Here’s the latest in my attempt to answer questions publicly so that I can lazily point people to the answers when they ask them again. These are from a Norwegian student at London Metropolitan University:
Do you consider yourself a journalist? Why?
Yes, when I produce journalism. That is: finding newsworthy information and communicating it to others. I find G Stuart Adam’s definition best here – sadly no longer online but copied below:
“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.”
I studied journalism, worked as an editor, and am paid to write journalism and books. I’ve also founded a website with funding from a broadcaster – all of these would be considered institutional bases for declaring myself a “journalist”. But even if that wasn’t the case I would consider much of what I write unpaid to be journalism.
What are the main distinctions between journalists and bloggers?
Journalists are defined by what they produce; bloggers are defined by the technology they use.
If the blogger several times in their blog comes up with raw material and strives to be objective with some sources, do you think we then can view them as journalists? Why?
Yes. See Adams’ definition above.
But also, there are journalists who produce no raw material and do not strive to be objective with their sources, and we still call them journalists simply because they work for a magazine, newspaper or broadcaster. I don’t think the title counts for that much – journalists seem to project a lot of values onto the title that don’t stand up to empirical scrutiny, and are not necessarily shared by non-journalists.
As journalists don’t really have to have some sort of journalist degree – how then can a blogger become a journalist?
By producing journalism.
Which kind of blogs can we trust as journalistic pieces of writing? Can we really trust their blogs if they ‘just look nice’?
The link has been at the heart of blogging since its beginnings as a technological platform, and bloggers are expected to link to their sources. It is difficult to trust a blogger that doesn’t link to their sources.
So how can we trust blogs? By the evidence that they give for what they write, and the quality of that evidence. Curiously, many professional journalists still expect users to trust them without showing their own evidence, and that leads to suspicion.
A further source of trust is how a blog stands up to interrogation – do they respond to questions in the comments? Again, mainstream publishers could learn a lot from this.
There have been some situations in my native country, Norway, where bloggers don’t have anything on their blog saying they have been promoting lots of cosmetics and fashion brands. What do you think of bloggers that promotes brands without saying this?
Firstly, it’s increasingly illegal. Both the ASA and the OFT in the UK have started to take an interest in this and take on a punitive role. And clearly there are ethical issues as well – whether an ‘outed’ blogger’s blogging career is effectively ended depends on the ethics of their particular community, but socially the punishment can be as harsh if not harsher than a journalist – whose work and personal life are likely to be more separate – would expect to suffer.
Secondly, I don’t think we should be naive enough to think this is limited to blogging. Magazines in some sectors are enormously close to their advertisers, for example, and will fail to disclose deals that basically lie behind editorial – your example is quite close to this. Ad sales people make promises to advertisers to clinch a deal and products make their way into magazines as a result – each person in that chain makes a tiny compromise on their values which adds up to a much larger one. And of course there are explicitly corrupt journalists who will accept money to write about particular items in their work – unsurprisingly sometimes when you learn how much they are paid by the publisher.
In a nutshell where there is enormous pressure on a person – whether that’s to meet advertising targets, to pay the rent, or to keep a company alive – then people will make unethical decisions, whether they are bloggers, journalists or publishers.