Here’s a partial transcript of a blogger-journalist roundtable discussion held at the University of California Graduate School of Journalism last week. Much of the discussion centered on the ethical questions involved in journalists running their own weblogs. I remain interested in the distinctions between journalism and blogging. Well-known blogger Rebecca Blood had this to say:
“I don’t believe the personal commentary you find on most weblogs is journalism. Some 99.99 percent of the weblogs I’ve seen, I don’t think you can consider them journalism. To my mind, there are journalistic standards of completeness, accuracy and fairness. Journalists tend to rely on sources. They do more than just give an eyewitness account of something, they get 17 eyewitness accounts to provide a complete story. I’ve been astonished at the stories I’ve read where reporters have talked about weblogs as journalism in a completely unskeptical way. Maybe I have an inflated idea of what a reporter does.”
I agree. For the most part blogs are not journalism, bloggers are not journalists, and reporters shouldn’t speak of blogs as journalism in uncritical or unskeptical ways. This is not to say that blogs are unimportant. Far from it. Blogs are no more journalism than, say, Tom Paine’s “Common Sense” was journalism. Blogs can and do serve a similar pamphleteering function in our society.
Journalist and blogger J. D. Lasica had this to say:
“To me, a journalist is anyone who is an eyewitness to events or an interpreter of events and who reports it as honestly and accurately as possible. Period. You don’t need to have the resources of The New York Times behind you. You can be a lone-wolf weblogger out there in the field with your Apple laptop, and when you blog an event you’re reporting. We forget the derivation of the word journalism: someone who keeps a journal. I agree with Rebecca that the vast majority of weblogs is not journalism, but a lot of it is. The people who were eyewitnesses to the events of Sept. 11 and posted their experiences online were engaging in first-person reporting. Almost every day I come across weblogs with a high degree of sophistication and focused information and analysis. There’s an entire arena of amateur journalism that’s being born through this phenomenon, and mainstream journalism would do well to encourage and embrace it.”
Lasica’s inclusive definition of journalism is certainly compelling. And I find myself agreeing with him about the reporting of events as an eyewitness. But I wonder about including those who interpret events outside the confines of a news organization. “Confines” is an interesting noun in this regard. Columnists and pundits are confined and constrained by news organizations. It is the organization–the institution–that creates the structure that makes ethical practice, and its enforcement, possible. When pundits break those constraints (e.g. Ann Coulter fired from NRO), they wander into a netherworld between journalism and entertainment. The blogosphere exists in part in this world, but I hesitate to put the pejorative spin on it because we bloggers belong in this space between ethically and professionally practiced journalism and entertainment. We exist in a popular, partisan, and ideological realm where the conversation is rough, pointed, unrestrained, and, often, beautiful. (via MediaMinded)