Why “Bloggers vs. Journalists” is Still With Us

A pre-conference post. Ideas in motion. These are notes in preparation for my talk at South by Southwest in Austin next week. And you can help me make it better.

4 Mar 2011 1:26 am 117 Comments

I am going to be doing a solo presentation at South by Southwest in Austin this year. The title is Bloggers vs. Journalists: It’s a Psychological Thing. (If you’re at SXSW, come: March 12, 3:30 pm at the Sheraton on E. 11th Street and Sabine Streets.) My pal Lisa Williams, CEO of placeblogger.com, will be moderating, watching the back channel and handling the tech. Here’s the description in the SXSW program:

I wrote my essay, Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over, in 2005. And it should be over. After all, lots of journalists happily blog, lots of bloggers journalize and everyone is trying to figure out what’s sustainable online. But there’s something else going on, and I think I’ve figured out a piece of it: these two Internet types, amateur bloggers and pro journalists, are actually each other’s ideal “other.” A big reason they keep struggling with each other lies at the level of psychology, not in the particulars of the disputes and flare-ups that we continue to see online.

The relationship is essentially neurotic, on both sides. Bloggers can’t let go of Big Daddy media— the towering figure of the MSM — and still be bloggers. Pro journalists, meanwhile, project fears about the Internet and loss of authority onto the figure of the pajama-wearing blogger. This is a construction of their own and a key part of a whole architecture of denial that has weakened in recent years, but far too slowly. The only way we can finally kill this meme–bloggers vs. journalists–and proceed into a brighter and pro-am future for interactive journalism is to go right at the psychological element in it: the denial, the projection, the neuroses, the narcissism, the grandiosity, the rage, the fears of annihilation: the monsters of the id in the newsroom, and the fantasy of toppling the MSM in the blogosphere.

That is what my solo presentation will be about: a tale of the Internet, told through types.

Now there’s a clear risk in trying to do this at South by Southwest: to many people who have been paying attention, especially the digerati, bloggers v. journalists is almost the definition of a played-out theme. Aren’t we past all that by now? I know this is what some people will be thinking because I thought that way myself. Blogging is far more accepted today. Most journalists are bloggers themselves, so the distinction is getting weirder. Many newsrooms are trying to attract bloggers into local networks. Blogging itself has been overtaken by social media, some people think.

But I’ve noticed something else over the years. The issue may be fading, but the conflict remains. That’s a clue, and it is my intention to interpret that clue. Rituals go into repeat for a reason. And this is why I have chosen a psychological lens. My presentation only appears to be about that tired meme: bloggers vs. journalists. It’s really about the psychology of the journalism profession, as revealed by what the Internet has done to it. Bloggers irritate and provoke journalists into blurting out what they think (and fear) about the Net. That’s one of the ideas I plan to develop. Another: by raging at journalists, bloggers keep themselves on the “outside” of a system they are in fact inside of. They preserve some innocence (which is a kind of power) by locating all the power in Big Media.

By the psychology of a profession I mean something distinct from the individuals who work in journalism, about whom I claim no special insight. Just as newsroom culture survives the comings and goings of the people who enter and leave it, the psychology of a professional tribe is its own thing. If this were not the case, there would be no such thing as pack journalism, as distinct from the judgment of individual journalists about what’s worth covering. But of course there is pack judgment.

Here, then, is some of the material I have collected. I am looking for more and perhaps better stuff, and that is one reason I am posting this on March 4, eight days before my talk. Got something for me? Put it in the comments please, with links of course. Suggestions, stray concepts, ideas I ought to include? You know what to do. (If I use your material I will of course credit you in Austin.) I expect this post to evolve between now and show time.

My plan is to develop my points using carefully curated slides presenting quotes that match up with key concepts, sort of like this… (But this is just a demo, not the actual preso.)

1. Fantasies of being replaced by an unworthy rival…

Andrew Marr, former political editor of the BBC, now host of the Andrew Marr Show:

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people. OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk.

But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night. It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism.

2. We practice impulse control. “They” let themselves go

Jeremy Peters, media reporter for The New York Times:

A group of black bloggers and journalists from outlets like Essence and BET were invited to the White House on Monday for a half-day of policy briefings by the president’s advisers. The White House provided the journalists with an agenda that spelled out the ground rules: the first half of their briefings was to be on background, meaning they could report any information they learned but not attribute it to any specific official; the second half was off the record entirely.

Still, that did not stop bloggers from writing about the event and, in one case, posting a video of the president’s remarks to the group…. Some of the bloggers who visited the White House on Monday apparently felt unbound by the ground rules.

Some other quotes I’ve collected…

3. the teet, a 25 year-old female blogger and writer in Columbus, Ohio:

i think i have an unnatural obsession with and hatred for the editor of the [Columbus] Dispatch.

everything he says makes me want the throw my computer monitor out the window. regardless, I’ve left him on my Google Reader. I always flip to the front of the Insight section on Sundays. I secretly love the pain he causes me… I don’t think it’s healthy for a person to feel such disdain toward someone they have never seen in real life.

4. Editor’s column, Townsville Bulletin, Queensland, Australia:

The great thing about newspapers is that, love us or hate us, we’re the voice of the people. We represent the community, their views, their aspirations and their hopes. We champion North Queensland’s wins and we commiserate during our losses…

Bloggers, on the other hand, represent nothing. They whinge, carp and whine about our role in society, and yet they contribute nothing to it, other than satisfying their juvenile egos.

5. Pitch to would-be advertisers by the Los Angeles Times:

6. Joseph Mismas, political blogger, Columbus, Ohio, referencing the editor of the Columbus Dispatch, Ben Marrison

Marrison writes a 900 word blog post in which he openly admits he hates publications with lower readership – a post that includes maybe 100 words of new material – and he has the BALLS to title it “Lazy, biased reporting makes me sick”?

Note to Ben Marrison: If you want to pretend that you, as a professional journalist, are somehow better than political bloggers and Other Paper reporters because you are less biased and less lazy then you might consider actually NOT being both lazy and biased while writing online rants for the world to see.

Don’t you know that’s OUR job?

7. Connie Schultz, columnist, Cleveland Plain Dealer:

As I write this, only half of the states in the U.S. now have even one full-time reporter in Washington, D.C. No amount of random blogging and gotcha videos can replace the journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people. If you’re a journalist, you already know that. If you’re the rest of America, chances are you have no idea.

8. West Seattle Herald, in an editorial about its competitor, West Seattle blog:

Professional journalists don’t waste your time

Professional journalists perform a very valuable function in a democratic society. They sift through the information and, when they are good, provide as unbiased a view as possible. That’s the job.

Instead of 3000 words about a community council meeting that was ‘live blogged’ with updates every seven minutes, wouldn’t you honestly prefer 300 words that tell you what happened and what was decided?

9. Farhad Manjoo, journalist and columnist for Slate:

If all blog posts are morphing into articles, and all articles are morphing into blog posts, you might wonder which form is winning out. The question is particularly interesting considering the impending death of print. At some point in the future, date TBD, the New York Times will stop printing a newspaper. What will we call it then? Will stories on its site be “blog posts”? … When I asked Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds how he defines blogging, he said the most important thing was “the lack of an institutional voice.” Whatever software it uses, he added, “I don’t think the NYT will ever really be a blog, in that sense.”

10. John Kass, columnist, Chicago Tribune:

I told you what the Chicago Tribune is not. Now let me tell you what it is. It’s reporters, photographers and editors, analysts and designers, and others who help us with the work. Our newspaper is just one part of Tribune Co., and what the corporate bosses do is separate from what we do.

Chicago Tribune reporters work in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. They do not blog from mommy’s basement, cutting and pasting what others have reported, while putting it under a cute pen name on the Internet.

Instead, the Tribune’s reporters are out knocking on doors in violent neighborhoods late at night, looking for witnesses after murders. Or they stand in the morgue and talk to the families of the dead. Tribune reporters are not anonymous. They use their own names, put them at the top of their stories and are accountable for what they write.

11. JulieDiCaro, blogger for the Tribune Company’s Chicago Now site, responding to John Kass:

The Tribune has created a blogger network of its own, populated by talented, hardworking writers. Sure, most of us took a little more circuitous route to “new journalism,” but so have a lot of “real” reporters. Being derided by reporters at the Tribune for no apparent reason probably isn’t the best way to attract new bloggers to the Tribune’s network. And, if I’m being honest, grumbling about bloggers these days is tantamount to yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off your lawn. It makes you look really, really old.

12. Marc Ambinder, reporter for National Journal, in a farewell to blogging column:

Really good print journalism is ego-free. By that I do not mean that the writer has no skin in the game, or that the writer lacks a perspective, or even that the writer does not write from a perspective. What I mean is that the writer is able to let the story and the reporting process, to the highest possible extent, unfold without a reporter’s insecurities or parochial concerns intervening. Blogging is an ego-intensive process. Even in straight news stories, the format always requires you to put yourself into narrative. You are expected to not only have a point of view and reveal it, but be confident that it is the correct point of view. There is nothing wrong with this…

13. Frédéric Filloux, former editor of Liberation in Paris, now a media consultant and journalism teacher in France:

Today’s problem is not one media versus another, it’s the future of journalism — it’s finding the best possible way to finance the gathering and the processing of independent, reliable, and original information. This is emphatically not the blogosphere’s mission statement. We all agree: for anyone, the no-intermediary ability to reach a global audience is an exhilarating revolution. And, for old-fashion journalism, it’s been the most beneficial kick in the butt ever. Having said this, I don’t buy into the widespread delusion that legions of bloggers, compulsive twitterers or facebookers amount to a replacement for traditional journalism.

Again, this isn’t the presentation, but my “open” method of preparation. I did this last year and it worked out well. I welcome your responses.

UPDATE: Okay, here’s the talk I gave. Thanks to all for the assistance.


This “Bloggers vs. Journalists” debate reminds me of a similar puzzle I wrestled with: What is Art? It bothered me that anyone could take anything and simply redefine it as art:


The term “art” has become so muddied as to lose its meaning. So, I identified the attributes needed to fit a definition of art that I can live with:

* Communicates an intended idea or truth without needing further explanation. If it needs to be explained, then it becomes psychology-based, indicating the artist didn’t effectively communicate their idea in their work.

* Didn’t exist previously. It’s something new actually created or captured by the artist. So taking an existing object and simply redefining as one’s own art doesn’t work for me.

* Requires decision-making in its creation.

* Incorporates (art, animation, music, sound, and/or tactile, etc.) design principle(s) in its construction. Art is a subset of self-expression. Self-expression without the use of design principles is not art. However, it is possible that the random application of self-expression could end up demonstrating design principles and therefore fit the definition of art.

Bonus, but not required attributes:
* Communicates beauty
* Appeals to the audience on an emotional level

Just as there are principles of design for art, surely blogging (self-expression) can be measured against principles of journalism.

What would be nice to have in there (and I’m not sure if anyone has ever stated it openly) is if a journalist has ever said YES! I would love to write with reckless abandon the way bloggers to. Has anyone that you know of actually fessed up to this? If so, I’d like to print it out and post it on my refrigerator 🙂

I think you hit on something here, Anna. In a newspaper newsroom culture, you “pay your dues” before you are allowed to write with voice, or express yourself through your journalism. Years of voicelessness are supposed to precede the awarding of voice through, for example, a coveted columnist’s position. But bloggers start out with a right to voice. This pisses off journalists, but their anger is misplaced. It should be directed at an outworn professional hierarchy, at the bosses. But the costs of that are too high. So it gets aimed at bloggers instead. This is the sort of thing I want to examine in Austin. Thanks for your comment.

AT in BC says:

To expand on this, bloggers like Will Leitch and Nate Silver have parlayed their independent gigs into positions with a voice in mainstream institutions (NY Mag and the NYT, respectively). It’s not only that bloggers start out with a voice instead of ‘earning’ it; but also, bloggers are usurping the traditional hierarchy that professional reporters are beholden to.

Indeed. An excellent point. This was a major factor in the Dave Weigel controversy at the Washington Post, in which Weigel lost his job because of stuff he said on an email list. You can hear the resentments of the veteran Post staffers in this amazing blog post, in which they dump on Weigel anonymously.


“The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training.”

