Until I started my own blog, I had only passing interest in the debate on whether bloggers should be considered journalists. Since my own credentials as a journalist should withstand any scrutiny, it’s not really a problem for me personally. And, I don’t plan to make this a news blog. It will be mainly opinion. But what about other bloggers who haven’t spent more than a half century in the daily journalist trenches and who try to put their version of news events on their blogs? Do they qualify for the “journalist” moniker?
To decide that, I think we first have to come up with a suitable definition of journalist. For a lot of my career I have eschewed the label, preferring at various times in my checkered career reporter, newspaperman, newsman, editor or even news executive. But now that I am retired, I find the term comes in handy because none of the other terms sums up my career quite as well.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (fourth edition) says a journalist is “a person whose occupation is journalism; reporter, news editor etc.” It defines journalism as “the work of gathering, writing, editing and publishing or disseminating news, as through newspapers and magazines or by radio or television.” I was disappointed that Webster’s didn’t include wire services or the Internet in that definition. Perhaps the dictionary’s editors aren’t aware of the important role wire services, and more recently the Internet, play in gathering, writing, editing and disseminating news.
Otherwise, Webster’s New World College Dictionary definition was the best I have seen because it also would include free lancers.
So, with this definition in mind, are bloggers journalists?
The key word in the definitions, I believe, is news (a term subject to various interpretations also, but I’ll try to deal with that in a later post).
If the blogger goes out and gathers the news, checks the facts with reliable sources, writes it in a way to make it understandable to other people and disseminates it to the blogger’s Internet audience, then certainly the blogger should be considered a journalist.
If on the other hand, the blogger is just giving a personal opinion without checking the facts or is just passing along somebody else’s opinions without citing sources or making an effort to check facts and present a more than one side of an issue, I don’t think the blogger is a journalist.
Should bloggers be given press credentials? I think that bloggers who have demonstrated that they are trying to practice journalism in a professional manner should indeed be given press credentials. That said, in my more than 50 years in the business, I have rarely needed a press credential to cover the news. You need a special press pass to get into some events (a presidential visit comes to mind) or to sit in the press gallery at the U.S. House or Senate, and these are handed out on a case-by-case basis. But most of the events we cover are public and you don’t need a press credential to cover a public event. So whether a blogger has a press badge isn’t really a big issue, in my opinion. (The best press badge I ever had was a beautiful thing with PRESS in large gold embossed letters on a maroon background. Underneath in smaller type it said, “your pants while you wait. XYZ Dry Cleaning.”)
Some countries license journalists. They claim it is a way to maintain professional standards in the press. The truth is it’s a way of controlling the press. If you don’t play along with the government, you could lose your license. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen in this country. In the past, anybody who could afford a press could publish a newspaper and he and those who worked for him were by definition journalists. Now, thanks to modern technology, anyone who can afford a computer and an Internet connection—and that seems to just about everybody can be a blogger. So just about anybody can be a journalist. Newspapers range from supermarket tabloid scandal sheets to serious journals like the New York Times and the Washington Post. I’m sure it will be the same in the blogosphere, but it will still be journalism—just a different kind.