Arcane Thoughts: The Fourth Estate

Over the weekend I’ve been continuing to think about what I wrote Friday. In looking over other opinions on the web, I see a lot of folks who seem to want to blur the distinction between bloggers and journalists. This is dangerous. Let me say this once, and clearly so everyone can understand.

BLOGGERS ARE NOT JOURNALISTS.

Journalists are paid for their words. It’s their job. What they say reflects not only on them but upon the organization for which they work. When you go to the website of a major newspaper, often you don’t even know or care who it is that wrote the story you read. The paper as a whole carries a reputation, a credibility.

That’s why there are so many standards when it comes to journalistic ethics, and rightly so. An organization is responsible for all of the people who write for it, and one bad apple can spoil it for everyone. Remember Jayson Blair? He made up or outright stole stories that went to the New York Times. The entire paper’s credibility suffered. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayson_Blair)

On the other hand, I as a blogger stand alone. My words are just that, mine. My blog is not affiliated with anyone else’s, and if I say something outrageous only I will suffer. Likewise, if I do something wrong such as libel someone, only I will be responsible for the consequences, not my coworkers and not my company.

Nor do I get paid for my words. Granted I hope to recoup my time investment some day, perhaps through notoriety, writing magazine or book articles, or public speaking engagements. But for now, my only reward is the satisfaction that comes from (hopefully) helping others with my blog entries. Thus, bloggers should be held to a totally different standard.

Of course we muddy the waters some with the corporate bloggers, those companies who have one or more individuals blogging, and that blog represents the company. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of a corporate blog. It’s a great way to communicate with your customer base. But just as no two companies are the same, it’s impossible to set one standard for all corporate bloggers. What would be appropriate for Billy Bob’s Beer and Bait might be totally inappropriate for Fred’s Fine Wines. Each company needs to decide for itself what standards it’s corporate bloggers need to uphold.

There’s also the rare coincidence where you have a journalist who blogs, someone like Mike Cassidy (http://www.mercextra.com/blogs/cassidy/). In those cases, unless it is clear the blog is a personal one, and not professional, as far as I’m concerned the blog entry is no different from an article that appears in the printed paper. The person is acting as a journalist, and thus should be held to the journalistic standard.

Finally, I have seen a few instances where a blogger claimed some sort of legal protection, claiming to be a journalist. Most notable is Josh Wolf, who took some video of an anarchist protest and now refuses to turn over his raw footage to a grand jury. He’s now in jail for contempt of court. Let me say up front I admire Josh Wolf, it takes a lot of guts to be willing to go to jail for something you believe in. That said though, I have to disagree with his conclusions.

I said it before, but let me reiterate in case you weren’t paying attention:

BLOGGERS ARE NOT JOURNALISTS.

When Mr. Wolf took the video, he was not representing any news organization, nor at the time did he sell it to a news outlet, he instead posted it on his personal blog. He was a private citizen, using his first amendment rights to express a viewpoint. He happened to choose a blog to do it on, but he could just have easily stood on the street corner and played it on his portable TV. From the standpoint of his personal, first amendment rights there is no difference.

My blog is merely a medium for expressing my thoughts and creations. You could read these words on printed paper, say a magazine, or on the bathroom wall. I could yell them at you from a soapbox, or you could read them right here on your computer screen. No matter what the medium, the result is the same. I’m a private citizen, expressing my views, not a journalist.

Those are my arcane thoughts, feel free to leave yours…

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2 thoughts on “Arcane Thoughts: The Fourth Estate”

  1. I’m not a journalist but some bloggers ARE journalists. Some bloggers do get paid for their work and some journalists don’t get paid. Money is not the criteria. The criteria is whether or not they follow journalistic standards, like cite sources, attempt to abstain from bias, try to present differing viewpoints, edit and fact check… Sadly, more and more so-called real journalists aren’t. So the bloggers take the news and run.

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