Which shows that bloggers vs. journalists doesn’t end when a blogger is hired as a journalist as a big institutional player like the Washington Post. Instead the conflict is absorbed directly into the institution.

Re: “paying your dues.” There’s a term in journalism — cub reporter — that has no equivalent in blogging. I learned a lot from veteran editors during my early career at The Kansas City Star. I learned to type at the top of every article, attesting that every fact had been incontrovertibly verified. I learned that copy editors think nothing of getting you out of bed at midnight to clarify vague sentence structure.

However, I think bloggers bring perspectives to public discourse that would have been otherwise impossible. Bloggers are free to report what they see as “the truth” of an issue. Journalists, in contrast, generally must stick with “the facts” of an issue in the name of objectivity — even if they see the same “truth” as the bloggers. “Truth” is a job left to others.

For me, the core difference between journalists and bloggers is encapsulated in the old editor’s saw: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Bloggers will likely write that their mothers love them. Journalists will check it out.

If you’re looking for illustrative quotes, I’d recommend taking a look at the ongoing spat between the Croydon Advertiser (in Surrey, near London, UK) and a local blogger at Inside Croydon. It came to prominence after the Advertiser editor wrote an open letter to the blog, which went down unbelievably badly, and the row went a few more rounds before going quiet.

It’s interesting to me to look at this in the light of your thoughts on power – the blogger in question positions himself as powerful and the editor of the newspaper as weak, while the editor prefaces his open letter with kindly words about citizen journalism. But in the end the editor relies on his institutional power while the blogger uses his independence – his innocence, as you’ve expressed it above – as a weapon.

Thanks, Mary. I will definitely look at this.

I think the psychological swing on things is a good one. I tend to see it in rather similar ways – as cultural, which is also why it isn’t clear cut, as cultures overlap and contain multiple definitions of themselves.

To take the UK-based sci bloggers I use as a teaching example – this contain a community that grew out of Bad Science forums (i.e. Ben Goldacre) and will, as a least a 1/4 of their work, critique traditional media. There is bit of a history here of turning around the blog/journ boundary so often applied against bloggers, or at least celebrating bloggers in comparison to more traditional media (for example). Now some of these bloggers are starting to develop careers as professional science writers, there is some divide, with others who’d rather blog as a hobby and see a form of un-professionalism as a sort of badge of pride (this is quite interesting, and may also be relevant to your point about big daddy media).

Blog vs journ is something some bloggers are v keen to blur here, and yet it’s also one other bloggers take a lot of inspiration from too. Personally, I think both are justified – it’s certainly interesting to watch, and from a media analysis point of view, I have to maintain flexible definitions of both terms (including boundaries to these definitions).

I don’t know if the sci bloggers issue is especially odd, because the centuries-old history of boundaries around the professional identity of scientists being played out through science’s self-mediation and interaction with professional journalists…? I thought it might be interesting anyway.

“Un-professionalism as a sort of badge of pride…” Yes. Very relevant to what I hope to address with this presentation. Thanks.

Rosen, you just lost your whole argument by choosing to showcase, as your first quote, the stereotype of the blogger as some pimply-faced nerd-boy stuck in his mom’s basement ranting–a stereotype that has been outdated for so many years as to be a joke by now.

For example, Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo, is the only blogger ever to win a Peabody for excellence in journalism–but I don’t expect it to remain that way for long. As you well know, many highly qualified journalists have been laid off from newspapers all over the country, and are struggling to remain relevant and find a way to make a living by writing for online venues.

The quotes you chose to illustrate the us-vs-them mentality deny the existence of many fine writers who support families with their writing and who also guest-blog for places such as the Huffington Post. They are talented, highly skilled writers–some of whom are forced to blog for free because there is nowhere else for their voices to be heard as more and more print publications fold up their tents.

In short, there is no dividing line anymore. Maintaining that there is betrays a certain contempt for an imagined reality that really never did exist except in the minds of embittered and aging print journalists.

Deanie: Respectfully, I think you might have missed the point of this post and my presentation. In this case, I am not trying to avoid stereotypes, or ritualized complaints like the pimply-faced nerd-boy in the basement, but instead go right at them and ask what is the professional psychology behind these habitual (even archaic) images,

I think a really good example of the perception journalists and bloggers have of each other was played out by the Washington Post and Gawker a little while ago.

The summary is:
Ian Shapira writes a story (http://wapo.st/2hpUdA). Gawker blogs about it but doesn’t credit him. He then goes on a bit of a rant against blogs and news aggregators. Gawker replies with a post that says: “The bigger threat is that blogs say the things that hidebound newspaper editors are too afraid to let their reporters write.” See: http://gaw.kr/fdADdh

It is seen as a case study of fair use, but I think it’s quite revealing of how bloggers and journalists perceive each other, and the lengths they’ll go to in order to defend their “side”.

Hope you find it useful. Good luck at SXSW!

I remember that case from when it happened. Will look into it again.

Marc Ambinder’s response hints at one of the challenges — the institutional, often corporate-sponsored “we” of traditional media, versus the lone gunman self-propelled “me” of blogging. It’s not just that an individual’s ego is involved in blogging. We can point to many examples of traditional journalism where a single individual is fully identified with the work published. But the infrastructure supporting we or me makes a difference in the perception, and that infrastructure also includes the editorial team and process.

A blogger writing on their own self-created, self-publishing site is naked, out there — it’s their persona. A journalist writing for a corporate-funded, business-published site or print outlet is part of a constructed entity, especially if their work is shaped by editors for conformance to a style or fit with a brand.

Some of this may simply not be fully reconciled, especially if the business of journalism itself sees bloggers as competition for not only attention but the money which follows attention. The contrasts will be heightened as essential differentiation by businesses, and bloggers will continue to assail that which is the closed and unanswerable part of that business model.

Maybe readers don’t want non-lazy, un-biased journalism, but rather need to have their own biases confirmed by some so called authority.

I cringe every time I see another main stream journalistic presentation of the travails of Charlie Sheen, yet he can build a twitter following of over a million in just one day.

As an active blogger, I cringed this morning when one of my posts regarding the political implications of Fresno and Bakersfield being named the 3rd and 2nd most toxic cities in the US while the comment stream dealt with supporting the legalization of cannabis.

Neither bloggers nor traditional journalists can control what people will do with what they receive.

This discussion is almost impossible to have, or at least to resolve, because of the misguided labels people keep applying — “Bloggers” vs. “Journalists”.

As Jay pointed out, “lots of journalists happily blog, lots of bloggers journalize.” We need to define this discussion correctly if there is to be hope of constructive exchanges.

We need to focus not on the tools of journalism, but on the different ways people are doing journalism. The real divide is between “amateurs who report as an open, imperfect, interpersonal process” and “professional press who seek to on their own report a perfected end product.”

All of them are journalists, and many on both sides are bloggers. So those old labels do not get us to the real discussion.

Your panel focus does focus on the nuanced issues, Jay. I just worry most people won’t be able to hear it unless you smash these labels up front.

Jeff: Could you elaborate on this divide? I’m not sure I understand it and why it’s the real one. The real divide is between “amateurs who report as an open, imperfect, interpersonal process” and “professional press who seek to on their own report a perfected end product.”

To the notion of “perfected” professional journalism: the last large survery of newspaper accuracy, surveying 4,800 articles across 14 papers, found that 59% contained errors.

Of course one can and should quibble with the methodology here, but that doesn’t change the fact that pro journalism isn’t anywhere near as “perfect” as it institutionally represents itself as being. And every veteran reporter knows this.

To elaborate, what I’m saying is that the words “blogger” and “journalist” fail to serve this discussion well.

For one thing, the point of debate is not really about the entire universe of bloggers, but about the specific class of non-institutional bloggers who write topical news/opinion content for an audience beyond their friends and family.

It’s also problematic to frame a discussion around which persons are “journalists.” There’s no good answer. It’s much more practical to talk about acts of “journalism,” which can be committed by anyone, instead of which persons shall be designated journalists.

So, what media folks argue about is not whether bloggers are journalists. What they’re really questioning is whether the different practices and values of the non-institutional, amateur blogging should be classified as something other than “journalism.”

This is not a profound point, but it is important to get everyone’s heads around that first so there can be a real conversation about the practices and values of the non-institutional, amateur news bloggers and how they differ from the practices and values of the professional mainstream press. From there, we have many interesting threads such as what those differences mean for the role of the news consumer, user participation, verification and accuracy.

To me, the term blogger is a very vague & generic term (much like the term writer). It encompasses such a broader array of material than just journalism that to comparing a blogger and a journalist is meaningless.

Steve, in my opinion what you do is online journalism. To be thought of as a journalist, a person has to follow a set of rules about accountability, accuracy and integrity. You do that.

For a blogger to be respected as a purveyor of news they need to separate themselves from the handle of “blogger.”

Bloggers include political hacks, conspiracy theorists and 40-year-old guys with an obsession about Jar-Jar Binks.

So, Steve, to me you are a journalist. You use words and photos to inform and educate at wv-watchdog. Accept the title and move on.

Sorry, I followed a link from Steve Adams of WV Watchdog to this site. I thought it was his story. Points are still valid though.

I have never joined the blogger vs. journalist debate because I think it is silly. It is real — but it is real silly. Every new development — TV, USA Today, the Web, Twitter, Patch — is almost automatically attacked by established media as amateurish and doomed to fail — and then adopted. The disrupters have an edge, too, as they go up against institutional arrogance. It is a predictable cycle.

I am a journalist who has blogged almost daily since 2003 and never regarded blogs as more or less than the content that goes into them. They can be wonderful or dreadful — like every other medium. A blog is just a content management system with universal access.

Journalists and bloggers serve themselves and us well when they push through this competitive stage quickly and get down to collaborative work. Collaboration is one of the new media/economy’s big lessons and this real silly debate is a speed bump — but only for those who choose to follow that road we have seen so many times before.

While this writer applauds bloggers who fact check as the future of journalism, http://clatl.com/omnivore/archives/2011/02/28/on-blogs-and-bloggers-journalists-and-ethics, they also wrote: “I get the feeling that when mistakes are made on some blogs, the response is basically a shrug. Oh well. We got it wrong. Whatever. Next! Rumors come across my desk multiple times weekly — I follow up on them, contact the people involved and see if I can get confirmation.”

probably lots of quotes from Bob Costas/Buzz Bissinger/Will Leitch: http://nymag.com/news/sports/53975/
including “It’s one thing if somebody sets up a blog from their mother’s basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they’re a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be commenter No. 17 on Dan Le Batard’s column or Bernie Miklasz’s column in St. Louis,” Costas had said. “That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective. It’s just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were school-yard bullies, or on men’s-room walls in gas stations. That doesn’t mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it.”

Thanks, Lydia.

AT in BC says:

The Buzz Bissinger-Will Leitch exchange was a watershed moment in the sports blogosphere. Based on that appearance alone, Bissinger warrants a charter induction into the Curmudgeon Hall of Fame.


(For Bissinger skip to 4:00, though the entire segment is beautifully revealing).

david ryfe says:

Hi Jay. For journalists, I think the distinction between blogging and journalism is less psychological than cultural. That is, its less in their heads than a set of ideas, values, practices, and so on they share. One of these ideas is perhaps the cardinal rule of journalism, which is that reporters report, that is, they get information from one set of people (sources and institutions), package it as news, and disseminate it to another set of people (the audience). This is just what, at bottom, journalism is (as defined by journalists). To the extent that bloggers do not adhere to this definition, it makes journalists uncomfortable to call include them in the tribe. To the extent that they do adhere to this definition, it makes journalists more comfortable. I’d say Josh Marshall is a nice case in point–he started out with a blog and ended up with what is essentially an online newspaper.



Your part about the need of bloggers to view themselves as “outsiders” actually is the most novel thought I’ve read about this in a while. What examples do you have of “pure” bloggers who are insiders (pls define) trying to hold onto “outsider” status? Are you talking about bloggers like Josh Marshall, Jane Hamshire or Markos Moulitsas?

Hi Cat. What I meant by “inside” is not inside the halls of power, or insider in the sense of “inside the Democratic party’s orbit,” but simply inside the new, expanded and more participatory news system. It’s not like we have “the media” over here and bloggers over there. Not when a single blog post can rocket to the center of the news system in one day, as with:



David Gregory asked Scott Walker about that call on Meet the Press four days later. That’s bloggers to journalists to governors.

