The question of blogger vs. journalist has been the stuff of legends now. It has been discussed from as early as 2005, as far as I remember, and many blog posts have been written on it already.

The most commonly cited reasons given to call someone a blogger (or a journalist) usually include the rigor in reporting/research (more rigor is assumed to be from a journalist), interactivity with audiences/readers (usually siding bloggers), the fact that someone has an opinion (works for both), the motivation to write about something and so on. I have briefly touched on this topic too, back in 2009 – Blogger engagement? What is a blog, but?

Other relevant resources to get a complete laundry list of criteria to tell the difference include,

1. What Separates a Blogger from a Journalist? (WebProNews)
2. Blogging vs. Journalism: The Ongoing Debate (TheNextWeb)
3. The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists

While all those are valid, in some way or other, I believe we have at least gone past the print/TV vs online media reasons to call someone either a blogger or a journalist. There are many journalists who report/write online and many bloggers have started to write print columns too. So, since those lines have greyed, let me offer an updated, single-point criteria to know the difference between a blogger and a journalist, no matter where they write and if their publication (online or offline) has the word ‘blog’ in its name.

It is simply this – platform ownership.

Simple question: Who owns the platform in which that content is published?

Follow-up question: Who has the final say and the discretion to edit the content?

My premise lies in the simple fact that a blogger is one who owns the platform where his (or her) content is published for public viewing/reading. When I say ownership, I mean it beyond a mere byline – it is the power to publish whatever he/she thinks is right and the power to edit it at whatever point in time. He would also be responsible for promoting that content/platform.

So, you could be a journalist in the New York Times and have the power to directly upload content in NYT’s online website…like how bloggers do; in fact your column on NYT could also be called a ‘blog’. But do you own the platform? If not, you are a journalist. In essence, it means you are an ‘ist’ in a journal…a journal owned by someone else, to put it coarsely. You merely write for them, using their platform.

A blogger, on the other hand, owns the platform in which he/she writes.

By that logic, if you are a contributing author in TechCrunch (a blog, by most standards), you would still be a journalist, simply because you do not own the platform you are writing for. Michael Arrington, before the sale of TechCrunch to AOL, was a blogger. Now, in my opinion, he is a journalist.

I’m not simply implying that a blogger’s piece is read by only one person before it is published but a journalist’s piece gets read by more than one person (and edited, if needed). The number doesn’t matter – the finality does. A blogger could write whatever he wishes to convey and make it public. A powerful journalist could too, in a top level media portal – but would that make him a blogger? Not in my opinion – the question is, can that journalist always get away with saying whatever he wants in that portal/publication with no repercussions/feedback from the publication’s owner? If yes, he is, technically, a blogger.

Another extreme example – how would you categorize a single-member owned and run local newspaper that is published from this person’s backyard? It is still a newspaper, isn’t it? But that’s the difference – we’ve crossed the stage of vanilla categorization that looks at online vs. print alone. What perhaps matters these days is the independence since there are no barriers to entry for anyone with a voice to make his opinion public. Again, making it public is different from making it popular – what most independent voices have is the power to simply make it public; there are many sources online for that. But, to make it popular, he needs to work hard, besides having content that is genuinely interesting to one or more target segments.

On the other hand, take the example of a single-member owned and run blog. This blog owner could perhaps have another editorial support. In this case, I’d call the blog owner a blogger and the editorial support a journalist. See the difference?

How does all this matter?

When you own the platform you produce content for, your thought process and the freedom you assume in your mind to choose the kind of things you want to write about and the words you may want to choose to communicate the story…everything is significantly impacted. If you don’t own it, you are perhaps writing from the point of view of getting through or satisfying some sort of a gatekeeper who has the job of maintaining some standards of the platform where you write/report. In the former, you are the gatekeeper and you alone maintain the standards, if any.

This has powerful implications. How?

From a PR point of view, it is critical to see what kind of media you’re reaching out to, for a client. A journalist (that is, one who doesn’t own the media platform he writes for) is a step in the larger process. In case of a blogger, the buck stops there. being aware of his basic differentiation could help corporates and PR folks customize their approach to reaching out to bloggers and journalists. Some of the basics remain the same anyway – relevance, doing appropriate homework on their past stories etc. But, the fact that a blogger has the final say in publishing virtually anything he/she wants is the point to note here.

You may well ask, can’t a journalist write anything he/she wants? Well of course, he/she can. Question is – can he/she write anything always without the interference of the gatekeeper? Is there no plug that can be pulled by the gatekeeper?

