The rapid growth of social media, particularly blogs, has exposed journalists to the online world like never before. In turn, new media has provided ordinary citizens with the opportunity to have their voices heard on a multi-national platform at the click of a button. Former journalist-turned-full-time-professional-blogger Nikki Parkinson (@stylingyou), who was named the Best Australian Blogger of 2011, argues the line between journalists and bloggers are becoming “quite blurred.” Her question to QUT journalism students was: “Are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers?” Parkinson believes journalists are “threatened” by the rise of bloggers, as their influence on the media landscape and society in general continues to prosper.
In their book ‘The Executive’s Guide to Enterprise Social Media Strategy’, Mike Barlow and David Thomas claim the majority of practicing journalists are also active bloggers, and it is this cross-section that blurs the lines between the blogger and the journalist. “If you want to see these blurry lines, try to define the differences among bloggers, journalists, analysts and consultants. One person might wear one, two, three or all of those hats.”
Further, an ‘Editors Talk‘ forum in August where a panel of journalists and bloggers sat down to discuss the ramifications of the online world, panel member and editor of the New Yorker Henry Finder acknowledged the line between journalism and blogging has become obscure. However, he believes the general population understands the difference between opinion and what you find in the international section of the newspaper. “Hopefully the convergence of journalism and blogs won’t come at the expense of truth and accuracy,” he said. “People turn to blogs for a different thing. From a blog often what we want is the snarp, the attitude, the pirouetting – the subjectivity.”
Fellow panel member and winner of the Best Australian Blog for 2012 Eden Riley says whilst journalism is ‘proper’, blogging is not, showing not even bloggers themselves believe they play the same role as journalists. ”I hold hope that my (probably widely-shared) view will change. I hope that blogging will be an inherent and valued part of the new global media landscape.” ABC News Director Kate Torney holds interactivity and audience engagement are the keys to the industry’s future success. “I don’t know where the global media landscape will be in ten years or twenty years, but I’m pretty confident that beautifully crafted stories, probing investigative journalism and public interest reporting with strong and trusted news brands will be very much a part of that landscape,” she said. To listen to her speech about the future of media at Melbourne’s Press Club in February, watch the video below:
Additionally, in her blog post entitled ‘Blogging and Journalism. Not the same thing’, Allison Lee argues to recognise the difference between bloggers and journalists, we need to avoid mistaking influence for journalism. Lee attributes different agendas, formats, approaches to writing styles, remuneration and experience as lines in the sand between bloggers and journalists. She goes on to say, “Blogging isn’t going to replace journalism any time soon. In the brave new digital world, there’s room for journalists and bloggers. Just don’t expect them to do the same thing or tell the same story.” Although both blogging and journalism serve a public story-telling, information-dissemination function, Jay Rosen believes “blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people.”
Lauren Fisher, media guru and founder of simplyzesty.com, says the debate isn’t about whether you are a journalist or a blogger, rather it is actually about the quality of the content you are producing and sharing. “It’s the substance that matters, not the title of the person that wrote it. And if they’re getting paid for what they write as well – then good on them for making a living out of it,” she says.
Lastly, Rosen argues journalists today are under increased pressure to produce accurate online stories in an accelerated manner. He claims this stress stems from five sources, which are outlined below:
- A collapsing economic model, as print and broadcast dollars are exchanged for digital dimes.
- New competition (the loss of monopoly) as a disruptive technology, the Internet, does its thing.
- A shift in power. The tools of the modern media have been distributed to the people formerly known as the audience.
- A new pattern of information flow, in which “stuff” moves horizontally, peer to peer, as effectively as it moves vertically, from producer to consumer.
- The erosion of trust (which started a long time ago but accelerated after 2002) and the loss of authority.
In sum, those who draw a distinction between blogging and journalism are correct in asserting the majority of bloggers have little to no interest in proper journalism practices and standards, whilst the blogosphere is largely dominated by opinion writing, rather than news writing. So, are bloggers journalists? Can journalists be bloggers? It could be argued when a good blogger undertakes investigative reporting to deliver a post that includes accurate, truthful, clear facts and a range of balanced sources, then that is, simply, journalism.
I will admit I was intrigued when I learned QUT’s propitious Online Journalism students would be graced by the presence of John Grey, the witty and enigmatic up-until-one-month-ago editor (and founder) of couriermail.com.au. Although enlightening, it was also rather frightening. As Grey painted a somewhat bleak, pessimistic future of the journalism industry (“I hold grave concerns about the profession – news organisation’s aren’t looking for quality any more”), timorous-filled-whispers filled the theatre. Not only did Grey succeed at taking the spring out of my step, I could feel the fiery ambition of my fellow budding journalists beginning to fester. Grey failed to instil in me the optimism I had been longing for from the industry.
Does this mean death to journalism? Well, in a way. Not every newspaper will have identical reporters covering the same stories, geographical areas or sub-industries. It simply does not make sense in today’s digital world. Instead, there will be one journalist reporting from Canberra on behalf of all organisations, for example. It will be like one big news wire service. All papers will also share content. Therefore, this will result in more jobs, but for less people. As Grey reiterated, it is “out with the old” and “in with the new” when it comes to changes in journalism styles and skills.
Sure, there will always be demand for jobs within the industry, but these positions will be extremely difficult to score. As Grey said, “…you just need to be a good writer.” So, the ability to write remains the most important skill if you want to become a successful journalist, you ask? Yes, but you must also be versatile and comfortable with a range of content management systems. “You must be able to tell a story in different ways through pictures, video and words. It’s the whole package,” said Grey.
Despite a dramatic rise in the number of citizen journalists and bloggers who are equipped with the technology, facilities and abilities to deliver news, a democracy such as ours will always require “big media organisations” with “deep pockets” to obtain the real facts, said Grey.
I came across this fascinating ’21st Century newsroom model’, which outlines how a news story typically passes through a converged newsroom today. The model suggests speed and depth are the two strengths of online mediums. News organisations now have the ability to distribute and publish information faster than ever before. There’s Twitter, Facebook, moblogs, apps, and the list goes on. Interestingly, Grey stated there is no such thing as an ‘exclusive’ story any more, due to the perils of the Internet. He says a media outlet would be “lucky” to have an exclusive for three minutes. Three minutes!
So, how do you stand out from the crowd? How can you resurrect yourself in the digital age? In her blog, British freelance journalist Lara O’Reilly pinpoints the skills new journalists require if they are to succeed in today’s fast-paced newsrooms:
- A portfolio showcasing your work
- Innovative thinking
- News gathering skills
- Concise writing style
- Ability to understand your audience
- Social media and online tools
- An interactive blog
- A network of contacts
- Layout and design skills
- Ability to capture video
In sum, new age journalists need every string to their bow, from the fundamentals of writing to new techniques such as layout, design and social media, to resurrect themselves in an industry that is becoming increasingly cutthroat, bloodthirsty and on the cusp of a traditional death.