My point is… It’s one Internet, one news system. Bloggers aren’t “outside” it. But what academics call “psychic rewards” still attach to the outsiders position. And so bloggers use BVJ (BVJ = bloggers vs. journalists and it’s the hashtag for my talk in Austin) to claim that fictional position and its image of powerlessness.

This is what I meant, then, by these sentences: “By raging at journalists, bloggers keep themselves on the ‘outside’ of a system they are in fact inside of. They preserve some innocence (which is a kind of power) by locating all the power in Big Media.”

Hi, Jay — fascinating idea for a talk, especially at a venue where I’d think that participates would be inclined to hold MSM in a less-than-hallowed position.

How much of this “us v them” is innate, simply part of being human? The behavior seems so widespread, especially in times of distress in a perceived (or real) zero-sum game: competition for fixed resources.

How much of this “us v them” comes from the culture of news, where issues are reported in an either-or, winner-loser fashion?

Because I can’t edit my comment. 🙂

Is “journalist v blogger” the right dichotomy? Might it not be “conglomerate voice” v “perceived as independent voice”?

You know that MSM refusal to link to sources/resources drives me batty. I have an example of what I think of as mainstream media lifting material of very questionable provenance and then presenting it as “true”. The example involves copyright and vetting. The culprits range from E! to Gawker and Jezebel to a UK publishing stable, Anorak UK Ltd.

Is someone “a blogger” when she or he is employed by a publishing company?

This is kind of a crazy conversation but as a blogger in healthcare I have always seen myself as a partner of the journalists as they bring the news to the table.

Now I am a bit specific with healthcare with my background of writing code and software for the business, so it allows me to have both a consumer focus and tech point at times that a journalist would not have, so I see myself connecting new dots and providing additional helpful clarifications in some areas. I do some original but mostly using the source of the journalist which is always shown and linked.

I think perhaps if this type of relationship is on going, then both benefit as well as the readers. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents on the topic.

Seems you have left a a big hunk of the discussion – especially amongst the aggregators – and that is the $ value of the blog/essay/article – as it relates to attracting audience. The realtime feedback on popularity that does not exist in print, but certainly exists with the web. As those clicks translate into revenue, a “journalist” might be good at providing teases that turn to clicks on the internet, but the article might be a rehash of celebrity swill. Targeted writing that attracts audience (good from the publisher’s standpoint) – with zero journalistic integrity or ability.

Some more grist for this Energizer-bunny mill, Jay.

Rupert Murdoch’s quote from last year, which tries to place himself as defender of journalism as a bulwark against “interests of the powerful” (that creates an Escher-like meltdown in my brain, I’m afraid):

“Now, it would certainly serve the interests of the powerful if professional journalists were muted – or replaced as navigators in our society by bloggers and bloviators. Bloggers can have a social role – but that role is very different to that of the professional seeking to uncover facts, however uncomfortable.”


CNN Hosts Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discuss the Sherrod affair, bizarrely, by going after “anonymous bloggers” (which had nothing to do with that controversy):

“There’s going to have be a point in time where these people have to be held accountable,” Phillips said. “How about all these bloggers that blog anonymously? They say rotten things about people and they’re actually given credibility, which is crazy. They’re a bunch of cowards, they’re just people seeking attention.” …Phillips wanted to go even further, asking if “there’s going to come a point where something’s going to have to be done legally” about anonymous bloggers. “There has to be some point where there’s some accountability. And companies, especially in the media have to stop giving these anonymous bloggers credit,” she said.


Finally, it’s good to note that bloggers vs. journalists is a subset of Internet vs. journalists, which has an even hoarier heritage. My first in-depth exposure to it dates back to the Time magazine cyber-porn cover story debate of 1995:


The mid-90s framing of the argument — between Net people who resented being either ignored or misrepresented by big media, and media people who resented dotcom-era hype and cashouts — has persisted to this day. It is the bitter soil in which the early “bloggers vs. journalists” potshots took root.

I know you know it already but I invite others looking for a historical recap to check out the “Journalists vs. Bloggers” chapter from “Say Everything,” which is posted here:


Hope someone will be streaming and/or recording your talk for those of us who aren’t at SXSW this year!

Super-valuable, Scott. Thanks.

For those of you who don’t know him, Scott wrote the book. His “Say Everything” is the best book ever written on bloggers vs. journalists. By far.

My past life was in finance and I blogged about the currency markets for fun. Literally, just to engage in the debate, practice writing as my occupation incorporated none of it, and to help structure my thoughts for meetings, etc. I never thought of the larger ramifications of what I was doing, but never fancied myself a journalist. I probably had more in-depth market knowledge and was probably a crappier writer.

I’ve transitioned into the media world and this question is central to the business we’re trying to build. Working at a major news organization building a product that writes in the style that has become associated with blogs but with content far better than much of the “professional-grade research” I subscribed to for years in my past life. I can’t tell you how often simply from a stylistic viewpoint, customers label our writers as bloggers. Is it simply speaking with an opinionated viewpoint and using conversational language that makes someone a blogger, regardless of content? Is it not adhering to the generic tradition of objectivity and willfully inserting your potentially valuable opinion (proudly so and simply being transparent about your qualifications and background)?

To me there is no difference between the two. As someone from the outside now working in the news business, I previously never understood what made a journalist more qualified to write about a particular area than someone with years of practical experience and who can write. The good journalists have nothing to fear as their knowledge and expertise and ability to communicate are still paramount…and the great bloggers, well they are on their way as well. In my opinion this is the best thing that’s ever happened for both the readers and for the quality writers.

The “bloggers vs. journalists” meme is on several levels, juvenile and an example of a false dichotomy, although it does offer a few useful ideas for differentiation. The most obviously useful one is the distinction between monologue and dialogue. A lot of journalists, even on their blogs, make no attempt to engage in dialogue. They are treating the blog as a one-way process for rolling their stone tablets down the hillside.

The real bottom line is whether people are delivering useful information or insight or not.

The challenge for the mainstream media is that their overall capabilities for engaging in insightful investigation-based information production have fallen so far recently that even bloggers working with no resources and with little expectation of reward are, in some cases, generating more valuable content. When a media outlet simply acts as a stenographer for every information packet pushed its way, without engaging in any critical analysis, thinking, questioning or reporting, we reach the point where a lot of intelligent and motivated amateurs can produce better and more insightful content.

I think people really need to get over themselves.

At the moment I am kind of semi-retired from journalism and find that I like it. I have been blogging as means of writing and enforcing discipline upon myself. I write to entertain myself and the people who enjoy reading what I write.

Probably, maybe, soon if my health holds up or I see a story which catches my fancy I will pitch it to someone. I have a great part-time job, most days, and I have become involved with my public employees union.

The last thing I want to do is stress myself out as I enter the beginning of my late 50s.

Have fun. You cannot ever get back the fun you missed in life.

The whole debate is easily avoided by focusing on verbs rather than getting hung up on nouns.

You’re a journalist you say? That doesn’t tell me what you can do.
Labeling yourself a blogger is similarly imprecise.

Tell me what you DO. I want verbs.

GregLBean says:

Jay, imho, blogging versus journalism is a non-issue; the issue is owned versus free.

There is a great stanza from an old 80’s song called “It’s Too Late” by the Jim Carroll Band that goes;

But it ain’t no contribution
To rely on an institution
To validate your chosen art
And to sanction your boredom
And let you play out your part

In blogging or journalism “..it ain’t no contribution to rely on an institution..” because someone who writes for a master will at some stage find they are limited in what they can say or worse directed to write a piece on a topic they have little interest in and even worse yet, forced to make a point the Master wants made.

The owned adjust to ensure acceptance, the free do not. The best results in every field have almost invariably been achieved by free ‘zealots’ who follow their passion.

I suspect HD Thoreau if alive today would be hard to distinguish from Glenn Greenwald; powerfully free to state what the owned cannot. An owned blogger is no more or less than an owned journalist while a free blogger or journalist is so much more.

With media cross-ownership and consolidation at an historically unprecedented level, owned truly has meant that a very few (maybe as few as 6-10) media mega-moguls set the tone for the entire owned news engine. MSM failure, now widely recognised, seems to have developed almost exactly in parallel with this ever reducing breadth of owners.

So, the real issue is not blogger versus journalist but when information-wants-to-be-free can owned possibly deliver? I think we have already been given the answer, and those leading-edge owned writers, both journalist and bloggers, are voting with their feet to be free.

GregLBean says:

Just stumbled on this piece by Noam Chomsky, http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199710–.htm

His article is now 14 years old and therefore pre-blogging but does describe a group of “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” that must be excluded as they are not “socialised”.

Perhaps FREE Bloggers and Journalists are the outsiders who have not been through the “socialization role of elite institutions” that the OWNED Bloggers and Journalists have attended.

If so, this FREE versus OWNED comparsion is not new. What is new is that FREE thinkers now have the tools to compete and are growing in numbers and can no longer “be excluded”.

FunctionalPages says:

— “because someone who writes for a master will at some stage find they are limited in what they can say or worse directed to write a piece on a topic they have little interest in and even worse yet, forced to make a point the Master wants made.” —

So many people assume this is true in MSM, but it’s soo far from the truth. I really have to contain my rage.

Do you know a journalist this has happened to? Can you give me ONE example? No. You can’t. It’s our sick little minds that assume everything is corrupt, but in my 15+ years of working in newsrooms. I have not ONCE seen this. and no self-respecting editor would do this.

I can say that without reservation, almost every writer, almost every editor I have worked with would QUIT the day they were told what to write and how to present it in order to portray and agenda.

So please. It’s this kind of ignorance that keeps the blogs vs journs going. bloggers assume we are corrupt figureheads, when almost every single one of us was raised on the ideals that we are the voice of the people when they can not speak, the eyes over government where they can not see, and anything less than serving the publuc good is a dishonor to our craft.

You just single handedly slapped every journalist who has uncovered corruption, died in a warfield, or attended a city council meeting on YOUR behalf across the face.

I work for one of the largest news companies in the U.S., I sit in on the daily news meetings many times per week. Never once has anything but trying to bring the facts, and both sides of a story to the people, has been the goal.

I have yet to see a blogger write a 30+ page story about corruption in their home town. Sifting through 100s of documents and interviewing dozen’s of sources. Newspapers do this in every state in the country every year. These stories often make life harder on journalists because we will need governement people to be sources one day, and targets the next. But people still talk to us BECAUSE our only agenda is to serve the public good.

The sooner people stop assuming that MSM is corrupt, the sooner bloggers and journos will take a step to getting along.

I’m so tiered of hearing “I don’t need a filter for my new”… we aren’t a filter. We are information gatherers and I have yet to see a blogger do high-end analysis of governement documents and post their findings.

Even wikileaks relies on MSM to look at the documents and find the news. Almost ever tweet of blog of WL document findings was work done by a journalist.

I’m not saying we are some superior. But when bloggers and tweeters want to see themself as equal to MSM as information sources and not do even 1/10 the work. Well, it’s insulting. Then to tell us our work is ‘corrupted’ by the fact we are owned by a corp. really is disrespectful in monumental ways.

George Well says:

Hey FP, I wonder what you think of the documentary “Fear and Favor in the Newsroom” from some years back?

In my little corner of the internet, theatre criticism, the debate is live and well, although I keep wishing it wasn’t. Until last year, when I resigned, I was, like many of my colleagues, a mainstream print critic as well as a blogger.

In any case, I canvassed some of these things in the world of arts commentary in a piece for the ABC Drum called “The Return of the Amateur Critic”, which may be of interest here.


It’s entirely possible I’m missing some larger, relevant point — but in the end, doesn’t the distinction between J and B boil down to resources?

A journalist, traditionally, is someone who has the resources to dig deep into a story, right? He/she works for an institution that pays (badly) him/her to ferret out information and write the “story.”

A blogger, in contrast, generally has no such resources. Where would an average blogger find the funds to, for example, spend days tracking sources, rifling through documents, etc. Obviously SOME bloggers have precisely those resources (lucky them!), but most are expressing an opinion that is based, ultimately, on the work done by others who’ve had the time/resources to dig up the facts on which the blogger than bases his/her opinion.

