The differences between journalists and bloggers: an interview with Danna Young from the University of Delaware Department of Communication

The differences between journalists and bloggers: an interview with Danna Young from the University of Delaware Department of Communication

A common question upon first meeting is: What do you do? And whether or not we are cognizant of it, our answer is chock-full of preliminary judgments. 

We’re a journalist because we work for a validated source, our facts are checked, and our business cards say so. We’re a photojournalist because our work has been picked up from the AP wire. We’re a blogger because we write entirely online.

The truth of the matter is many of us may fall somewhere on a spectrum. While we work for a news outlet, our blog records more hits than our articles. While our photographs appear in a city paper, more people visit and share them from Tumblr.

Is it who signs our paycheck that defines what we do? 

The topic has been considered in the past, a quick Google search can prove that. But I’m hoping, here, to begin a conversation not centered on what is or isn’t journalism and instead begin to investigate how journalism, in an increasingly online world, will continue to move forward, and how writers will position themselves in this new and exciting space.

To spark the exchange, I posed three questions to Dannagal G. Young, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware and a research fellow at the University's Center for Political Communication. 

1. In the notes of the 2005 Harvard conference on “Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility” it’s written that Dan Gilmor (currently a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication), would use the follow analogy when comparing mainstream journalism to blogging: “the New York Times is the trade journal of the rich and powerful, while the blogosphere is the trade journal of ordinary people.” Reading this analogy, with eight years past, what would you say, if anything, has changed when considering Mr. Gilmor’s statement? 

D.G.Y.: I would argue that this has shifted a bit.  No longer are bloggers truly outside of the sphere of influence. When President Obama called upon a "HuffPost' reporter from the press pool following a press conference, I think we all realized that things have really transformed. The idea of the young, unknown, average person just sitting down and starting a game-changing blog is a bit romanticized at this point.

The big political blogs and news aggregator sites are now some of our biggest players. Daily Kos, Politico, Daily Beast...If anything, these sites have expanded opportunities for politically interested writers to have viable platforms. Not hugely popular platforms, but a public platform. Period. 

2. Are there ways in which “mainstream” journalism can exist within a 140 character parameter? And, if so, is journalism, on a Twitter scale, journalism or blogging? 

D.G.Y.: Can news exist within 140 characters? Sure. Should it? No. Unequivocally...NO.

When a journalist is live tweeting events as they unfold, sure, that is breaking news. It's chronicling events. Perhaps even important events... but that is only about 1/4 of the equation that produces useful, important, contextualized journalism. The other 3/4 involves fact-checking, exploring relevant data, patterns, historical trends, contextualizing said events within some political, economic, environmental, or historical framework.

For example... a couple of months ago journalists were salivating over the Snowden story. Where is he? Who is granting him asylum now? Did he get on a plane? Is he heading for Russia? All very tweet-worthy stuff...but TOTALLY missing the mark on the important difficult story about the tensions of security versus liberty in a post-9/11 world. The aspects of that story that were most important (the validity of the charges about the NSA wiretapping, what it means that the NSA has phone records and meta-data, how that info is used, and what our (citizens') rights are with respect to the government when it comes to our protection on our own soil)...were NOT tweet-able. But Snowden was so he became the story.

3. Are there skill sets, inherent to each (“mainstream” journalism and blogging), that if adopted by their opposite could benefit consumers of information?

D.G.Y.: I think bloggers understand the nature of online audience behavior better than many mainstream journalists. Online audiences get interested in a narrow topic (or current event) and they dig and dig, from hyperlink to hyperlink, to the root of the story, the original article that has brought us to where we are today. 

Mainstream journalists could benefit from more direct linking to original sources, datasets and NGO or government websites to enable readers to instantly get to the heart of the matter. Bloggers are good at this because they (generally) are NOT conveying any NEW investigative information. Instead, bloggers are simply culling the available information and molding it into a narrative...so they feel comfortable linking to myriad sources. Journalists who ARE presenting original reporting, who ARE doing the hard work, may feel compelled to keep the entire story within their article, rather than sending the reader elsewhere. 

Bloggers, on the other hand, could stand to look backwards rather than ahead. I'm talking about history. What has happened in the past that can help the reader derive broader meaning from the issue or event at hand?  Events, issues and even policy debates don't happen in a vacuum of TODAY. They are all constructions and outcomes of what happened before.  And that is where bloggers could stand to take more time and do the very hard work.  

And fact-checking.  Bloggers could learn to fact check.

Another thing that makes me a little bonkers is the lack of ethical code surrounding posting and reposting other people's works on blogs and aggregator sites. I have a friend who runs the website rolereboot.org. She has had so many instances in which her writers (who she has paid) have found their work reproduced IN FULL with NO LINK to the original rolereboot story on some big name blogs and aggregator sites. In my mind, this is stealing, plain and simple. Professionally trained journalists would never do this- at least, not without suffering some extremely negative consequences within their profession. But the frequency with which blogs and aggregator sites simply copy and paste others' writing and repost it as their own (hence garnering page views and ad revenues) tells me that this unethical practice is a norm. A dirty norm.

Weigh in: do you agree or disagree with Young's perspective on journalists and bloggers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Shane A, a drop-out of law school, seminary, and an MFA, now creates—in both color and words—to inspire thought. Learn more about him on his website.

Photo: Dannagal G. Young courtesy of the University of Delaware Department of Communication

1 Comment

Barbara Ray   •   6¬†months, 2¬†weeks ago

Nice Q&A. Two points resonate with me, as a firm that blogs for the research community on social welfare policy. "Online audiences get interested in a narrow topic (or current event) and they dig and dig, ... " That's certainly true for the folks we work with. There's a lot of niche, wonky audiences who dig deep. Key, though, is creating a source of TRUSTED content. Bloggers can have their opinion, but they can't have their own facts. That's where the fact-checking comes in. And don't get me started on the blatant reposting without attribution.

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