Journalist? Blogger? Writer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on a paper that asked if there should be regulations or laws to distinguish between what professional journalists and ordinary citizens can write. And that led me down all sorts of paths, thinking about issues of blogging, journalism, and the media’s general place in society.

I’m not going to bore you with all of the arguments and conclusions from my paper or with my thoughts on the state of modern-day information sharing. Instead, I’ll just give a little bit of insight into the topic for those who want to know some of the things I think about when I’m doing academic snobbery stuff.

If you really want to hear my views, we can discuss them over a pint of ale – your treat, of course, because I’m a starving student.

So, here goes!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe if you’re living in America) you’ve probably heard about the Leveson Inquiry here in the UK. The inquiry was prompted by the phone-hacking scandal by the News of the World and will have (already has had?) a drastic impact on the future of news reporting throughout the UK – and maybe even a knock-on effect for other nations around the globe.

As a blogger who is also a trained communications professional with experience as a freelance journalist, I find the question of “who is and isn’t a journalist” pretty interesting. I mean, am I a journalist? Or am a just a blogger who once was a journalist? What about other bloggers? Are they journalists? Can they be? Should they be?

Right now, debates are happening around the world – and around the World Wide Web – about the differences between bloggers and journalists, and whether or not someone would need special training and a license to be a journalist. There are further debates around the idea of creating regulations or laws distinguishing between what journalists and ordinary citizens can write (i.e.: bloggers, users of social networking sites, those commenting on blogs and news sites).

I’m sure it seems like a bit of a boring topic to some people, but any regulations or laws that are created around these issues can be far-reaching. They can change the way news and information is presented to you, but they can also change how you can share information. And each time we make a law that restricts an ordinary citizen’s ability to receive or share information, we move further away from the ideals of a free press – and free speech.

But, back to me. Am I a journalist? No, not really. Even if I end up doing more freelance writing for news outlets, I don’t know that I’d feel like a journalist. But I like to think that I hold myself to the ideals of journalistic ethics. And I like to think that my readers find me to be trustworthy. Of course, that’s easy to do when I just write silly rubbish about my own life – my integrity and trustworthiness might be questioned if I attempted to become an investigative blogger.

Me? I’m just a writer. Not a famous one, and probably not a very good one, but a writer nonetheless. (OK, I’m a blogger, too, but first-and-foremost, a writer.)

6 Replies to “Journalist? Blogger? Writer.”

  1. It is an interesting debate, and something close to my own musings too as I navigate the muddy waters establishing myself as a writer writing about subjects other than myself.
    There was a case late last year where a blogger was successfully sued over a post she had written.

    1. The Crystal Cox case is certainly interesting–and will have far-reaching consequences for journalists and bloggers alike.
      I am not of the ‘all bloggers are jounalists’ camp, and in fact, many bloggers do not think of themselves as journalists. That said, some journalists are bloggers and some bloggers are journalists.
      Coming from the land of free speech, I find it scary to think of laws that allow for free speech for one group of people whilst taking it away from another. But, as the woman in the article you linked says, the Cox case was first-and-foremost about libel. Which is a different kettle of fish than free speech.

  2. It’s interesting that you should mention this topic. I’ve been thinking a little about something similar lately. I’ve become increasingly frustrated about the articles that have been appearing on the internet. It seems there has been a blossoming of websites where anyone can sign up to write “articles” and call themselves a journalist. This is what frustrates me the most. The thing about the internet is that there’s no ISBN’s or things like that attached to the writings. That alone does not really make a writer legit I suppose, but at least you know this person most likely had to work to get their writing out there. People will find anything online and think it’s a creditable source. I don’t think training or licenses really qualify you as a writer, but it could qualify you as a journalist I suppose. Training could help you develop your skills. I see a writer as an artist. A blogger could be considered an artist if it’s creative in nature. Wouldn’t it be silly if a painter had to get a license instead of painting when they were inspired? A lot of famous works were done when they couldn’t get out of bed, let alone make it out to meet the requirements of a license. But there’s an overwhelming amount of blogs out there that really are composed of other people’s work. They majority seems to throw avoiding plagiarism and being original out the window at times.

    1. Sharon, I think that there are different types of bloggers, which makes a difference in levels of trust. Certainly there are bloggers (or websites; other forms of online information) that are full of half-truths, non-truths, and plagiarised works. And there are loads of conspiracy theory sites out there touting all sorts of rubbish.
      Personal bloggers–those who are sharing stories of their hobbies and families–are not the sort of writers I would think of as journalists (other than in the way that they are keeping online journals). But the web is full of bloggers who are working to inform the public.
      It is those bloggers who are gaining more and more trust from the public. And it is those bloggers who actually work hard to gain–and maintain–trust. They work with high levels of integrity and are very ethical. In fact, there have been recent surveys that show the public is more likely to trust a blogger than a journalist.
      But, again, it depends on the blogger and the subjects they are covering.
      The other side of that, of course, is the blogger who ‘seems’ trustworthy but are actually posting stories or product reviews that they’ve been paid for–but they neglect to tell the readers. So, there is some more work that many bloggers need to do with transparency, but overall I think they’re are loads of trustworthy ones out there!
      As for licensing, I’m against it because it creates a barrier to reporting. If we only allow people to be journalists after obtaining a government-issued license, how can we trust that those people are truly free to question the government that licenses them? And a journalist’s job is to question authority freely.

  3. “They who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. ” (Ben Franklin)
    My paltry opinions aside though, there is a very interesting Draft Defamation Bill being discussed at the moment in the UK.
    To be honest the issues it raises do make my brain hurt, and I’m not sure how you deal with a topic which requires a table of contents to include references to:
    Honest Opinion
    Establishing a defence of honest opinion
    Establishing a defence of Truth.
    I guess (in my view) the crux of the matter lies somewhere on the Fact/Opinion continuum. As long as authors make it clear where they are on that continuum at any given time, then I’m not sure it matters what they are called.
    I note that in the Crystal Cox case, although Obsidian sued over several postings , the judge only found against her on one item, ruling that it was defamatory precisely because it was more factual in tone than her other posts.

    1. Much of the written word can be changed depending on if it’s shown as fact or opinion. And, as you mentioned, made a difference in the Cox case.
      It’s interesting that you mention the defamation bill–it is certainly something I’ve been following (along with the Leveson Inquiry). There is often talk about giving the ability to claim defamation to a deceased person’s next of kin, and I wonder if it will make it in in the near future, especially given recent testimonies at the Leveson Inquiry.

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