A analogous situation is an author writing non-fiction: Good, substantive non-fiction is based on facts and those facts take a hell of a lot of time, often years, to gather, analyze, and assess.

The blogger who reads the book and expresses an opinion based on the facts in that book is doing just that: expressing an opinion. But that blogger in no way “discovered” the facts on which that opinion is based.

But again, hey, I could be totally off the mark. In which case, ignore!

Here is something to think about: us bloggers may not be actual “professional journalists” but many of us are in professions in which we are experts in,and that makes for good writing sometimes. Signed, a newbie blogger with a Social Work/Psychology background.

David Kaib says:

There are more than a few comments on this thread suggesting that this distinction is not worthwhile. Since Jay doesn’t suggest otherwise, I assume the point is that this is meaningless distinction and therefore should be abandoned.

But Jay isn’t doing that, because it does matter. It matters because people define themselves according to this dichotomy.

Also, I definitely agree about bloggers and the rituals of outside status (despite being in the system). I am continually struck by how much blog coverage follows MSM coverage. We’re in a rare moment now with WI where that is not true, but generally it is. Since so little of what gets reported in the MSM has any relevance to most people’s lives, that is a serious problem.

Thanks for helping me clarify something, because you’re right. I don’t disagree that the bloggers vs. journalists distinction is getting kind of absurd… and is almost meaningless at this point… and might be more trouble than it’s worth… and leads to a lot of silly debates. Those who are pointing this out to me aren’t convincing, because I’m already convinced!

But as David said. “It matters because people define themselves according to this dichotomy,” and that is what this post is about: matters of self-definition, and the psychology of identity given what the Internet has done to the press. It’s fine to continue to observe upon the silliness of the distinction–really, it is–just be aware that I’m not disagreeing with you.

My j-school training was just one of a number of ways to approach reporting and writing about news. Some of those tips and tools remain helpful to me in my career as a blogger and a few were helpful in past years when covering big news events, like Election ’08, but a lot of this was minor, for example: writing a concise headline, handling notes and recordings, etc.

The thing is when I freed up my mind to think more like a fly on the wall and not announce myself as “the press”, with a press pass/press access, I was able to get more solid accounts of what was taking place. Now I believe the key to good coverage of large events is to avoid revealing you are reporting and gathering, observing. You mix in, and then you are truly on the ground. One to one interviews can still warrant the transparency, but ask yourself, is it necessary in other settings?

One thing about blogging for yourself, your own reputation, is that it puts you out there like nothing else. You’re entirely responsible for your own success or failure. It’s not filtered or sanctioned and that’s great, but it’s scary as hell sometimes and people can more easily notice your mistakes and pin them on you, rather than your editor or publisher.

With the overwhelming amount of information to be found online, it seems natural that people would want more than just the same AP wire story remixed and repackaged ad nauseum, and gravitate instead to focused analysis from sources that reveal their biases and agenda up front. Which is what plenty of bloggers offer their readers.

I think there is a mechanical difference between blogging and journalism, one that shows that sometimes journalists are bloggers but rarely are bloggers journalists: copy editing. Regardless of what your background is or whether you sit in your mom’s basement or in an office tower on Eighth Avenue, if you push a button and thousands of people can then read your writing, you’re a blogger. If, on the other hand, you push the button and an editor — a trained copy editor, preferably, but at least someone with a concern for facts, spelling, syntax, grammar, who can and will change stuff and some of those changes you might not like — reads your writing and who then themselves pushes a button for thousands to read, then you’re a journalist.


Best distinction I have heard. Because the copy editor represents the institution.

There is much here to absorb.

A brief thought.

Much as I dislike being a defender of institutions, they can foster collaborations that are difficult to pull off as solo bloggers. These may be one-to-one, as in a good editor bringing out the best instincts of an investigative journalist or a good research-oriented essayist made to think more concretely. When not overtaken by colleague pressure or groupthink, institutions can elevate quality and create critical (hyperlinked) mass that is difficult, though not impossible to create a capella.

Perhaps it’s worth exploring collaboration examples to make this point, should you think it worth a bullet.

Help! What is the common thread running through all these comments? How would you phrase it? I think it’s going to be critical to my presentation.

Rayne: “Marc Ambinder’s response hints at one of the challenges — the institutional, often corporate-sponsored ‘we’ of traditional media, versus the lone gunman self-propelled ‘me’ of blogging… A blogger writing on their own self-created, self-publishing site is naked, out there — it’s their persona. A journalist writing for a corporate-funded, business-published site or print outlet is part of a constructed entity, especially if their work is shaped by editors for conformance to a style or fit with a brand.”

Jeff Sonderman: “We need to focus not on the tools of journalism, but on the different ways people are doing journalism. The real divide is between ‘amateurs who report as an open, imperfect, interpersonal process’ and ‘professional press who seek to on their own report a perfected end product.'”

Kathy: Is ‘journalist v blogger’ the right dichotomy? Might it not be ‘conglomerate voice’ v ‘perceived as independent voice?’

Joe Grimm: “Every new development — TV, USA Today, the Web, Twitter, Patch — is almost automatically attacked by established media as amateurish and doomed to fail — and then adopted. The disrupters have an edge, too, as they go up against institutional arrogance.”

Greg L. Bean: “Blogging versus journalism is a non-issue; the issue is owned versus free… In blogging or journalism ‘..it ain’t no contribution to rely on an institution…’ because someone who writes for a master will at some stage find they are limited in what they can say or worse directed to write a piece on a topic they have little interest in and even worse yet, forced to make a point the Master wants made.”

Christine Escobar: “One thing about blogging for yourself, your own reputation, is that it puts you out there like nothing else. You’re entirely responsible for your own success or failure. It’s not filtered or sanctioned and that’s great, but it’s scary as hell sometimes and people can more easily notice your mistakes and pin them on you, rather than your editor or publisher.”

GregLBean says:

Jay, is it censored vs uncensored?

Michelle C Forelle says:

This might boil it down too simplistically, and using a highly contested psychotherapist’s terms, but you’re going for the psychology of the thing, right? It sounds like it’s the id vs. the superego, with “bloggers” representing some idea of undeveloped, unfiltered thought (id) and “journalists” representing the idea of societal and institutional restrictions (superego).

AT in BC says:

I’d love to hear more on this angle.

David Kaib says:

I’m not sure this captures all of it, but an element is institutional versus individual. Journalists attempt to provide, as you’ve said, a view from no where. This often means relaying the claims of legitimate elites, regardless of one’s own views (or even if they are plausible). The editing process is one means to ensure that one stays within proper bounds.

Part of what it means to blog is to speak from somewhere, to give some sense of one’s self as a person in a particular location (not necessarily physical), and to speak on behalf of one’s self.

David Kaib says:

One thing I missed was the comment about what all the challenges to journalism had in common. They are seen as consumer driven, not restrained by the institutional limitations of journalism, and as a result all justified as being more real or relevant to the users.

Journalist then have a love-hate relationship with them, as they see them as a challenge, but also as something that must be co-opted by their institutions, since as long as they are co-opted, they pose no threat.

The overall theme is that bloggers enjoy being in the action *with* their audience, directly facilitating conversation. Dialog and all of its psychological murkiness is the critical difference. From a journalism standpoint, off the cuff participation is traditionally a less journalistic function: “commentary.” Most bloggers spend an equal amount of time on platforms that involve even more real-time conversation and commenting.

I would recommend taking a good, hard look at overall tendencies. The stakes are high for journalists entering the field and that is why there is backlash. There are big philosophical differences between a social platform and traditional media platform. “Social” can also include offline media, such as collaborative documentary or social arts. If a writer does not want to learn from the audience or be a part of the audience community, the writer is using blogging software more as a traditional journalist.

The common thread I see:

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

“Beat ’em” acknowledges the conflict and criticism flying in both directions, between ego-driven professional journalists and amateur bloggers.

“Join ’em” acknowledges journalists have certainly joined the blogosphere, and bloggers or citizen journalists are, in many cases, going beyond criticism in their writing and stepping up to inform and augment what’s written by professional journalists.

I think the “vs.” framing is what can throw people off when contemplating this topic.

Both journalists and bloggers are heroes for working so hard at writing. Journos seem more willing to put on their field gear to go out and get the news, whereas bloggers seem to write about whatever comes their way in course of doing what they do. I wish I could claim to be either one, but mostly I’m a chef, music lover, and outdoors man.

[…] Why “Bloggers vs. Journalists” is Still With Us » Pressthink. LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

From Scott Rosenberg’s super valuable chapter on Bloggers vs. Journalists comes this insight: Bloggers defeat the attempt to impose closure on events and declare debate over.

In one lengthy public correspondence between blogger Jeff Jarvis and New York Times editor Bill Keller, Keller, apparently exasperated by Jarvis’s dogged, detailed replies, distilled his sense of frustration with the open-ended nature of the Journalists-versus-Bloggers dispute: ‘There seems to be no end to any argument in your world.’

Of course, editors are busy people. And one prerogative of an editor has always been the ability to declare, ‘This argument is at an end.’ The job of a news editor is to say, ‘And now this.’ The news cycle has turned! Time to move on. The trouble was, bloggers were under no obligation to pay attention to such marching orders. If you ran a blog that obsessively tracked the fluctuation of oil prices or the rise and fall of hemlines — or, for that matter, the arguments between bloggers and journalists — then nothing was going to stop you from continuing to post about it. You followed your own news cycle — just as Josh Marshall and his peers did in keeping the Trent Lott story alive after the newspapers and networks had left it behind. This characteristic of blogging became a profound irritant to editors who were accustomed to being able to set the agenda of public dialogue. The bloggers had said their piece, and the editors had responded; couldn’t everyone just move along now?


My takeaway for Austin: The ability to make public time move along by declaring things “over” is a kind of fantasy of omnipotence, a power that editors might have believed they had, even though they didn’t discuss it in those exact terms. It was always an illusion, of course. But bloggers picked away at that illusion like a scab.

More Rosenberg: “Once bloggers began to find a following as sources of information, journalists pointed at them and said, ‘Who appointed you?’ Bloggers wheeled around at journalists and pointed right back, asking, ‘Well, who appointed you?’ … Journalists didn’t have much of an answer to ‘Who appointed you?’ beyond ‘My boss.’…”

And… “No matter what your beat was, if you were writing regularly about any topic, you now had to contend with a welter of competing voices on the Web. Some were ill-informed and unlikely to threaten a professional journalist’s standing. But many others were experts or self-taught obsessives who were willing to post about their fields around the clock and in far greater depth than any commercial publication would ever provide… Many journalists, content in the penumbra of respect and entrée conferred by the institutions that employed them, had complacently accepted an ex officio basis for their authority. Now they faced discomforting challenges to that authority in a new environment where who you worked for mattered less than how good you were, and how good you were had become a question anyone could argue.”

Takeaway for Austin: A certain amount of unearned authority had been concealed–concealed from journalists themselves–by a monopolistic media universe with few speakers and many listeners– listeners who did not have the powers of the press. But this era is definitively over. Specialist bloggers brought that news. It was not welcome news.

Plus… “All these comparisons cast them as victims, and that was exactly how many newspaper employees felt. Thanks to the newsroom ethic of church and state separation — in which the work of newsgathering was kept strictly cordoned off from the business that paid for it — journalists had little professional tradition of scrappy entrepreneurialism. Here and there, newsroom exiles experimented with ‘hyper-local’ blogging, demonstrating how small Web outposts might begin to replace the community coverage so many papers were abandoning. But mostly the newsroom veterans disavowed any responsibility for their economic fate, and sat on the sidelines of the dismemberment of their own industry.”

Takeaway for Austin: they has been infantalized by their own industry. They felt like victims, people without agency. That’s a painful thing to admit, especially when the separations that infantalized professional journalists (newsroom over here, business over there) were valorized as bedrock for the house of ethics. Playing the adult to childish bloggers who lack impulse control helped keep all recognition of these contradictions at bay.

