Anna Spargo-Ryan

Bloggers and Journalists: not as dissimilar as you may think

If you don’t know The Punch, it’s essentially an opinion based website comprised of a series of “serious” blogs. Today they are running a story about Blogging and Journalism, and why the two ne’er shall meet. Because journalism is Proper Writing and blogging is Poetry About Dog Poop.

With no offense intended to Allison Lee, I have a lot of problems with this piece.

Much has been made of the demise of the mainstream media. Popular opinion would have us believe news journalism is a dying art as newspapers go digital. The future is a brave new world of citizen-journalism where bloggers will reign supreme. Just one problem – blogging and journalism are not the same thing.

Let’s talk about how we define each of blogging and journalism, so we can figure out exactly what makes them so different.

Blogging first became a “thing” when Greymatter was released in 2000. 12 years ago. Some of us painstakingly changed our cgi-bin folder permissions and uploaded files as ASCII and created blogs. We mostly talked about our lives, why that boy didn’t like us, why our parents were jerks and who was going with whom to the formal (well, I did). That was personal blogging. In 2012, people still have personal blogs. They write about the things in their day that have nothing to do with current affairs or politics or economics or climate change. But tens of thousands of people do write on those subjects, and some of them do it in a way that sits outside of the limitations of traditional journalism and so actually offers its readers more.

By comparison, a journalist is someone who writes about current affairs, politics, economics and climate change. Oh. A journalist is someone who produces content to connect with an audience and to provide them with information that may be relevant to their lives. Unlike a blogger, who produces content to connect with an audience and provide them with information that may be relevant to their lives.

Blogging isn’t a genre. Blogging is a format, a framework, a means to publish content. Blogs have always been defined simply as ‘chronological content’. Not ‘content about pushing my child on a swing’.

There are blogs being published every day that push the envelope, that challenge and inform people and provide them with thought provoking, relevant content. One of my favourites is that of Melbourne writer and braniac Geoff Lemon – Heathen Scripture. It’s a blog. That means it’s published in a series of chronological entries. Lemon produces content that introduces new concepts and ideas on matters of writing, politics, sport and culture. On his blog. Read this piece and tell me it’s not journalism.

Sure, both arts involve words, but comparing bloggers to journalists is like suggesting Rupert Murdoch is the next Stieg Larsson.

No, comparing bloggers to journalists is like suggesting Rupert Murdoch contributes to the media and also that blogger over there contributes to the media. The only people who perpetuate the idea that “journalists” are the only people qualified to produce news worthy content are journalists. They are self-styled as “qualified”. There is no requisite qualification to look at an issue in the world and think “that’s interesting, I wonder what else I can find out about it” and then do exactly that and share it with other people. Studying journalism (something I’ve done) teaches a person how to gather facts and how to approach interviews and how to survive being the shit kicker on the newsroom floor. It is easier to be a journalist if you have a journalism degree, there is no doubt. But it is not impossible to act in a journalistic capacity if you do not.

To recognise the difference between bloggers and journalists, we need to avoid mistaking influence for journalism.

There is no question that “being more influential” is not the same as “being a good journalist” (see your own Rupert Murdoch example, above). We also need to avoid mistaking “writing words in a newspaper” for “journalism”. And “saying things on 60 Minutes” for “journalism”. And “fronting up to a council meeting” for “journalism”. Influencing a group of people – according to this article, “51 per cent of bloggers believe they influence a niche audience” – does not constitute acting as a journalist. Because what journalists do is publish content on behalf of a) employers, and b) advertisers, in order to influence a mass audience. As you can see, the wording is slightly different.

That’s because bloggers and media have a completely different agenda. The single biggest factor driving bloggers today was having fun, cited by 75 percent of respondents to the study. 43 per cent claimed to blog as a creative outlet.

These figures mean nothing without a clear definition of what constitutes a blogger. Is a blogger just “someone who isn’t a journalist”, as the article suggests? Or has ‘IMPACT’ sourced a number (how many?) of personal bloggers, because that’s the loose definition they’re using, in which case it’s no surprise that they cite ‘fun’ as a driving force? Why not take a group of bloggers that comprises one part personal blogger, one part political blogger, one part awareness blogger and one part war commentary blogger and see how much fun they are having?

Also, and this may blow your minds, some people write, research and analyse because it’s fun. I’m having fun right now even though I’m writing about work. The purpose of this blog is as a creative outlet, but my idea of a creative outlet might be different from yours or his or hers or that monkey’s.

Lee fails to mention the contrasting agenda of the journalist, so we are left to presume that it is self-immolation on the sacrificial altar of the great story and the good of the people.

For bloggers and their readers, what happens at the kitchen sink is just as important as what happens in Canberra. Sometimes, more so. Not a single blogger cared about breaking stories or beating fellow bloggers to a story. It’s journalists that break news and bloggers don’t want that job.

Let me reiterate my favourite part of this paragraph: what happens at the kitchen sink is just as important as what happens in Canberra. SOMETIMES, MORE SO. This clearly scientific and unbiased study claims that not one single blogger cared about breaking stories. Not one. Not even a mouse. And we know that bloggers don’t care about what happens in Canberra, because do you know how many of them turned up to Julia Gillard’s blogger morning tea? None! They were all, “No thanks Jules, we are more concerned with what happens at the kitchen sink THANKS ANYWAY!”

Blogging isn’t going to replace journalism any time soon. In the brave new digital world, there’s room for journalists and bloggers. Just don’t expect them to do the same thing or tell the same story.

Spoiler alert, Allison Lee: there is no need to make the distinction between bloggers and journalists. Some bloggers are like journalists. Some journalists are like bloggers. Opinion pieces form a massive and vital part of media, mass or otherwise, mainstream or otherwise. Blogging isn’t replacing journalism, it’s contributing to journalism. Time and time again this writer has watched mainstream media pick up stories (news or otherwise) that were first written about on blogs or on Twitter by people who are not, by journalism’s definition, journalists.

