give press passes to bloggers. But that’s really rare anymore (and extremely short-sighted of them, I might add).

      I, in fact, find that bloggers are now welcomed like never before, at least by technology oriented conferences. But it certainly helps to be a known blogger, with some level of readership, credibility, or perceived authority.

      best regards,
      Graeme Thickins
      http://www.Tech-Surf-Blog.com
      Minneapolis/San Clemente

    • What do I think? Honestly, I think you are what you are…a bloggalist or a journalogger…both meaning a combination of Journalist and Blogger. Use them how you want. In my opinion, you shouldn’t worry about how others view you and what you do…just how you view yourself and what you do. As long as your quality of work is high class then no one would have any right to view you as less than you really are.

      I suppose you could consider me a blogger…nothing more. And even then, I wasn’t that until a few months ago, on top of that, I’m not a hardcore blogger at that. I can’t really help with that last question on how I deal with these issues…except to say this, you are whatever you say you are, bloggalist, journalogger, blogger, or a journalist. Only you can truly declare what you are and want to be called, no one can chose that for you.

    • Frank Squirrel

      Your mother goes to college

    • It’s an interesting question and one that continues to grow as more of us old-school journalists move away from print publications. On my website for journalists online, http://www.paragraphink.com, there’s no consensus. Some veteran print journalists embrace the blogger label, while others reject it.

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