Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Bloggers and Journalists are Different

Call me old school, but I have my share of issues when the lines between blogging and journalism get blurry. That's a very subjective topic, but I wanted to share an experience with you that speaks to a lot of my concerns and values. I'm not going to identify the parties by name - there's no reason to - and I think to story will speak for itself.

I recently attended an analyst event put on by a vendor, and we got a pretty good overview of their plans and how they intend to do things. There's a tacit understanding that the details remain in the room and are not for public consumption - fair enough. I'm in the minority of analysts who blog - most do not or are prohibited as such - so I'm often an anomaly, and need to be extra careful when blogging about these things.

Well, the day after this event I spoke with a couple of people from the media doing stories on this vendor. I always follow up on these a few days after, and one of them told me that his/her story ran but chose not to cite me in their article. Fair enough - this happens all the time - there's never a guarantee that you'll be quoted when talking to the media.

The reason given, however is what got me, and is what prompted this post. He/she explained that while I was carefully sharing high level insights about the event, he/she was not at the event, and therefore not privy to what I was seeing and hearing. Even though I was providing further insight that would have made for a more interesting story - presuming it was handled professionally - the journalist couldn't use it, since he/she wasn't getting it first hand. This may well be their standard Editorial policy, but regardless, it was a highly principaled response.

That really struck me, not just because I hadn't heard that from anyone before, but because it really speaks to the heart of what makes journalism different from blogging. Journalism has a pretty clear code of conduct and while journalistic integrity can be a slippery slope, anyone who does this for a living knows first principles and tries to abide by them. I certainly do, even though I'm not a trained journalist.

Reflecting on this, I asked myself "would a blogger ever say this?", and I think the answer would be no. A good journalist can easily defend this position - know your source, and only report what you can back up yourself. I totally respect that, and that's why they get paid to do this - and why we pay money for newspapers and magazines - well not so much these days.

As we all know, anything goes with bloggers, and believe me, it's not a stretch to imagine analysts attending events and blogging the hell out of them just to break some interesting news or share some juicy tidbits. We all know about media embargoes not being respected, and I suspect the ones breaking them are bloggers, not journalists.

There a lot of tangents to this topic, and I just wanted to touch on one of them here. I don't know about you, but that experience for me reinforced the respect I have for real journalists, who do their work based on professional principals. Sure it's old school, but I'll take it any day.

No doubt, bloggers are often the best informed people - I support that notion in spades - but they are not usually journalists, and are not subject to the same criteria and editorial standards. For every bang-on blog post, there are lots that don't hold up, and journalists just have to be very careful who they lean on and what they can use.

Care to discuss?

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2 comments:

ipcom said...

Posted by: Marcelo Rodriguez

Excellent points, Jon. Unfortunately, your views don't seem to be shared by many in the technology blogging world.

I've participated on a number of journalism panels relating to blogging, and have argued, often to much vocal opposition on the part of journalists, that bloggers are indeed journalists and should be accorded similar accommodations (press passes, etc.). I'm beginning to change my mind.

The other day, I read a snippet of a blog from a CEO within the VoIP industry in which he admitted to having attended an international mobile technologies conference using a press pass. It got me to thinking: would this individual, whom I personally respect, be willing to take the sacrifices a journalist is asked to make. For example:

1. Protect a source at any cost, including going to jail rather than divulge it;

2. Give up any financial interests in any company that is either directly or indirectly affected by what the blogger writes about. I personally do not believe that declaring those interests is enough because we have no idea what ancillary interests may lurk in the background. The concept of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" could be at work; divulging only one of those "legs" does not give the reader a true picture of the potential conflicts.

3. Refuse to accept gifts (including the right to keep hardware meant for reviews).

The three above are (just a few) fundamental tenets of journalism. I don't believe they are applied by most bloggers. And until bloggers adopt well-defined standards and fundamental ethics policies by which they are held accountable, they are not journalists.

ipcom said...

Posted by: PhoneBoy

There are some bloggers who act like good journalists. Conversely, there are some journalists who act like bad bloggers.

When I hear journalists denouncing bloggers as not being journalists, it sounds a bit like sour grapes. Here are these riff-raff that weren't J-school trained and don't necessary adhere to journalism tenets and they're encroaching on the journalist's turf.

Let's be clear about one thing: nobody holds a monopoly on sharing the truth with as wide of an audience as possible. Whether the information comes from a blogger or a member of the press, one always must consider the source of the material. Journalists are human, just like bloggers, and are subject to being influenced by external forces, for example the organization that employs them.

Unlike the megaconglomerates that employ the vast majority of journalists--and can and do influence how stories are reported--at least a good blogger discloses their potential conflicts of interest.