Bloggers don’t exist.
Established media types have tried to draw a distinction between “journalists” and “bloggers” since blog became a word. Whether it’s out of elitism, ignorance or protectionism isn’t clear and mostly irrelevant, but it boils down to the idea that journalists are established professionals and bloggers are hack amateurs playing reporter. Those definitions are changing of course, especially now that the Huffington Post and Politico won Pulitzers and the big newspapers did not, but the definitions aren’t the problem. The problem is more fundamental.
So for the sake of simplicity, here are three reasons “blogger” is a term that needs to go away:
THE COMPLEXITY OF THE CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM DOES NOT DETERMINE THE VALIDITY OF THE CONTENT
The workflow for a modern print journalist goes something like this: A story is written for some sort of back-end database, usually in InCopy or Word or something like that. It’s then sent down a workflow to an editor who reads it and provides notes, unless it’s a breaking story in which case it’s sped down the line, or if it’s a tiny brief that’s not worth anyone’s time. From there it goes to the copy desk, who due to staffing cuts gives it only as much time as it deserves. Eventually a copy is spun off onto the web, where a web producer packages it and places it somewhere on the site via a complex and often impenetrable CMS. Then people read it.
Someone derided as a blogger? They write a story in a CMS, usually open source and designed for simplicity. If it’s a breaking story or a tiny brief it’s simply posted, if it’s a larger piece or something important or controversial it’s read by an editor and reviewed. When everyone is satisfied someone clicks “Publish” and it’s sent to the web. Then people read it.
Does anyone see the fundamental difference? In both it starts with someone writing a story and ends with it being sent to the web for people to read. But old outlets turn that into exactly as complex a process as sending a story to print which costs precious time and resources, whereas new outlets uses the most efficient system to save both, which usually resembles blogging software.
My point is anyone who considers ‘blogging’ a separate activity than ‘writing’ is essentially a hipster who spends an inordinate amount of money on a hand-crafted artisanal version of a common product. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe modern print media has the cashflow to be sinking money into corporate hipsterism.
HIGHLY TRAINED PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS WRITE FOR BLOGS AND COMPLETE HACKS WRITE FOR ESTABLISHED OUTLETS
Newspapers have laid off a lot of people recently. A lot of people. And those people still need to eat. So a lot of them have been defecting from print outlets who insist a company can’t survive on online ad revenue to newer outlets who’ve noticed that Google exists and realize that advertising is advertising if you understand how to sell it. And, as I outlined above, those new outlets use blogging software as a CMS rather than a stodgy and needlessly complex system like a print outfit.
Take the Huffington Post’s Pulitzer, for example. It was hailed as a triumph for bloggers, an assertion of their equality. So the guy who actually won must be some unwashed amateur in a basement somewhere, right? No, the guy who won is David Wood. Mr. Wood has been a war reporter since 1977 and has previously worked for the Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun among other papers. But now he works for a media outlet with no print edition and a simpler CMS, so that makes it shocking that he won an award he’s been a finalist for in the past.
And as far as the inverse, anyone who thinks all journalists at old, established media outlets are credible and well-trained hasn’t met many of them recently. We’re winging it just like everyone else.
ANYONE WHO RECORDS REAL-TIME HISTORY FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION IS A JOURNALIST
All lines are arbitrary. Print, web, TV, radio, all the same. The news industry’s obsessive need to create divisions and establish borders where none need to exist is what’s killing us. The simple fact is that anyone who informs the public about what’s going on in the world around them is a journalist.
Are they all good journalists? No, of course not. Many are hacks, and a majority of hacks are unaffiliated with a major media company. But are you only a musician if you’re signed to a record label? Of course not, that’s absurd. There’s plenty of amateur musicians out there who do it for the love of music, just like there’s plenty of amateur journalists out there who do it for the love of informing their community. And just like Jonathan Coulton and Radiohead sell their music online without a label’s backing, many very good journalists support themselves from ad revenue off their personal blogs.
The second we stop trying to differentiate journalists from bloggers, or print from TV, or anything else is the second we will turn the corner and start clawing our way back to sustainable profitability. We’ve been so busy fighting to keep the barriers to entry up with derision that we never learned from the new entrants’ efficiencies and successes. If we would just focus on the core goal of informing the community of what’s going on around them without putting ourselves in labeled boxes based on method we could choose the best, most efficient tool for the job and use it.
There are no bloggers. There are only journalists. Focus less on looking down on good journalists because they use the wrong CMS, focus more on not being a bad journalist because of your disdain for new technologies that can make you better at your job.