- Your blog is as your backup brain
Not so fast, Mr Montgomery

When is a blogger not a blogger?

Ever heard of the blogging journalist who denied being a blogger?

Just as I published my last post I realised that I'd made the monumental mistake of making a statement about what blogging IS in the headline (hence the correction). From experience I know that can be dangerous stuff as people have all sorts of very personal takes on what blogging is and isn't.

Of course, technically speaking, a blog is just a publishing platform which can be used for all sorts of different purposes, but Christopher Allbritton, a freelance journalist who pens the popular Back to Iraq blog, has gone to the somewhat controversial step of denying on his blog (via Martin Stabe) that writing a blog makes him a blogger.

The background? In response to Michael Skube's recent attack on the blogsophere, Jay Rosen compiled a list of examples of bloggers doing journalism which included Allbritton. Now, I understand why Allbritton felt it pertinent to point out that using his blog as an example of what many would dub 'citizen journalism' is misleading, but Allbritton goes much further than that:

"I am a journalist who chose to blog to make a career move. I am still a journalist, proudly embedded in the so-called mainstream media, which generates about 99.9999% of the original reporting today... So at the risk of sounding elitist, just because I have a blog doesn’t mean I’m in your club — or you in mine."

This has sparked a few interesting conversations. Mindy McAdams asks: “If you add up every word in one day’s newspaper, how many of them are journalism?" A very timely question in view of the recent Norwegian debate about whether or not online journalism is built on theft, shamelessly republishing other people's work under the site's own bylines (link in Norwegian, will try to blog more about this particular discussion over the wknd).

Another interesting debate has flared up over at Poynter's, partly about whether journalism is a higher calling than blogging (I can vividly imagine that a blogger who spends all his free hours blogging about his greatest passion, with no other motivation than love and public spirit, might find that statement a bit rich).

For the record: I am both a blogger and a journalist, or a blogging journalist if you like. In either case, those are two very different kind of roles - yet they feed and inform each other.


Re: shamelessly republishing ... I'm looking into an article that was sent to me, and the sender thought it was "good journalism." The more I look into it, the more I see MSM flat out ignored the story from the beginning, and it was completely blogger-driven. When it finally broke into MSM, all the "journalistic legwork" was done by bloggers. And they got no credit. Not even a hat tip.

I know, this is so sad, another splendid reason why linking to your sources is such a great idea. Journalists even do this to each other. My worst experience of this was as a reporter: another (online) journalist just copy pasted my article, put his byline on it and added a sentence of less than ten words at the bottom - copied from another online newsssite.

Of course, a lot of the time media organisations won't allow you to link, but if I write a big aggregated story in such an online environment, or an op-ed in print, I always try to add my sources at the bottom of the story.

I'll try to find time to write more about this later.

Good topic. Somewhat related is using press releases verbatim and slapping a byline on articles "written" by reporters. Because they don't spend time online, they don't realize how easy it is to find a press release and see how many papers republish it.

I can understand the idea of rejecting the label "blogger".

So much has been done by people in both camps to create the impression that they are mutually exclusive ideas that it's entirely possible that people feel they have to self-identify with one or the other.

If Allbritton ran his website from Dreamweaver, there wouldn't be a debate. So does opting for the speed and convenience of a blogging site make him (or any of us) /de facto/ "bloggers"? Or does it take more – do you have to interact with a community or participate in a "distributed conversation"? Allbritton's probably right if you take the latter viewpoint. Whereas the former seems banal: equating blogging with "personal websites" – which is what most are; and which, as you say, are every bit as diverse and uniquely varied as we all are.

Maybe attempting to define what a blog "is" wasn't a bad idea after all... ;)

(Agree with Adam, too.)

Adam, a_spod: I've thought a lot about this. My main problem with Allbritton's post is that I find it a bit self-contradictionary.

After all, he also makes a lot out of being the web's fully reader-funded journalist-blogger and when he's not just publishing his articles, he masters the more conversational 'blogger-format' pretty well. It would be the same with a professor who says: I'm a professor who writes a blog but I'm not a blogger, at least to me, that is quite a contradictionary statement. What makes a blogger a blogger?

For my own part I see blogging mainly as conversation, and judge journalists by the standard of their reporting.

Can't you use blogs to do reporting? Of course you can, but I think you're wasting so many golden opportunities by not embracing the conversational aspect of blogging. I hope to expand on this soon, but check my post on what journalists need to know about snowballs and fires in the meantime.

It _is_ a great topic: slippery and with as many arms as a maze; and I've spent rather too much of the last week trying to unravel it. :(

The conversational aspect may be a red herring, because there are other ways of having conversations on-line. Prior to the web, it happened on BBSes and usenet. Blogs are a great innovation – a really accessible /soap box/ for on-line conversations, but there are fora with gossip and insider tips. Or take the example of news site /The Register/ (which you linked to in a recent post): by allowing people to comment on stories, conversations—or spats—with developers and public representatives sometimes develop. Give people a means of communication, and they'll have a conversation; that's human nature.

Leaving aside any hypocrisy on the part of Allbriton, the question of being—or not being—a blogger is probably an even bigger dead end. Back at the start of 90s, a journalist who was accessible on-line was newsworthy. But teenagers are all blogging, and the demographics will surely win out. Once everybody is blogging, saying you're a blogger will either by vacuous, or it will mean something new and special – in the same way that saying, "I'm a writer" has a meaning rather different to that it must've had when literacy was rare. (Sorry for essentially repeating myself there.)

I did like your idea of a blog as sketchbook to develop ideas. I'd like to do more of that myself.

But I am beginning to suspect that a blog might simply be the centre of one's public internet presence – kinda like one's home (personal blog) or office (professional blog). It's the place where you and your on-line friends hang out, or where you meet colleagues and have those esoteric conversations deep into the night. It's one's node on the "social graph". It's a way of making new friends. Infact, on-line columns aside, I might go so far as to describe a blog as one's internet face; and who'd be without a face?

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