So, taking the Michael Arrington example further, if he thinks he can write anything (in any words) he wants, I’d call him a blogger. But, TechCrunch is now owned by AOL and should AOL wish to have a polite chat on something Arrington wrote, he has 2 choices – listen to AOL’s logic and make appropriate changes. Else, leave the AOL fold and publish that material as-is in some platform that he actually and completely owns. In case of the former, he is a journalist. In the latter, he becomes a blogger.

The complete freedom to say your mind out regardless of all the trappings – journalistic integrity, ethics, research, bias, profanity amongst others – is what makes one a blogger. We have been doing it for ages, really – but within smaller circles; like friends, peers, colleagues etc. And they were usually uttered and goes up in the air and into the minds of the small circle we shared them with. Now, we share them with a lot more permanence, usually online.

Let us not get into the repercussions of doing so – that is a different topic and one that gets nebulous since there are so many combinations and opinions involved – best taken as a separate topic of discussion.

Toon courtesy, Philippe Martin, via Flickr.

Comments

comments

20 thoughts on “Blogger or journalist? How to tell the difference?

  1. Nice metaphor, I must say!

    How about extending this description to someone who may own a small newspaper publishing company, (and may or may not write/ edit, etc. but is involved in the content by some standards)? Is he a blogger to you? Or just because he does print/ newspaper – he is a journo?

    1. If we’re clear about ownership of the platform, next question is his power in the kind of content that goes in it. If he doesn’t write at all, he’s just a publisher. People who write for him are journalists – simple.

  2. This is a great way to distinguish the two – far superior than the traditional ‘a journalist writes stuff that appears in print’ which has been out dated for a very long time.

    However, if you’re using a closed platform like BlogSpot, you’re bound by Google’s terms and conditions and in a legal sense, they have a lot of rights to your content, including the right to edit or shut it down. I know it’s not exactly the same thing and it doesn’t ‘break’ the definition, but I think it’s worth noting that bloggers also have gatekeepers, just in a less obvious way.

    1. Good point, and I did anticipate that.

      But, taking about Google as the owner (technically) or the gatekeeper is like talking about a newspaper’s printing press owner as the gatekeeper. Slightly far-fetched within the purview of this discussion – if we take this argument further, we may not be owning anything at all!

  3. That’s an interesting, and not invalid, point of distinction between bloggers and journalists, Karthik, and I wouldn’t disagree.

    However, from a practical perspective, we stopped some time ago distinguishing between the two — if, indeed, we ever did.

    We have been doing highly targeted media relations campaigns for B2B technology companies for more than 12 years now. From the very outset, we realised our success was predicated on sharply relevant pitches to fairly small groups of journalists who had influence in our clients’ markets. A highly personalised approach has always been our default methodology.

    We hardly noticed as some of those journalists first went online, and then took the additional step — Om Malik is a key example — of developing their own platform, as you put it. Certainly, our behaviour towards them did not have to be amended in the slightest.

    Today, as additional social media channels present new and potentially potent vectors through which we can engage with our clients’ markets, the same two questions we have always asked help us determine whether they, along with journalists, bloggers, analysts and other influencers, should be part of our mix.

    1. Do they engage our audience?

    2. Do they write about our stuff?

    If you think of the answers to those two questions being described by the circles of a Venn diagram, our list of targets is to be found where the circles overlap.

    1. Excellent point and I agree on the 2 questions you’ve listed. The reason why I was looking at a reason and how it becomes necessary to know the difference is a bit to do with the changing power equation between corporate PR and media too. It may be appropriate here to quote a small portion from Frédéric Filloux’s latest post on ‘Monday Note’, here.

      “The underlying facts: most journalists no longer have the time, the training, nor the motivation or even the management supervision to go beyond the surface. So, letâ??s feed them with what they need and we are in full control. Thatâ??s the plan. And most of the time, it works beyond expectations.”
      http://www.mondaynote.com/2011/04/03/the-communication-paradox/

      For media (journalists) covering a brand/news is a profession and given the severe attention glut due to information overload, much of what they cover (broad generalization, I agree) becomes somewhat like an assembly-line – it’s a job and it needs to be done, often amidst tight deadlines.

      Many bloggers who cover similar stuff also happen to have full-time day jobs. For them, the passion to cover the area they like drives the blogging pursuit. It’s of course a different thing that many such bloggers have turned to blogging full-time and they could very well fall in the sweet-spot between bloggers and journalists – but, for most normal bloggers, it is a matter of personal interest and passion.

