Stop asking me “Is blogging journalism?”

As students around the world scramble for final quotes for their dissertations, I’ve had to answer the same inane question three times in a week. Here’s my response for anyone thinking of emailing/phoning/doorstepping me for theirs:

Q: Do you consider blogging a form of journalism? Why or why not?

A: Is television a form of journalism? Are words on a page a form of journalism? Are sounds a form of journalism? Blogs are a platform. They can contain journalism, just as TV, radio and print can. Many bloggers practice journalism, many do not. To ask if blogging is a form of journalism is to confuse form with content.

Q: Professional journalists are taught the principles and ethics of their profession. Since a lot of bloggers are not professional journalists, how do you think blogging can be made more credible?

A: Firstly, not all professional journalists are taught the principles and ethics of their profession. Secondly, many journalists ‘forget’ or have those teachings are ‘overwritten’ by professional experience. And thirdly, professional journalists do not have exclusive rights to principles and ethics – in fact, one of the reasons for the explosion in blogs is a perception that professional journalists lack principles and ethics (in the UK few professions are seen as less trustworthy and they are trusted even less than politicians). Some of the best bloggers represent the most principled and ethical journalists you will read – for instance, their refusal to accept advertising on the basis that it might undermine the credibility of what they write.

Blogging can gain more credibility through one thing: time. Many blogs already have strong credibility because they have built a reputation over time, just as news products on other platforms have. I also notice that a lot of blogs have begun looking for more first hand material and doing more analysis as the individual bloggers have gained in confidence, experience, ability and contacts – which again has increased credibility. Just as some newspapers suffer from credibility issues (e.g. tabloids) and some have strong reputations for credibility, over time you would expect some blog ‘brands’ to build credibility and others to suffer damaging exposes. Some blogs will also gain credibility through association with more established brands such as mainstream news operations – and in fact, many already do.

By the way, you might want to check out Chambers’ definition of journalism – “the profession of writing for newspapers and magazines, or for radio and television” – which settles it: blogging is not journalism.

But hold on, here’s G. Stuart Adam’s rather more scholarly definition (PDF):

“Journalism is an invention or a form of expression used to report and comment in the public media on the events and ideas of the here and now. There are at least five elements in such a definition: (1) a form of expression that is an invention; (2) reports of ideas and events; (3) comments on them;(4) the public circulation of them; and (5) the here and now.”

If the definition of journalism bothers you so much, I strongly recommend you read the rest of his paper.


10 thoughts on “Stop asking me “Is blogging journalism?”

  1. photographerno1

    but why does blogging upset mainstream media, in India the Times Of India the local rag keeps writing our obituary..Will Blogs Die?
    Just curious for your opinion.?

    firoze shakir

    your article hits but hurts too fortunately I am not a joournalist only a opinion blog.

  2. Paul Bradshaw

    Yes, I sense a backlash at the moment with a few more techies predicting the blog’s demise.

    Does blogging upset mainstream media? Probably more that the media likes to build or burst bubbles, and blogs have been hyped and popped by mainstream media for a while.

  3. Russ W.

    Bless you! I’m tired of this question and of the immediate biases some people bring to the word “blog.” Blogs are nothing more than tools, just like paper is nothing more than a medium. Paper can carry journalism or crap, just like blogs. Why is this so difficult to understand?

  4. mac

    @Paul and Russ: You both touch upon one of the core issues in this debate: the blogs-journalism misnomer. As you both note, blogs are a platform/technology, not a content model. There are techniques common to blogging, but there’s no established guidelines for what constitutes a blog. As such, there’s really no use in discussing blogs as a form of journalism. Blogs can be *used* for journalism, but they can also chronicle the daily habits of domesticated cats.

    The real topic beneath this bloggy exterior seems to be the adoption of “conversational journalism.” By allowing the audience to actively participate via comments, how does *this* influence journalism?

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  6. Sales

    Journos are essentially nervous about blogs. News gathering is a resource hungry and expensive business.

    Comment and analysis is not. The commentariat is scared.

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  8. Pingback: Why does it matter if we call it journalism? « Online Journalism Blog

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