While the lines may be blurring, bloggers are not journalists or vice versa
While there will always be exceptions, there are key differences
MY recent rant (or editorial, if you want to apply a veneer of professionalism to it) on We’re all bloggers, we are, generated an interesting conversation in the comments that followed, and a challenge from my friend and former fellow employee at The Star, Paul Si.
He asked me, now that I had pointed out the similarities, to discuss the differences. I wanted to cheat the modern way: Cite from various discussions or articles on the Internet. Unfortunately, just about every such source seemed geared towards arguing that one was better than the other; or how the other is sounding the death knell of the one.
Not much help there, though there are some interesting discussions that are beyond the scope of my original point: That public relations (PR) agencies and event management companies shouldn’t label journalists “bloggers” just because they come from a small outfit that works exclusively in the online medium.
So, what’s the difference? While I am going to have to make some generalizations, Rule No 1 in this discussion is that there will always be exceptions. You can draw a Venn diagram and there will be that middle section where things overlap and intersect.
First, which of these two phrases jump out at you more? “Amateur blogger and professional journalist” or “professional blogger and amateur journalist”?
There is a reason: Blogging is a hobby, journalism is a profession. That’s largely the case, though these days you get full-time bloggers who earn a living this way; and citizen journalists who do their thing part-time, and sometimes for no pay at all.
Second, journalists are always expected to follow a professional code of ethics or conduct. Yes, we’re human and we do falter, but when we do, you have every right to call us out on it. It’s a sad truth that many journalists, especially in Malaysia, do not abide by this code – quite a number do not even realize it exists.
Bloggers are not held to any kind of code. While some of them may adhere to a journalistic code of ethics more stringently and better than many a professional journalist, we don’t call them out for any breach. We cannot hold them to a professional code of conduct because they are not members of a recognized profession.
In fact, we shouldn’t. While an individual blogger may bring to his work an unparalleled level of professionalism, not all bloggers should be held to such a standard. That’s not what blogging is about, and would just discourage other people from trying it out.
And yes, I know, too many journalists do not seem to have any level of professionalism at all, but that’s a different matter. They are supposed to be professionals; bloggers are not.
This doesn’t mean that bloggers are not publishers. And as with any publisher, they can be held legally liable for any defamation.
The code of ethics I linked above is one that the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Malaysia subscribes to.
Which brings us to yet another difference: Journalists have a union, though not every one of them belongs to it. Bloggers don’t, though there have been attempts by the Malaysian Government, so used to its heavy-handed control of the mainstream media, to register them.
You can’t have a union for something that is not a job or a profession.
This doesn’t mean a group of bloggers cannot get together and form a society or association, and establish their own code of ethics. It’s just that such a body would not fall under the legal definition and obligations of a union.
Also, a journalist is trained in the profession. Admittedly, in many cases, this training may not constitute anything more than throwing you into the deep end to see if you can swim, then facing the copy editor who will shout any flaws out from you.
Finally, any news outlet involves a ‘production line’ or a check-and-balance workflow. There will always be an extra set of eyes before any work is published, to correct and question. It may not happen all the time, especially with smaller outfits, but it is there nonetheless. Blogs, even multi-author blogs, do not necessarily have this, since a blog post is supposed to be a personal take after all.
This is one area where the difference is blurring, admittedly, as many traditional outlets fight to stay alive in the online world, where speed sometimes unfortunately trumps accuracy.
All in all, while there are yellow journalists and extremely capable bloggers, perhaps the biggest difference (and perhaps too the least relevant argument) is what they choose to call themselves. And to determine this, just check out their website or blog. It’s usually there, in black-and-white … or whatever cool colors they prefer.
We’re all bloggers, we are
Unhealthy relationships: PR, bloggers and the media
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