      As Frédéric notes, the way corporate PR or PR pros feed information to media has fell into a particular routine – easy to assimilate chunks and even the tools we use are getting predictable – interviews over breakfast, over email, over Skype etc. In case of bloggers, given that they do not do this full-time, for a living, a brand/PR perhaps needs to think on a special angle to attract their attention based on ‘what is in it for them?’. This ‘what is in it for them?’ may have to be answered in a slightly different way from what is in it for a journalist. For a journalist, it has historically been the same – breaking news, exclusives, quotable quotes, new perspectives, meeting deadlines etc. For a blogger, it could be all those mentioned…plus something personal.

      In essence, a journalist could be viewing your piece of news clinically, while a blogger could also be that combination of journalist + consumer. That could be one of the reasons why mommy bloggers have caught on as a huge segment, if I were to momentarily ignore that the fact that many behave more like mainstream media these days.

  4. I consider myself a publisher, not a blogger. Even though the platform is a “blog”. BTW most of the “blogs” I see are really aggregators of other people’s work. 10 Best this and that. And these guys who are financially supported by sellers and manufacturers to express an “independent” opinion? Blogger or Journalist?

    From American Samoa

    John Wasko

    1. John,

      I believe you’re only adding a layer of personal opinion on my basic definition. Just because a blogger seemingly has independence does not make him the patron saint of unbiased reporting. And vice-versa for journalists. The point I was making is simple: we were/are using archaic (printed material vs. reverse chronological online entries) or opinionated (a journalist is more responsible than a blogger) criteria to tell the difference. I was only trying to articulate a deeper, basic criteria.

      To answer your question – of course, they would still remain bloggers. Just bad bloggers. Like how you have both journalists and paid shills who masquerade as journalists.

  5. Interesting discussion.

    However, going beyond ownership, for me, a key value in having a blog is being able to add more depth to an article. My latest wildlife article in the Southside Community News is an excellent example: http://wp.me/pMrUv-7k

    The data from newspaper research says 60% of people only read the headline ie. 40% read the article. By having my blog address on the article I have a percentage of that 40% who go on to read the more detailed and linked story in the blog. Only a percentage of a percentage but there is still a peak in my blog traffic every time an article is published. That means I am gradually building understanding of the complexity of our natural environment and getting people thinking about their behaviour and driving decision making based on clearer understanding of the wider implications.

    Michael Fox

    1. Well, why should we assume that a journalist cannot do the same? Or, the reverse. The latter is of course easier, since a blogger, by owning the platform and having the responsibility to build his personal branding in a chosen space…may end up doing a thorough job in his opinions and reporting. A journalist would still need to depend on his publisher/owner to do all that, either on print or in an online form, or both. No reason why they can’t, but – I know a lot who put up a part of the report in print and add an online link to their online space in the same publication’s online portal.

  6. This is certainly a hot topic and you’ve highlighted the pros and cons. I definitely started out as a journalist and still consider myself one. But, when you go online (and yes, it’s a whole new world coupled with social media), the search engines classify you as a blogger.

    I’ve read many blogs. Some are online diaries while others have fresh, well researched content that’s updated as frequently as possible. You can tell when it’s someone avocation rather than their vocation. It’s a fine line and my advise to young Journalism students is not to give up their “day” job before they’ve snagged a gig that pays writers.

    This is only the beginning of writing online. I can count nine print publications, for which I used to write, that have folded. BonjourParis.com launched in 1995 and is the most extensive site about France on the Internet. It was the first website to be recognized by the French government’s ministry that regulates journalists and it was in incredible fight.

    Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

  7. This is certainly a hot topic and you’ve highlighted the pros and cons. I definitely started out as a journalist and still consider myself one. But, when you go online (and yes, it’s a whole new world coupled with social media), the search engines classify you as a blogger.

    I’ve read many blogs. Some are online diaries while others have fresh, well researched content that’s updated as frequently as possible. You can tell when it’s someone avocation rather than their vocation. It’s a fine line and my advise to young Journalism students is not to give up their “day” job before they’ve snagged a gig that pays writers.

    This is only the beginning of writing online. I can count nine print publications, for which I used to write, that have folded. BonjourParis.com launched in 1995 and is the most extensive site about France on the Internet. It was the first website to be recognized by the French government’s ministry that regulates journalists and it was in incredible fight.

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  9. Interesting read. Although, increasingly PR firms have to take into account a 2 growing sections. First, the ’empowered’ journos – those that have the final say in what they write and aren’t questioned by their editorial hierarchy. And then there are bloggers with ‘commercial considerations’ – close relationships with specific brands due to commercial gain (that’s not necessarily openly divulged, and leads to colored opinions about that brand and/or its competition).

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