I don’t expect them to tell the same story any more than I expect Bernard Keane and Andrew Bolt to tell the same story. That doesn’t mean they’re not both journalists (though the latter may be a good example of when a journalist is not a journalist); it’s a reflection on our ability as a society to provide consumers with many disparate pieces of information and a variety of opinions from which to form their own opinion.

Which is exactly what bloggers do. From behind their kitchen sinks, obviously.

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I’m Anna, a digital strategist and writer who likes to drink 'Ice Tea' but doesn't understand why it's not called 'Iced Tea'. By night and occasionally morning, I eat things, write things, berate my children, walk my dogs and hug my chocolate.

Comments

  • July 17, 2012 12:55 pm

    Wow, fantastically written article Anna! Great points.

  • July 17, 2012 1:03 pm

    Beautifully written piece of bloggism Anna. Getting a bit tiresome all this ‘bloggers aren’t real writers’ nonsense isn’t it? I really like your point that blogging is not a genre. There’s such an astounding range of blogs out there – and an equally astounding range of writers. I was a uni lecturer/researcher for years before I joined the blogging world; I’ve never been a journalist, but I do know how to research, write, construct an argument etc. I continue to have much respect for good journalism – as I do for good writing of any kind. Anyway, thanks for your contribution to the debate.

  • July 17, 2012 2:45 pm

    Great piece. Made even better with a final paragraph dig at Bolt. Bravo.

  • Mrs Woog

    July 17, 2012 2:45 pm

    Man, you are good. So much thinking going on today, I might need a lie down x

    • Lara @ This Charming Mum

      July 17, 2012 2:58 pm

      Yeah, forget my waffly response. Mrs Woog sums it up succinctly as always. You’re good!

  • July 17, 2012 3:21 pm

    I guess some people are still afraid of loosing their jobs…

  • Bec

    July 17, 2012 4:23 pm

    LOVE it!

  • July 17, 2012 5:52 pm

    Bravo! I only chanced upon your blog from a Mrs Woog tweet and I love this article. So, so true. I’m going to bookmark this and read it every time I lose just a little bit of confidence in my writing and wondering if what I am doing is worth anything (which it clearly is).

    Particularly love this bit “what happens at the kitchen sink is just as important as what happens in Canberra. SOMETIMES, MORE SO.” Agree 1000 times over.

    Kx

  • July 17, 2012 10:52 pm

    Anna – your piece on bloggism vs journalism clearly reveals the limitations of journalism. Blogs have a much wider scope – and provide specialist information from people who are, well, experts. Everything from backyard swings to wine appreciation. Amazingly, all in one spot. The writer of the article suggesting blogs are always about little more than excrement clearly has an issue. A complacency born from years of being the only source of information. “Holier than thou” syndrome?

  • July 17, 2012 11:00 pm

    Oh yeah. This blog post. So much smarts. Thank you.

  • July 17, 2012 11:11 pm

    I agree Anna. Fantastic article. So pleased that you have written it and contributed to the continuing debate.

  • July 17, 2012 11:33 pm

    I think I read the article differently; I didn’t feel she was being disparaging of bloggers but rather making what I feel is actually a very accurate argument. Most/many (not all) bloggers do not identify as journalists or with journalism; that’s not to say that they don’t make a valuable contribution to people’s lives or that they don’t see that, it’s just that they do have a different goal. This impacts hugely the way they approach their writing, any brand opportunities they may wish to pursue, and the way they approach their story. I think making the distinction between the way many bloggers approach their craft and the way journalists do their’s is actually really helpful. All that said, I loved this post and the way you wrote it too!

      • July 19, 2012 8:47 am

        Anyone that pooh pooh’s the value of what non-journalists write is possibly either very insecure about the state of media at the moment or a fool(!). I guess it’s because I work with bloggers from a brand perspective the distinctions between bloggers and journalists are quite important and probably come out more in that forum that they do when you look at both as crafts. Also, as a blogger I would never call myself a journalist nor see what I do as journalism in any form. I think what bloggers like Nikki do is very unique and most of the professional bloggers I know I would consider amazing writers, not journalists. From my perspective someone claiming that bloggers aren’t journalists isn’t a put down or big deal, but someone claiming bloggers aren’t writers – well that’s an entirely different thing! I don’t know if this makes sense anymore as the box is too small for me to read it back properly but hopefully you see what I am trying to say. x

  • July 17, 2012 11:38 pm

    You got the smarts Anna. As a former journo I just shake my head at pieces like that on The Punch. I am writing on the exact same topic now as I did four years ago when working for a media company. I offer advice, sometimes I am first with the news … the only difference between roles? I AM having fun because as a blogger your readers talk to you. You know who they are. They’re not a fictitious “family” on a poster on the newsroom wall that you are supposed to look at each day for inspiration on how and what to write.

  • July 18, 2012 12:01 am

    Ah just catching up after a lovely (read: diabolical) trip to Bali-town. Love your work Ms Anna – points nicely made. You know what I love about blogging? I get to read people’s unfiltered thoughts on a given topic. And I take on board SO MUCH MORE from those unfiltered thoughts that I do from any newspaper article because you just don’t know how many hands that newspaper article has passed through to get to you.

  • julie

    July 18, 2012 5:45 am

    Well said!

  • July 22, 2012 7:49 am

    Your right in that the two are actually very similar but what I find interesting is how they will never admit that and do like to highlight the differences. Especially journalists, they really do not like to be put in the same boat as bloggers.

    Lets see if the relationship blossoms with time!

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