You have also written extensively about the “view from nowhere” and the journalistic standard in news reporting to provide a “balanced” story. Even in an opinion piece, traditional journalists seem to feel required to voice the other side of an argument, including quotes or sources even if only to shout it down or refute it. Bloggers are comfortable in a news story or pure opinion piece with taking one side. Independent bloggers are often borne of a passion, experience, and strong belief in the truth of one side of an argument about an issue or one primary perspective of a company or industry. If there other side of the story is wrong, bankrupt or a waste of time to discuss, why bother. We have no obligation and no interest. I think bloggers within traditional journailistic enterprises or who have been originally trained in journalism principles cling to the fairness doctrine, in spite of space and other practical considerations. Their editors (I am my own editor) may insist on at least a token mention of the other side or they may feel that mention of the other side strengthens their credibility. As a subject matter expert who writes, my credibility is what it is and I believe it can be diluted by giving time or space to incorrect or ridiculous counter contentions.

Thanks, Francine. My read, for purposes of my presentation in Austin: Long ago (the 1920s and 30s) they were forced to give up their voice in return for steady employment, institutional power, social position and workplace peace. Long ago, they had persuaded themselves that this was a “good” bargain, and that voicelessness (the view from nowhere) was actually a good thing, closer to the Voice of God. Along come the bloggers to bring them face to face with what was lost, long ago. The reaction: misplaced fury. A cooler reaction would have revealed the dynamic you describe here.

The need for financial and job security suppresses truth tellers every day. In my speeches I often talk about whistleblowers and their challenges. To be a whistleblower, or a strong, independent voice within an organization, you either have to be very rich or very poor. In the former case you can live without the job because you have strong financial resources and aren’t swayed by threats about your career. In the latter, you have nothing to lose. Both kinds of people benefit from strong emotional support from friends and family, if that’s available. It’s hard to go out on a limb without it. People who can’t be bought with a job, a severance package, a bonus are very dangerous to organizations.

The ongoing outrage is still often a matter of fury among the former gatekeepers/keyholders that their info-monopoly is long lost. This was evidenced in the most notable “from the curmudgeonry archives” example involving our little news org. I don’t believe the original newspaper-attacking-blogs editorial is still available but this site excerpted a couple of the most interesting parts:

The derision for “live-blogging” always seemed truly rooted in, why, why, how dare you tell me what’s happening AS it is happening, rather than forcing me to seek you out tomorrow morning/next week to find out The Official Account. But we realize some also find value in having a much more detailed record of who-said-what-when for later reference, rather than just the standard newspaper article pulling out the highlights.

We were reminded of this again a few nights ago when, even though our coverage of the citywide school district is on-and-off, we thought there might be some value in going downtown (outside our physical coverage area) to live-chronicle the school board’s momentous firing-the-superintendent meeting. We got heartening expressions of gratitude from multiple readers and even online kudos from the teachers’ union’s statewide parent organization. Which called our live-chronicling “journalism,” not “blogging.”


(But I must note that the whole situation came to a head thanks to both “bloggers” – an amateur watchdog site
http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com – and traditional newspaper journalists at the Seattle Times whose work in the preceding weeks had turned a spotlight so withering on the district leadership, the board seemed to have no choice but to act. There is great value in the work done by both.)

That is valuable history, Tracy. Thanks! I wonder if you have testimony (or corrective) to offer on this part of my post: “By raging at journalists, bloggers keep themselves on the “outside” of a system they are in fact inside of. They preserve some innocence (which is a kind of power) by locating all the power in Big Media.”

I explained in an earlier comment what I meant… It’s one Internet, one news system. Bloggers aren’t “outside” it. But what academics call “psychic rewards” still attach to the outsider’s position. And so bloggers use BVJ (BVJ = bloggers vs. journalists) to claim that fictional position and its image of powerlessness.

Here in Seattle there’s not such a clear line, and not so much rage, because blog-format publishers have truly become accepted as part of the news media – some of us because we demanded it, some as a halo effect from that. Around here what we tend to see more of is the smaller publications sniping at the bigger publications (there is an alt-weekly that does a great job with news but feels the need sometimes to throw stones at the last remaining regional daily).

I still see far more rage going the other way. Like Leonard Pitts’ ongoing fury, most recently:

The Seattle Times republished that column today too, which was annoying as they have avidly sought informal partnerships with dozens of us local “new media” publishers. And several times, when they have put their own reporters on a story in our coverage area, my “standards” have wound up being tougher than theirs – a recent murder in which they identified the victim, with attribution to a “friend,” before the coroner finished notifications … a nonviolent crime in which they identified the suspect though he was never charged … I respect their right to make different decisions, but I grow weary of hearing that my wing of the business is the one without “standards.”

Fantastic discussion, and great resource. Thanks for it. I’m particularly struck by how often ideas about “institutionalism” have come up in the comments; totally appropriate, but it also makes me wonder whether institutionalism itself is worth a closer look in this context. The institution of journalism, as suggested above, is its editorial edifice, certainly — the infrastructure that distinguishes, ostensibly, a vetted product of journalism from a hip-shoot-y artifact of the blogosphere — but it’s also the authority that derives from that structure.

And those two elements connect to the blogger-v-journo psychology, I think, by way of a (possibly random, but possibly important) part of press history: the aspirational relationship journalism has had with science. Or, at least, with the scientific.

Journalism’s objectivity mandate, after all — the elephant in any room that’s going to host a convo about the journo/blogger dynamic — is partly based on the profession’s attempts to model itself according to the dispassionate principles of the scientific method. As Michael Schudson explains of objectivity’s Progressive Era origins in his (excellent!) “Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press“:

“Objectivity as ideology was a kind of industrial discipline. At the same time, objectivity seemed a natural and progressive ideology for an aspiring occupational group at a moment when science was god, efficiency was cherished, and elites increasingly judged partisanship a vestige of the tribal nineteenth century.”

Objectivity was also, it’s worth noting, a response to the industrial public relations apparatus that sprang up after World War I. Schudson again: “Anxious about the manipulability of information in the propaganda age, journalists felt a need to close ranks and assert their collective integrity. By the 1920s, this meant increasingly a scrupulous adherence to scientific ideals.”

The “scrupulous adherence” may have faded, if it was ever fully formed, from journalism’s “scientific ideals.” But its influence remains: Journalism tries to be, as Gawker might put it, Science-y. Professional standards about sourcing are broadly analogous to the scientific method’s emphasis on experimental replicability; news orgs’ editorial infrastructures, with their content reviewers and copy editors, are broadly analogous to peer review; and so on.

But that identification — and here’s where the psychology stuff could kick in — carries an implication: the assumption of a singular, and mathematically accessible, world. Science is premised, in its way, on universality. And so, in its way, has been journalism. The distribution mechanisms of the press throughout most of the 20th century — the self-contained magazine, the singular TV broadcast, the newspaper front page and all its epistemological implications — all reinforced the same core idea: that there is but one way to know the world. “And that’s the way it is,” the mass symbol of that mass idea, appealed — and, eventually, appalled — in its assumption that there can be one obvious “it” to talk about in the first place.

Which is a long way of saying: Journalism, partly (perhaps) through its scientific aspirations, broadly imagines itself as serving a kind of normative universality — “all the news that’s fit to print,” “the first rough draft of history,” and all that. That’s what drives it at its best, and what gives it, as a profession, legitimate claim to being a public service. But it’s also, I think, partly why journalism as a culture finds “bloggers” so threatening: Blogs, generally speaking — which spring from their authors’ random interests and are built, as Scott suggested, on a premise of ceaseless discourse rather than containment or conclusion — are messy. They celebrate diversity. They are diversity.

Which is fantastic. Unless, that is, your career lives under the auspices of an assumption that the world can be understood — and to some extent made clean, and to some extent made whole — by dispassionate inquiry. In which case you have a vested interest, one you might not even see in yourself, in ensuring that “the way it is” preserves some of “the way it’s been.”

Of course, this then raises interesting questions in regard to some of the most oft-discussed (and perhaps fruitful? we’ll see) alternatives within traditional journalism- “scientific journalism” (as Julian Assange would put it) or quantifiably-grounded-empirical-journalism, ie, hacks and hackers, ie, large data sets plus people plus pretty pictures. Or, in addition, “our audience understood through complex metrics.” Because thats getting MORE scientific, not less, no?

I have a hunch – and it’s only a hunch — that our current loss of faith in the journalistic process (what Schudson said as far back as the 1970’s was the true grounding of objectivity once journalists lost their scientific naive faith in the facts) is being replaced with a renewed naive empiricism based on the transparency of data. In other words, a return to the fact as such.

Or then, you’ve also got the bloggers, which are something else.

Couldn’t resist weighing in on science and journalism.

First, some things really are “mathematically accessible”, as Megan puts it. If journalism is going to talk about subjects that have proven explorable through standard scientific methods — which includes stories on science but also things like government policy, in many cases — then journalists really should know their science.

But more generally, there is an epistemological sloppiness in much of the journalism profession that really bugs me. You see this in a lot of different ways. The lack of links (or other citations) is a big problem for me. Better linking would also require more primary source material online, which is a place where I agree with Assange and his “scientific journalism.” Journalism also frequently suffers from severe sampling problems, because it’s so often based on anecdotes. Really good stories connect exemplar human narratives with solid data. Journalists are also typically blissfully unaware of the cognitive biases that affect journalism.

There is another, little used term to describe this idea that journalism should be science-y: “precision journalism”, as expounded long ago (1970s!) by Phil Meyer, aka the father of computer-assisted reporting. Parts of the new edition of his book “Precision Journalism” are available online.

Finally, a provocation I blurted out at NICAR two weeks ago: if “objectivity” is really a process, does that mean that journalists should strive to be interchangeable? Should an editor get the same story regardless of who they assign it to?

When asked in this way, it seems clear that there are parts of journalism that we definitely want completely “objective.” And parts that we definitely don’t want to be “objective.” But this separation of result from investigator is the essence of the original scientific definition of “objective.”

– Jonathan

If “objectivity” is really a process, does that mean that journalists should strive to be interchangeable? Should an editor get the same story regardless of who they assign it to?

You’re so right, Jonathan. Journalists would never go for that. It’s not what they mean by objectivity.

This is why I call objectivity a means of persuasion. (By which I mean that is one of the things it is…)


Journalists have kept objectivity more or less the same over the years: a system of signs meant to persuade us to accept an account of what happened because it appears to contain only what happened and not what the composer of the account feels about it. That’s why you should trust it: because it appears unadorned. The way we capture this in popular culture is by reference to Joe Friday: “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

That’s not to say that an account presented this way actually is pure fact. No way. There is no act of journalism that is not saturated with judgment. Even a photograph is framed by the picture taker. When I refer to “Just the facts” I simply mean: that is how the story asks to be understood, not… “that is all there is to it.” There is always more to it.

So objectivity is persuasion, the method is “just the facts, lose the adjectives,” and the outcome is supposed to be the user’s trust.

An addendum- the key Schudson quote is this one. imho, it’s the best thing he has ever written, and it’s also a fairly complex thought. No easy answers here:


I totally agree. The greatest passage he ever wrote.

What I think is interesting, and what I see developing within the comments here, is understanding the meaning of the vs. dichotomy in terms of the “winner” of the opposition.

Naturally, the side one is on normally dictates one’s perspective. Either journalists are having to adapt into bloggers in this current media climate, or the bloggers who are doing “real journalism” end up becoming professional journalists, learning the ways of the masters and leaving the amateurs behind. The evolution of the confrontation thus posed is not a real synthesis, but an absorption of one by the other.

In other words, this is like resolving the problem of the chicken and the egg, by deciding, “well, the egg is actually an embryonic chicken, and always was. So there is no egg. Winner: chicken!” The funny thing is, yes, they both ARE chickens, and hence, the ridiculousness of the paradox! And yet this realization doesn’t solve the problem as posed, because the posed problem is by definition, unsolvable. The reason we know the dilemma of chicken and egg so well, is that it is well-known paradox: a dichotomy not meant to be resolved.

As far as journalism and blogging go, I’m not sure which one is the chicken (note: no one would claim that both the chicken and the egg are actually eggs). But, I would propose that whatever the eventual synthesis might be, it will not resemble one or the other. Because, as they are, they are defined in contradiction. So neither opposition will win the day; instead, we will need to proceed to a state at which neither opposition is relevant, and we forget the whole thing.

If you like, we could resolve the paradox with well-known tautology: “It’s not over, ’til it’s over.” 🙂

Another distinction similar to copy editing is fact checking. Fact checking is not as clear as distinction as copy editing, because it’s not uniformly applied to Journalists and it’s not necessarily missing from bloggers. But in general, the journalists are more accurate, more careful to be clear about first, second, and third person reporting, and more careful about clarity of sourcing.

