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April 08, 2005

Bloggers As Journalists

I was watching C-SPAN2 this morning and they had a debate about "Are Bloggers Journalists?" I know this topic is a hornet's nest, but I can't resist...

I watched the introductory statements, and the general gist from the bloggers was that they were journalists if they called themselves journalists. Some dude named Garrett Graff, from fishbowlDC, pointed out that even the last graduate from the worst medical school gets to call himself a doctor, so why shouldn't anyone be able to call themselves a journalist.

Interesting theory. It's true, anybody who graduates from medical school and does a residency can be called a doctor. Just like anybody who finishes NASA training can call themselves an astronaut. Shoot, any damn fool that wins a majority in the Electoral College gets to call themselves the president. What's up with that?

Graff may have had intelligent things to say later, but presumably his opening statement was the best argument he could come up with...and if the best argument he could come up with is so patently BS, then I have serious doubts about the rest of what he says.

Several bloggers pointed out this is a silly debate. Well sure it's a silly debate -- until someone tries to get credentials or some other privilege reserved for journalists. Just like it's fine for me to call myself a doctor, until I try to prescribe medicine.

The funny thing is that Graff (and Ana Marie Cox from Wonkette, who was also there) seems like he is a journalist. He blogs for a commercial site for which he presumably is paid, he has editors and readers, etc. But he's a journalist because he is one, not because he says he is one. He actually did once get a day pass to the White House, based on contacts he had made as a journalist.

The reason doctors are a terrible example is because they do have specific training and certification. The problem is cases where nothing of the sort exists. But wannabe journalist bloggers are acting like they are the first group every to confront such a case. There are plenty of situations like this, where being designated as something has real meaning: What organizations qualify as non-profits? When can people get a tax deduction on their house for working at home? Who counts as a minority business?

These are all "slippery slope" type of deals, and in most cases you don't allow everybody in, or nobody in; instead you come up with some sort of test. It's not that hard to construct a "three-out-of-five" type test to determine if a blogger is a journalist: are they paid, do they have editors, do they have substantial readership, how long has their organization been around, etc. If you want to ensure that high schools kids writing for their school paper qualify as journalists, then make the test ensure that. If you want to make Scoble a journalist, then make the test ensure that.

What bloggers should be fighting for is the simple recognition that online publishing counts the same as print publishing. So someone who writes a column for espn.com is the same as someone who writes a column for the New York Times. Someone who writes a self-supported blog with few readers is the same as someone in their basement mimeographing ten copies of a newsletter. That's it.

Now that I've explained it all, we can stop talking about this.

Posted by AdamBa at April 8, 2005 09:17 PM

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You call yourself an engineer? (I just couldn't resist.)

Posted by: Drew at April 9, 2005 12:28 AM

So, if someone called themselves a Doctor and told someone to take aspirin....would that get this so-called Doctor in trouble?

Posted by: at April 9, 2005 02:37 AM

It's not a question of someone getting in trouble. It's essentially harmless for me to call myself a doctor and/or tell someone to take an aspirin (and/or have that person listen to me).

However, pharmacies dispense controlled substances (which aspirin isn't) on the basis of prescriptions written by doctors, so they need to have a standard for what a doctor is.

It's the same thing with journalists. Normally it doesn't matter who calls themselves a journalist, but in the case of an organization issuing credentials, the organization may want a standard for what a journalist is.

The issue of Wonkette not getting respect because she is a blogger is the wrong one. If Wonkette doesn't get respect, it should be because she is a gossip columnist. That's my point, that you should treat the online and print people the same. I won't get in to "are gossip columnists journalists?", because I'm sure the question has already been debated at length for traditional media.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 9, 2005 08:41 AM

So you're saying that, if for example, Tom Brokaw started a blog to continue reporting the news, he would be considered a credible journalist.

But since wonkette isn't established in the conventional journalist industry, she doesn't have any credibility, correct?

Posted by: at April 9, 2005 09:41 AM

No, that's not it at all. Wonkette is an online gossip columnist. She should have the exact same credibility as a print gossip columnist.

(Note: I assume by "conventional journalist" you mean "print journalist", not "news-reporting journalist".)

Some would argue that Wonkette is not a gossip columnist. That's fine. Call her an "X". She is an online X and should have the exact same credibility as a print X.

Tom Brokaw starting a blog is something else, although it gets muddled into this discussion. Just because there are journalists who blog, doesn't mean all bloggers are journalists.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 9, 2005 10:04 AM

Well, basically....a blog is a journal, no?

Posted by: at April 9, 2005 11:21 AM

[something tells me I shouldn't reply, but] Yes, go on...

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 9, 2005 07:33 PM

>>What bloggers should be fighting for is the simple recognition <<

I don't get the point of your post, I guess.

Are you fighting for that simple recognition you write about?

You blog has kind of a "journalist" feel for it, so I'm confused about your position on this blog post topic. Indeed, the very name of your blog has a social and political overtone to it. And you report on industry news items like Microsoft's newest CTO, etc.

So....are you reporting news to your followers? Are you engaged in social and political commentary?

Do you want to be recognized as a journalist?

Posted by: at April 9, 2005 08:38 PM

And what is so special about a 'blog' any way? It is just a fancy way to publish a web page. People have been writing about every darned subject in the universe for years and they did it before these so-called 'web logs' came around.

So, what's the big deal?

Posted by: at April 9, 2005 08:42 PM

It's true in one sense blogs are no great technical advance over the basics of web servers and browsers. However, it turns out that the minor breakthrough of putting the latest content front-and-center and allowing comments, coupled with the client and server tools that have sprung up, have encouraged a lot of people to keep a website who otherwise would not have done so.

But, no, I am not claiming I am a journalist. The point of the post was to rag on bloggers who claim they should be granted all the privileges of journalists, and come up with weak arguments to back that up.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 9, 2005 09:46 PM