The real issue isn’t “blogger” vs. “journalist”

Time and again, I keep hearing the fight come up as to whether someone is a “blogger”, “journalist”, or well, whatever. The title “blogger” brings up the rather bad connotation of some dude sitting in his parents’ basement, splitting his time between downloading porn, writing snide “articles”, and getting in discussion flame wars. I won’t lie, there is definitely this type of person out there, but it’s also the case that there are those who write professionally for what are essentially blogs (SFist and Grubstreet for example) and therein you get in to the rub as to what exactly they’re doing.

Yes, these people are writing on blogs which may or may not be of quality, but at the same time, they’re doing exactly what print journalists are doing and that in my mind makes them journalists who just happen to write and distribute their publications digitally. Their “journals” are just published by bits of data and not ink.

This debate has been around forever and the only reason I’m revisited it is because the real issue has been missed all this time. Whether someone is writing for free, pay, print, or digital isn’t what’s to be questioned. What is at stake is whether or not the’re professional in what they do and adhere to the generally accepted rules of journalism at large.

A key item that makes someone and unprofessional journalist is when they ascribe to the “First!” method of reporting. They’re of the opinion that just getting the scoop is all that matters no matter the repercussions.

This was seen recently with this article about a local bar, Koko Cocktails. For everyone who drinks there, they’ve know for months that the closing of the bar was imminent and that they were looking to move. The owners had told a great number of people about it so that they could circulate petitions in order to move the operation to another location that wasn’t being demolished. The author of this article ignored the fact that the owners had asked for everyone to keep the news on the “down low”, which in this day and age is nearly impossible, but still, it was their wish. By “breaking” this news that anyone could have broken prior, the author thought that the she got a great scoop when in turn it alerted the NIMBY forces to get ready to oppose a bar from opening that is actually a good business and would be good for a neighborhood. In other words, the author caused a great deal of harm in her unprofessional approach to journalism.

Then of course there is the issue that no one wants to cite a blog as a source for an article. One of the more annoying offenders of this is Tablehopper which is this one local girl in San Francisco who tries to give off the air that she knows the entire San Francisco food scene by covering every neighborhood in “it’s not a blog!” newsletter. There are few that do this professionally and she isn’t one of these people, but to make it look as if she is part of the crowd, she will often use blog articles or rewrite professional articles and call them her own, often crediting a vague term of “intern” or “sources”. It’s a rather annoying process and it’s what makes her unprofessional in how she goes about her business of writing–that and demanding to be served for free at restaurants she visits in order to give reviews, but that’s another issue.

These are just two examples of a much larger issue in the world of media at the moment and there are plenty in the non-digital world who are even worse offenders like Jayson Blair. But in the end, it’s not the medium that you write in, but more the way that you conduct yourself which defines what kind of a journalist that you are.