I think this is too often confused with objectivity. Accuracy and clarity in writing are not the same as the mythical objectivity. It’s very easy to present a single point of view while also being truthful, accurate, and clear.

The difference between the journalists and bloggers is shrinking here. Bloggers have learned that consistent accuracy and clarity greatly enhance the reputation, so the high quality bloggers are engaging in significant efforts. The fact checker staff in publishing has shrunk and its quality is greatly diminished. There are more and more journalists being published without fact checking.

Vincent Fry says:

Lawyers thought they were unique right up until they weren’t

Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software

Partly in reply to Megan Garber’s fruitful comment on scientific pretensions in professional journalism, here’s a quote I am thinking of using at the beginning of my talk. It is from Lincoln Steffens, among the premier muckraking journalists of the progressive era, great grandfather of today’s investigative reporters. In the introduction to his collection, The Shame of the Cities, which is about the corruption endemic to machine politics in the big cities of turn-of-the-century America, he writes:

After Minneapolis, a description of administrative corruption in Chicago would have seemed like a repetition; Perhaps it was not just to treat only the conspicuous element in each situation. But why should I be just? I was not judging; I arrogated to myself no such function. I was not writing about Chicago for Chicago, but for the other cities, so I picked out what light each had for the instruction of the others…

This is all very unscientific, but then, I am not a scientist. I am a journalist. I did not gather with indifference all the facts and arrange them patiently for permanent preservation and laboratory analysis. I did not want to preserve, I wanted to destroy the facts. My purpose was no more scientific than the spirit of my investigation and reports; it was, as I said above, to see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, would not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride. That was the journalism of it. I wanted to move and to convince.

The part that gets me is, “I did not want to preserve, I wanted to destroy the facts.” No journalist at the Washington Post would say that today. It is not permitted. It would mark the speaker as unfit for that newsroom. Although the kind of journalism a Dana Priest or James Risen practices is a direct descendant of Lincoln Steffers and the muckrakers, something dropped out between 1902 and 2002.

“I wanted to destroy the [shameful] facts… I wanted to move and convince… That was the journalism of it.” That’s what had dropped out when journalism professionalized and, as Megan says, adopted some of the pretensions of science.

The bloggers, in this sense, were “the return of the repressed.” Like Steffens, they wanted to move and convince. On the surface they were antagonists. Dig deeper and they look more like the ancestors of today’s journalists. I’ve said that bloggers and journalists are each other’s ideal other. This is precisely because they share chromosomes.

That’s a great way to get into all this — what a fantastic quote. And it’s particularly meaningful, I think, because the oppositional relationship it highlights — being inside the institution vs. being outside it — applies not just to the institution of journalism itself, but to the broader “institution” that is the status quo. In this framing, the BVJ distinction boils down to narrating the world as it is…versus fighting for the world as you want it to be.

Yes. But let’s remember one of the great contradictions in professional journalism today: ask journalists why they chose this profession and the most common answer (not the only one, of course) is to make the world a better place or some variation on that: right wrongs, stick up for the little guy, be part of the solution, etc. But on arrival they find that these motivations have to be muted; they have been edited out of the code.

This strikes me as significant.

Definitely. It’s interesting, in that context, that Steffens’ goal — “to move and convince” — has an implied object: readers. He takes for granted that at the other end of his muckraking is a collective of active minds that can be changed with “shameful facts.”

Contemporary journalism takes its audience for granted in a different way. And that’s partly because, somewhere along the way, professionalism became conflated with separation — not only from journalists’ own opinions and perspectives, but from their readers and viewers and listeners. It’s a huge generalization, but: If you’re a journalist who’s too close to your audience — if you care, you know, too much about what the public wants or thinks — that’s a professional liability. Authority, according to this mindset, comes from distance: To know too fully who’s at the other end of your stories is to be, somehow, compromised.

It’s an incredibly awkward paradox: Serving the public demands separating yourself from the public. And it’s one reason, at least, why the current shift from “audiences” to “users” is so significant — not just for the users themselves, but for journalists.

Yep. I wrote about this in 1996, if you can believe it. In a pamphlet called “Getting the Connections Right.”


The thesis is that if you looked at what pro journalists held sacred in protecting their enterprise, it was all about “getting the separations right.” The separations between editorial and “the business side,” between news and opinion, between the news producers and the consumers, between reporters and their powerful sources. Keep these things safely apart and the enterprise will function properly, it was thought.

But, I argued, the problems the press faces today are different. The challenge now is getting the connections right.

Jay, as you know I’ve argued for journalists and journalism to have concrete goals. I took the way out of saying, well, let’s say “informing the public” is literal, and we mean it. Then the goal is making sure people know about things deemed important, as I explored in “Does journalism work?”

That notion depends on the idea that there is some set of “facts” to be known. We know that “facts” are very difficult to pin down in some cases; in others they are not, e.g. any reporter is expected to get the number of deaths right in a house fire story. When facts are simple, we call the process of getting them right “accuracy.” When facts are complex, we (sometimes) label getting them “right” as “objectivity.”

But of course there is more than one way to construct a complex worldview that derives from primary facts — where primary facts are, at bottom, reports or recordings of primary sense experiences of the witnesses. Building that up into a worldview is a hugely intricate process. And you can do it in ways that preserve or ignore “truth” as defined in various ways. That is, as you make your layers upon layers of interpretations, the results should be “true” if and only if the primary reports are genuine.

Science has at least the virtue of standardizing on one particular way of preserving “truth” as it interprets primary reports into more complex objects of knowledge. That’s how we go from “the needle on this dial just moved” to “our galaxy has a mass of X” or “women’s education reduces the HIV rate.” And many have dreamed that we could apply scientific epistemology to everything, but of course we can’t. It only works in certain circumstances.

The best we can hope for, it seems to me, is clearly defined competing systems of truth-finding. It’s less important what the details of this process are than that the details are extremely well documented, public, discussed, evolving. I want to see the sausage-making that is narrative.

In this respect, WIkipedia does better than just about anything else, and good bloggers do similar. You can see this in the inclusion of the story-about-getting-the-story in many blog posts (“so I called her up and asked…”). That process is almost uniformly invisible in professional journalism. So much so that it’s almost invisible internally. I very rarely have serious conversations with other pro journalists about how they construct the world from the observations.

One thing blogging gives us is massive, widespread, amateur experimentation with systems of knowing the world. To put it another way: I am not (here) arguing for any particular system of constructing narrative. I am arguing *that there should be* a system for each journalist/newsroom, and that the system should be an object of public discussion.

Once you have publicly declared a system of interpretation, it makes sense to fight to solve the problems you see in the world, as recognized from the point of view you’ve built.

That’s the best I can currently offer on this conundrum of whether journalist should try to change the world, i.e. whether the “separations” you write about are sensical.

(“so I called her up and asked…”) Yes. This is a good identifier for a blogger’s approach.

This comment is from Mark Coddington, a journalist and grad student who does Nieman Lab’s wonderful week-in-review feature. For some reason my system wouldn’t let him post it, so he emailed it to me.


Hi Jay,

Since I’m taking two theory classes right now, I’m going to do that grad student-y thing and try to tie this to a theoretical concept I’ve been thinking about lately.

I can’t help but think of bloggers vs. journalists in the context of the spheres of consensus, legitimate debate and deviance. Within the mindset of the American mainstream press, bloggers began in the sphere of deviance, a curiosity to be minimized and other-ized (“mother’s basement,” etc.). As of several years ago, bloggers had moved firmly into the sphere of legitimate debate. (This was the point at which you both could and had to say that bloggers vs. journalists is dead.)

But now, as the lines between the two groups blurs even further, bloggers are moving past the sphere of legitimate debate – not into the sphere of consensus per se, but into a space in which journalists are forced to grapple with the idea that they might be, in some form, “one of us.”

That’s a real shock to the press’s system, considering it considered bloggers as part of the sphere of deviance less than a decade ago. And I think that a lot of the animosity we still see between the two groups is the vapor trail of that rapid move from deviants to occupants of much of the same societal space. Bloggers have moved through those two spheres much more quickly than other groups, and it takes time for an institution like the press to adjust.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts. I live here in Austin, but I’m sad that I won’t be able to attend your talk. I’m sure it’ll be thoughtful and thought-provoking, as always.

“One of us” implies a shock of recognition, that this figure you other-ized (great made up term…) is actually related to you. I think this is part of my subject.

Many of the comments seem to relate to the question: who benefits by maintaining the blogger vs. journalist distinction?

I keep thinking back to one of David Kaib’s comments:” I am continually struck by how much blog coverage follows MSM coverage.”

If the collective psychological profile of bloggers continues to be of that of a group that exits outside the mainstream, the culture of reacting to what MSM creates is maintained. Bloggers’ sense of empowerment is thus derived from being as outspoken as they wish about news streams that have already been created. Continuing to inhabit this space prevents bloggers from generating alternate streams of news, to bestow themselves with the authority to decide what is newsworthy, as that could put them in the place of institutional power they are trying to avoid.

This then preserves the impetus of journalists (as representing the institutional voice) to be the agenda-setters.

Dependence creates resentment. Excellent point.

Jonathan Slater says:

Jay, is there any evidence of how the private postmasters of this country felt as institutionalized newspapers started to encroach on their turf, sometime in the early 19th century? If you owned the post office, you could mail the paper you yourself edited and printed in the back room. Aren’t the bloggers, in a way, just taking back the post office?

Alan Sunderland says:

I am not sure this helps in any way with the presentation, but I think this whole debate will only really progress when we force ourselves to have it without using the words “blogger” and “journalist”. In other words, forget the source and the mode of delivery, what precisely are we comparing and contrasting if we are not talking about blogging and journalism? That’s the real issue, and resolving it will lead to a more nuanced and relevant definition of the various ways we communicate information, analysis and opinion with each other.

That is a point (a good point) made by Jeff Sonderman earlier in this thread:


I would say that if we toss the terms in my title, the underlying opposition is self-publishing vs. institutional production and what lives and dies for public service journalism with each.

Alan Sunderland says:

Personally, I don’t think the “institutional” vs “self-published” quite gets it. For me, it is about the intent of the author. Is there anything that makes a piece of journalism different from someone presenting their view of events? If there is, it needs to be newly defined, because we can no longer define journalism as something which appears with an institutional imprimatur. The imprimatur has to come from a new way of flagging what that piece of content purports to be. It all boils down to the long-overdue need for a new ethics of journalism.

Well, there’s adding new and verifiable facts to the public record vs. interpreting (or making meaning from) what is already in the public record. But of course professional journalists do both of those things, a lot.

chris bugbee says:

Contrarian John Derbyshire flips the vid in invidious:


Bloggers vs. Pros
March 7, 2011 4:33 P.M.

By John Derbyshire

The conclusion of Radio Derb’s take on the Krugman-Economist-Iowahawk punch-up:

As well as illustrating a thing we all kind of knew anyway, viz. that the so-called discipline of economics is a crock of turkey poop, this little incident shows up the laziness and irresponsibility of establishment journalists. All the real investigative journalism now is done on the blogs by people like Iowahawk. The pampered journo-school graduates at the big print outlets are just faking it.

I have sometimes done five-minute segments here on Radio Derb that cost me an hour and a half of trawling through the internet to make sure I got my data right. That makes me more diligent than Paul Krugman or the writers at The Economist. Where do I go to get my Nobel Prize? When do I get an op-ed column in the New York Times?

Journalism is not a medium – print Vs digital. It’s a set of methods and values. I’m a blogger who has never been trained as a journalist but I am a software developer who writes about technology so I know the subject from the inside. Many “real” journalists mostly re-write press releases. In the end of the day, journalism for me is about quality writing and analysis, regardless of where the words appear.

Terry Heaton…


… a former TV news director who is now a web-savvy consultant to the industry, wrote to me with this anecdote. He gave me permission to post it here:

In 2005, I was traveling around arranging blogger meet-ups for media companies interested. One memorable event was in San Francisco, where one TV station hosted a meet-up with 125 bloggers present. The station did everything right. It was a social event. No visible attempt to recruit. More to say “We hear you.” Everybody was there, and I was very proud.

