Bloggers vs. Journalists: A Comparison

by Robert Nagle on 2/1/2008

in Art of Blogging

A journalist is someone who is paid by a corporation to write. That corporation is legally liable for the accuracy of this journalist’s statements.

A blogger is someone who usually doesn’t blog as a full time job. No corporation assumes the legal liability for his/her statements, so the blogger works under greater legal and financial risk.

By not working for a corporation, a blogger has the freedom to write about new topics. On the other hand, lack of financial resources prevent bloggers from covering the amount of news they would like to.

To generalize that bloggers don’t provide objective reporting because a large percentage of bloggers are amateurs is to unfairly impugn the increasing numbers of bloggers who do aim to provide objective reporting.

If the blogger isn’t  on a paycheck, the reader  needs to ask, “what special motivation would cause a blogger to devote so much time to issue X?” Does this motivation prevent him from writing a fair article?

A large amount of newspaper articles don’t require huge amounts of legwork and/or research. A large amount of newspaper articles don’t require verification or fact-checking.

First person reporting has always been an important source of journalism. Nothing about the act of blogging undermines this.

A key to writing good articles is 1)being the first to cover a timely subject (i.e., the scoop), 2)covering the subject in depth. For this reason, 95% of news stories will appear initially as blogposts.

By definition, journalism exploits the freely available information available on blogs. Journalists play an important role in verifying the initial presentation of facts and popularizing the subject.

One should not believe something  in a well-known newspaper simply because it appears there. Recall the reasons why newspapers often get it wrong:

  1. interviewing the wrong people
  2. the story appeared at a time when the facts were not clear
  3. the reliable source turned out not to be so reliable after all.
  4. he said/she said problems without evaluating the evidence.

The Internet makes it extremely easy to verify allegations. Therefore, many statements by bloggers can easily be verified.

The trick comes in evaluating chain of authority. John Smith cites a gun control study which is cited by National Review which comes from the Heritage Foundation which was underwritten by the NRA. You can easily verify the authority up to the initial study itself. But this verification process misses the point. The real questions are evaluative.

Bloggers gravitate to evaluative questions which journalists are ill-suited to address:

  1. was the metholodogy of the original study valid?
  2. were the conclusions stated properly by those who cited it?
  3. Have other studies shown different results?
  4. Does the conclusion really matter? (So what that X% of Gun Owners claim they brandished a weapon towards a criminal! Does this imply that gun ownership actually deters crime?)

Bloggers can write in-depth articles, but may be more convinced by details which would easily be dismissed by knowledgeable experts. (This happens a lot of time by climate change deniers; they latch onto trivial details to try to sow doubt).It’s unclear that a journalist can raise evaluative issues in an article unless an expert they interview happens to mention it.

Newspapers (and newspaper reporting) is slow, unbelievably slow.

Newspaper reporters are flooded with press releases begging for coverage.

A paid reporter has a writing quota to fulfill for a paycheck. A freelance blogger does not.

Both paid journalists and bloggers can be susceptible to being cheerleaders for new commercial products or ventures.

The shoddy pay of newspaper journalism does not ensure that those who write for it will have a higher or lower level of professionalism.

A large percentage of articles that appear in newspapers are crap. Specifically, they are shallow and recycled from syndicated networks and geared toward the casual (rather than the informed) reader.

Blogging, by definition, can effortlessly link to previous reporting, so it does not need to recapitulate things in news stories. It is self-updating and can refer to other sources in a way that print journalism (and even online newspapers) cannot.

Because bloggers receive feedback from readers’ via comments, blogging has the potential to be self-correcting in a way print journalism cannot be.

The distinction between video media vs. print media is more substantial than the distinction between bloggers and journalists.

TV journalism essentially boils down to one thing: press conferences. And also: people screaming, crying or protesting.

The choice of media does not make an article more or less credible.

See also: Jon Talton’s What’s Wrong with newspapers

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie February 5, 2008 at 11:03 am

I think you are missing the biggest differences between journalists and bloggers and that is that journalists adhere to high professional and ethical standards. News reporting is separated from editorializing and reporters view themselves as separate from what they are reporting on (see: Fourth Estate).

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics can be found at http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp.

Also, not all journalists are paid by corporations to write. Many are freelancers who may sell their work to publications but the distinction is huge. Other journalists work for non-profits and there’s also thousands of college journalists working for independent student newspapers that are every bit as professional (if not more so) than many “professional” news organizations.

Robert Nagle March 11, 2008 at 7:16 am

Jamie, you are right about freelance reporting. I should have mentioned that. (However, my point about liability is still the same).

I think you are missing the biggest difference between journalists and bloggers is that bloggers adhere to high professional and ethical standards. You see, I have flatly contradicted the statement you have made. Both are generalizations and full of crap. (I believe there is a similar code of ethics for bloggers).

The distinction between the two disciplines are not clear cut. Yet I have observed many instances in which editorial writers (not reporters) assail the blogosphere without trying to be specific.It’s absurd because many feature stories originate as blogposts somewhere. Good reporters realize this already. I just wish they would inform the editorial writers.

Maybe we can just simplify things a bit and declare a journalist as someone who obtained a degree in journalism.

That said, I don’t wish to malign the work of journalist. I call myself a skilled writer, yet I seriously doubt I could be a fulltime journalist. It’s difficult to sift through the evidence and uncover the glaring fact that provides the basis of the story. It requires skill and patience. A good reporter (whether in a commercial publication or blog) is a godsend.

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