I had told the station to make commemorative t-shirts, and they did, but the idiot General Manager ordered mostly XLs and 2XLs, because “most bloggers are overweight.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, he apologized for it in front of them.

The station had a golden opportunity but missed it, and at least in part, because of their preconception of the typical blogger. Most present, BTW, were small or mediums.

That’s very funny. And very sad.

He was expecting phantoms. Chubby ones, at that.

Mr. Rosen will you be my blogging therapist??

Oh this topic. I love it. I could talk about this until your iPad batteries run out.

Here’s a perspective from my fluffier entertainment/lifestyle journalist p.o.v.:

I worked at an alt-weekly for 10 years, then jumped to become a managing editor for AOL in 1999 (and stayed for 7 years) and then worked at various sites since including a stint at Time Inc as the editorial director for RealSimple.com (marrying the print pub with the digital) and now running my own biz as a digital “content team for hire”…I’ve experienced the blogger/journalist battle from every angle imaginable.

I had a very personal weekly pop music column for the newspaper for several years which was this carefully crafted, curated thing I got paid for. (Granted this was an alt-weekly so I was already off-the-beaten path, but “voice” was still something that was earned) Fast-forward to the 2000s and I started to have this block, of a sort, about writing online and being able to be authentic. Ironically, in my print column, I felt like I could be this characterization of myself; blogging felt so immediate and open that it scared the shit out of me. That’s not to say I didn’t do it or understand it. I started an early series of blogs for AOL’s Digital City in 2002 or so (mostly managing the work of other bloggers), started a multi-blogger blog for RealSimple.com in 2007 (including editors from the mag, of course) and wrote my own wedding blog for RealSimple. Of course in my business I manage scads of bloggers and edit their work. Yes, I edit their work. To refer to an earlier comment, I disagree that the distinction between blogging and journalism is a copy editor or an editor. I’ve been editing bloggers for years. We’re not talking about the basement blogger, but more often, the blogger contributing to a bigger site. That being said, in 1999 my first horror at AOL was that we had no copyeditors or true line editors for that matter. It took years before could become truly comfortable with the “launch now, tweak later” mentality. In fact, I’ve never become comfortable with it. I’m an editor.

Back to blogging. I know what makes a great blogger and what makes a great blog post but from a personal standpoint, as a blogger I’ve always struggled. I do have a blog called What’sYourSystem.com that needs a lot more love and posting than I give it. Blogging takes time and rhythm. If it’s not the only thing you’re doing it’s hard as hell.
But there’s still such a lure for me – I want to be a better blogger.

I’m eager to hear your talk at SXSW.

p.s. On a semi-related note, speaking of the “conflict” still existing in print vs digital, I’ve found it so interesting that with iPad development, the print side (and yes, there are still very much “sides”) has snatched up the development before their in-house digital team can get its grubby little hands on it. I’ve seen this happen on most of the big print magazines. There’s still (still!) a real lack of collaboration.

I have written on this, mostly in reference to book and arts reviewing. Most recently:


Functionally speaking it is, as you say, a non-issue.

I’m a blogger who writes about literature and ideas, I’ve actually earned money and published as a literary critic, which I guess makes me a pro, but I’m not really publishing any now except on my blog and occasionally when a friend asks me to write something. I go after ‘professional’ literary critics, but I began doing this as a professional literary scholar. The Internet hasn’t changed that except in giving me my own publishing platform where I reach my audience of about 12 people. I’ve certainly never felt that I had to compete or prove myself as a writer because I write a blog. That was already proven before I began, and I go on working out my writerly destiny, using the blog or whatever medium works for me at the moment.

That said, I think there are distortions in the debate. One, the Internet has a lot of material that is not blogging–it is stuff that would ordinarily be in print magazines, but for obvious practical reasons (cost, audience reach) it appears in magazines and outlets that are only online. People often speak of the Internet without making this important distinction. I see a graduated scale between “professional” print publications, at one extreme, and a whole array of publishing possibilities that, it’s worth pointing out, are still in process of development. I and my small blog are at one end of it, although maybe it’s less like a line than a color wheel. The size of my audience doesn’t reflect my qualifications, but this is not really an issue for me. I don’t define myself as just a blogger. At this point I think someone usually chimes in and says, “Oh, but we’re not talking about you or anyone in this room!” That mysterious malefactor is always somewhere else– but somehow it is always necessary to repudiate and denounce him and all his ways.

Now, as always, actual quality distributes itself pretty randomly throughout all the available media. I mean, this has always been true. If we aren’t aware of its truth in other periods it’s because the junk falls out of view after a while. Edward Thomas’s Night Thoughts were all the rage in the late 18th century–nobody reads them now. But people still read William Blake, who nobody cared about then. This can help one keep perspective.

Such knowledge also helps one distinguish between quality and status. A confusion about these two things characterizes much of the debate. The ways one achieves status are not at all the same as the ways that one achieves quality. The one does not necessarily follow the other. An obvious point but nobody ever thinks it applies to them. Much of the debate in criticism has been about the status of the blogger vs. that of the critic. But the critics don’t seem able to give a very good account of what criticism is for–that is, they can’t define quality in what they do, or they give a rather impoverished and trivial definition of it, that cannot keep the attention of any serious person. This is not the fault of bloggers, and, in my view, it is a much bigger problem than the threat posed by amateur reviews on Amazon. There are more important things to do, if you’re a critic, than churning out the same slurry of mediocrity and boredom. And I’d like to see the critic who can point out one blogger who is preventing him or her from doing better.

You’re peanut gallery piece is very very good.

“At this point I think someone usually chimes in and says, ‘Oh, but we’re not talking about you or anyone in this room!’ That mysterious malefactor is always somewhere else– but somehow it is always necessary to repudiate and denounce him and all his ways.”

True. That’s why I am trying to take this psychological turn. In that realm, it makes sense to deal with phantoms. Phantoms signify. Phantoms count.

“Phantoms signify. Phantoms count.”

Indeed they do, more than we care to admit.

Thanks for the kind word.

Hi Jay,

Sounds like it will be an interesting presentation!

You might some useful fodder in this recent post (and the slew of comments) about the distinctions between travel writers and travel bloggers:


David Smith says:

I noticed many years ago the journalism could be considered an inbred profession. That happened when a reporter died far from our area and got a big write-up. I’ve seen it time and again over the decades in different areas of the U.S.

I have also been in several areas during a “newsworthy event” and could see that the journalists were playing games with the facts.

Bloggers can give one a very real perspective of an event. It is sometimes as shocking as when I read a first-hand report after reading a historical essay on the same event centuries later. I.e., a journalist can miss the cultural context that a blogger can provide.

Some journalists seem to want me to bow at their feet. Their arrogance is matched by the slant of their reports.

On the other hand, some are empathetic and are therefore better at reading the people involved in the story. From experience, I think they can come closer to the heart of the story and these are the ones I trust. Too bad there aren’t more of them — then I wouldn’t have to waste my time with the bloggers.

This came via email from Tim Skellett (online name: Gurdur) Posted by permission.


NightJack (a.k.a. “Jack Night”, Richard Horton then a detective constable with the Lancashire Constabulary) blogged so well, if grittily and angrily, on the realities of being a policeman in housing estates that had gone downhill badly, and on contrasting them with working-class housing estates that were doing well or had been massively improved, that he won the Orwell Prize in 2009, which is a top award in Britain for political reporting.

He was “outed” on no good pretext at all in 2009 soon after winning the Orwell Prize, by a Times reporter (Britain), Patrick Foster, whose motives seem very far indeed from noble or justified.

I have blogged today to give a more full description of it all:


All the best, and many thanks for your time and consideration,

Tim Skellett

Sometime ago, I had in my career a philosophy professor at my college, who used to say at his classes that reality is formed by the opposites –that can be more than just two– because every experience, every piece of reality is made and bound by these opposites. And reality is far beyond every single one of us, because it exists with or without us; it’s just out there.

To grab only a piece of this reality, everyone needs to confront these opposites and let the product, the sum of these sides of any event, met a conclusion. OOnly by doing this any given person can glimpse or grasp a tiny part of reality.

Nothing can exist in culture by itself, understanding that culture is the product of any given human activity. News, journalism, and bloggerism can’t exist alone, independently, they need to complement each other. What is important from one angle, maybe it’s not necessarily important for other point of view, but it is exactly that angle that complement the total view of any event. News can’t exist without journalists; bloggers can’t exists without a reporter, and now it’s time that journalists realize that they just can’t simply exist without the important view of general people, whose by the way are bloggers.

And it’s time for all of us to realize that nobody holds the entire truth –there are as many truths as many men exists on earth– that we depend on each other to grasp reality, that elusive thing that we all are part of.


Bryan V. says:

Hi Professor Rosen,

I’m going to keep this short to increase the chance of it being read. I think the quotes you’ve curated perfectly illustrate the us vs. them dynamic, and poke at the tension that exists between the journalist and blogger classes. You are, essentially, giving a symptomatic analysis of existing relationships in these fields of communication.

I was thinking about one of your earlier late night videos where you analyzed Fox News through the lens of semiotics, and that type of approach could be applied here as well.

Underneath all of the personal dynamics and professional psychology there is something else going on. Blog, blogger, blogging. These are all bullshit terms to channel the wide gamut of personal data into a profitable enterprise. They are the branding of a platform, and ultimately are used as a form of social sorting. It’s all about the platform.

The ‘serious’ journalists who define their web based competition as cheeto-eating losers exploit that branding which covers everything from 14 year old girls on Livejournal to investigative bloggers such as Brad Friedman. It’s not truly bi-directional either. ‘Bloggers’ will often make pointed attacks on specific journalists because they have the bandwidth, while institutional journalists very rarely address individual bloggers because they don’t have to. I see it as a competitive rift between two platforms.

And if I haven’t mentioned it already: platforms.

There are several members of what you refer to as “the press”, who are not bloggers, but strongly exhibit the need to have a “MSM” which they are not part of. Being in Austin, it would be interesting to see how you think Alex Jones fits into this framework. He is one of the biggest independent commentators that constantly derides the MSM. Is there anything interesting about Jones’ conspiracy-flavored version of the blogger-journalist bifurcation?

I saw this week that Andrew Marr earns £600,000 a year at the BBC. A restaurant critic on a UK weekend paper can expect around £1000 for a 900 word review. An hour’s work

I am not a print journalist but if I was, and I saw the gravy train heading towards the buffers as people like Marr clearly do, I’d be pretty upset by bloggers.

After all if an ‘amateur’ can be read and enjoyed by thousands and do it all for no money, it makes the boys and girls on £1000 for 900 words that no one can actually be sure are being read, look a trifle overpaid.

The beauty of journalism, at least in the UK, is that it has always been a closed, nepotistic world at least as far as columnists goes. If people are going to be given plum jobs purely on the basis of ability that is a nightmare scenario for many and must be resisted!

Why is still with us ¿

The Establishment.

Let’s remember journalists are, and need to continue being, the gatekeepers (Noam Chomsky; Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media , 1988)
Journalists are part of the Establishment and want to continue being in power. That’s why the “Bloggers vs Journalist” discussion is still with us.

Journalists/editors need to justify their job. Althought some bloggers become “establishment”-, the “other” are a danger for “democracy”.

For traditional journalists, the audience should beware of bloggers.

Psychology matters; and that’s why Juan Luis Cebrian ex-director of El Pais, and now CEO of Prisa Group, advises the students of the prestigious El Pais Master in Journalism, during the inaugural session.

Cebrian; about the impact of new media;
“lots of citizens are giving credibility to the lies, rumours, defamation and crazy things said byconfidencials and bloggers; it is not the rigor that the traditional media had.”

The students will have to justify themselves whenever someone brings up this discussion, and Cebrian must justify the existence of El Pais and it’s Master. He justify the money fees they pay their students and the Establishment were he, and the economy-power resist!

The journals were “THE ONLY TRUTH”, and with blogging THE TRUTH GETS THOUSANDS OF PERSPECTIVE..! Logically the gatekeeper of the Truth and the Establishment is nervous… !

[DISCLAIMER: I was an editor, reporter and writer for AP, and an editor and writer for The Seattle Times.]

Just because a person expresses opinions on a blog, and reveals a few tidbits of facts in it, does NOT make that person a journalist of any sort. Too many bloggers claim to be journalists without any justification, and my practice is to stamp on that where I feel the claim is unwarranted.

The fact that some journalists may be bloggers does not, ipso facto, make every blogger a journalist. Similarly, because some bloggers may be influential does not mean that, simply by existing, any blog necessarily is worth reading. Very few blogs manage to transcend the mundane (or even attempt it). I’m sure most people have never heard of most blogs, and deservedly so.

The ability to write well is rare; to write well for public consumption, and in the public interest, must be even rarer. I have read only a fraction of the world’s English-language blogs, but based on the few thousand I’ve parsed, I feel comfortable speculating that most bloggers are poor writers and most blogs are not worth reading. Generalizing even further, I’d be willing to bet that most bloggers are incapable of constructing cogent, well-reasoned arguments that stand up to the level of peer-reviewed articles—or even journalistic standards of objectivity and thoroughly researched, sourced and verified facts.

Out of the millions of blogs in the world, I suspect very few actually distribute news that they gather and report themselves. I’m sure most only comment on news gathered by journalists (as well as other bloggers).

Bloggers love to cloak their work in the self-assumed mantle of “citizen journalism,” but that dog don’t hunt, either. Wikipedia defines citizen journalism as:

>>…the concept of members of the public “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information,” according to the seminal 2003 report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information. Authors Bowman and Willis say: “The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.”<<

Expressing one’s personal opinion about inconsequential local topics or some sham of a celebrity—or simply writing anything that comes into your head about anything at all—is hardly wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.

Some bloggers characterize themselves as activists, but their activism often is nothing more than complaining about, or sniping at, other people and organizations who have provoked the avenging blogger’s outrage. Using the Internet to complain or express opinions is hardly journalism, whether "citizen" or not. The fact that one's essays, opinions, comments and complaints provoke reaction, be it online or offline, in corporations, organizations—even governments—does not necessarily mean journalism occurred or was involved. It merely means that savvy organizations listen to their target publics.

Blogs rarely have the same reach as national, or even major-market, news outlets. Most bloggers, after all, only attract self-selected, niche audiences, and thus have little impact outside those niches. For PR professionals such as myself, audience reach is the principal factor in determining the worth of any target outlet—whether journalist or blogger—but I can't possibly treat all bloggers with the same respect that professional journalists deserve. Certain influential bloggers may be worthy of respect, but that has more to do with the quality of their arguments, style, craft and rhetoric—and their reach—than their self-proclaimed status as some sort of "citizen journalist."

I agree with former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, who claims that unpaid bloggers who write as a hobby cannot replace trained, professional, seasoned journalists:

"I am offended to think that anyone, anywhere believes American institutions as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training or for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care to whom it is they are lying to." [Wikipedia]

BOTTOM LINE: Being an online essayist is not the same thing as being a journalist. Simply stating an opinion does not make one an authority; it just means you're opinionated.

William Ockham says:

Mr. Spenser,

I’m afraid you’ve wandered into the wrong argument. I don’t think anyone here is saying that bloggers equal journalists. As Theodore Sturgeon pointed out long ago in reference to claims that science fiction is 90% crap, all genres are 90% crap. You really should recognize that 90% of journalism is crap. Because the barrier to entry is so low, maybe even more than 90% of blogs are crap. So what? That doesn’t take away from the brilliant writers who are bloggers, or more importantly, the brilliant people who are just average writers who blog about what they know. One of the things that you are missing is that there are bloggers who are real experts (in ways that professional journalists can never be) who can make real contributions to our understanding of the world.

Let me take one example. If you haven’t heard of Stuxnet, you should google it. The U.S. and Israel teamed up to create a computer worm that dealt a real setback to Iran’s nuclear program. In the case of Stuxnet, the story was pieced together painstakingly by a bunch of people who blogged (mostly employees of antivirus companies, especially Symantec, and employees of industrial security firms, especially Ralph Langner). The journalists swooped in after the fact and created a pretty narrative. The New York Times and Vanity Fair (really) had the best coverage. I think this was an important story (I even blogged about it). Although neither side may be entirely happy about the process (Langner is pretty upset with the way he was portrayed in Vanity Fair), our world is much better off because the bloggers and the journalists cooperated to explain a technically complicated and difficult to report story.

The Stuxnet story is one that traditional journalism is ill-equipped to handle. Bloggers were able to figure out what the story was, but none them have the reach of the NYT and Vanity Fair. I see the whole bloggers vs. journalists as an argument that’s a little like the one I hear about bikes vs. cars in a big city. Bike enthusiasts will talk all day about their own virtues and the horribleness of cars and their drivers. Those drivers will complain just as loudly about obnoxious bike messengers, etc. The truth is that both groups are better off with each other. Neither one is a parasite. Bikes aren’t going to replace cars, but they will for some people. You can whine all day about what a terrible car replacement a bike is, but won’t convince the bike rider.

Likewise, feel free to go around stamping on all those false claims of bloggers being journalists, but you won’t change a thing. I could bloviate at length about the failings of traditional journalism (Charlie Sheen, really?), but what’s the point. There are an infinite supply of people on the internet who are wrong. Sometimes, I am one of them. Sometimes, you are. I would recommend you re-read Jay’s article. You are one of the people who could really benefit from understanding what’s going on.

As a (perhaps) younger reader than some of the others who have left comments, this is not a debate that I am overly familiar with. Perhaps because traditional media hadn’t “set” in my brain before I started reading blogs, and so my concept about what is the news was flexible enough to accept new mediums and new forms. I don’t think this debate will go on forever, young people who grow up reading (and contributing) to both will not understand the context of this debate. The news debates of the future will not pit blogger against journalist, but they will cover many of the underlying issues that people are really discussing when they talk about bloggers and journalists, such as accountability, veracity, and resources.

I think the debate is a symptom of a standard human reaction to change. In the past it must have been far simpler to get your head around the “news”. A limited number of news rooms decided what issues you needed to know about, and what you needed to know about those issues. The Internet is more that just a new medium, it is a transformative medium. It is changing how the news is made, who writes the news, who makes the news, how the news is disseminated, the relationship between those who write and those who read the news, even what is news. Understandably this is quite scary for people (particularly those who made their living off the old system) because truth be told we don’t know what the system is going to look like in the future and that is scary!

I don’t know if you have any psychologists on the panel. I remember my cousin telling me about a study which showed that brains adapt to find meanings for the things that they are used to. So, for example if you grew up not eating cheese your brain would come up with all sorts of reasons for why you shouldn’t eat cheese, even if none of them were rational. In the same way, I think people who grew up with the news one way find that their brains come up with all sorts of reasons why the news can only be that way…

Basically, I think that people have a really strong emotional reaction to change and so much of this debate is fuelled by that. However I think there are some genuine issues hiding in there too (things like: how do we ensure that issues that need to be covered are covered? How can readers assess the information that they access? Etc.) It’s a really interesting area and I hope you share your speech with us!

Sorry I didn’t mean your brain would come up with all sorts of reasons for why you weren’t eating cheese even if they weren’t rational. I meant your brain would come up for all sorts of reasons even if they have nothing to do with the actual reason that you aren’t eating cheese.

I’ve made that sound more complicated than it is, sorry!

Mark Anderson says:

I think it is important to consider specific cases so we can put the archetypes Jay is examining here in a more precise social context.

There are some newspapers whose analysis and reporting I respect very much, such as the McClatchy group. They do occasionally comfort the weak and afflict the strong. By contrast, much of what passes for the establishment media these days appears to have turned this credo on its head, thus the strangeness of Jay’s reference to Lincoln Steffens above. While I am distinctly unimpressed with a very high percentage of contemporary U.S. journalism, I remain extremely grateful in those rare moments when they manage to break the mold, when they actually report facts that challenge the D.C. “common sense” that has become increasingly divorced from reality for going on decades now. Journalism does some good and a lot of evil. From my perspective it is a mixed bag.

There are four blogs I check with daily regularity and they range across a variety of approaches. Glenn Greenwald brings legal training and analysis far transcending that of any but the rarest of working journalists, such as Charlie Savage, to stories related to the pervasive abuse and manipulation of the U.S. legal system and it’s increasing refusal to apply the law to the rich and powerful for even the most grevious offenses while tasering the little people for looking at cops crosswise. How many journalists or editorial writers in the traditional media have had the guts to call out the Bush and Obama administrations for staging trials to produce preconceived sentences or insisted that criminalizing Wikileaks must be criminalizing investigative journalism per se?

Yves Smith’s work at Naked Capitalism brings decades of experience in the financial world and years of research for her book, Econned!, to analysis of the pervasive leveraged speculation, fraud, and collusion that collapsed the world economy. She continues to highlight how Obama administration policy makers continue to cover up crimes in the highest corporate suites, and the mainstream press by and large repeats these falsehoods or cheerleads for further, even more sweeping coverups. Really, there were no wrongful foreclosures over the last five years? These policy and press failures blame the victims, the American taxpayers, who are forced to pay for the crimes and misjudgment of their corporate masters two and three and four times over.

Digby’s Hullabaloo hews closer to the traditional model of blogging, commenting on news with an analysis and insight about what the real story is that far transcends the level of the vast majority of the corporate pundits you see on the Sunday morning talk shows or on the opinion page of the “leading” papers. An essay by Digby was recently featured in The Hill of all places.

Lastly, I regularly check in with FireDogLake. Jane Hasher seems to function as the effective activist/entrepreneur running the site, but they have a fairly large staff, some of whom spend days and weeks reporting news live, as it happens, many of whom have professional training as lawyers, among several represented professions. FireDogLake does accurate, fact-based reporting, but is also an activist site that uses these facts to expose truths about the world they are trying to change for the better. Fact and opinion coexist quite comfortably alongside one another there. Hamsher was predicting that Obama would not let a public option into the health insurance reform bill nearly six months before traditional journalists finally figured out what was happening and at a point where the deed was already done.

Thus in this group of “blog-based websites” there are two expert bloggers, adding value that very few working journalists can touch, an editorialist who does it better than most of the full time professionals (but who will likely be one in the very near future), and an institutional activist/reporting approach that does both journalism and lobbying in a highly effective way–because it looks for the truth behind the relentlessly mendacious cant coming from both major political parties and tries to do something about it.

It is very difficult for me to find any intersection between the newsroom rants up thread about the ignorance, laziness, and incompetence of “millions of blogs” and the reality of the professional expertise, superb writing, and cogent analysis I see from the work of these four websites on a daily basis. They don’t follow one model. Press condescension regarding their energy or intelligence can only be maintained by a willful refusal to read their work or an ideological worldview so tightly bound to the status quo as to confuse a clear description of objective power dynamics for reality’s well-known liberal bias. I am simply unable to access and reference the reality that allows for these unqualified journalistic tirades about the utter failure of bloggers.

This leads me to believe Jay is on to something when he suggests there is a ritual, psychological value for participants in maintaining insupportable value judgments about whole categories of people–because supporting one’s own identity and maintaining personal stability takes precedence over reality testing.

I’m much less impressed with the suggestion that there is some kind of envy or dependence on the main stream media that bloggers love to hate. If Democracy Now! had a market share that rivaled any corporate network, the dynamic would be very different. I see this as more of a false equivalence designed to ease journalist’s consciences than a serious issue to be struggled with.

If the corporate media changed, most bloggers I follow would be delighted by the brighter future that would assure for their friends, their country, and the world at large, not tied up in knots about how the wrong people are suddenly doing the right thing and they can’t admit that because it’s inconvenient. Does anyone really believe that it would be psychologically difficult for Glenn Greenwald to adjust if The New York Times was able to call U.S. torture by it’s right name? Does anyone really believe that Yves Smith would be upset if more of the corporate media actually started consistently reporting on the multiple levels of fraud that led to the current economic collapse? Would Jane Hamsher have been conflicted if major papers could have admitted that the Obama administration never really wanted a public option in the health care bill back when it might have actually affected the outcome of the legislation? I just don’t see that.

Thanks for another incisive essay, Jay. Keep up the good work.

e one in the very near future), and an institutional activist/reporting approach that does both journalism and lobbying in a highly effective way–because it looks for the truth behind the relentlessly mendacious cant coming from both major political parties and tries to do somethin