October 23, 2012

Horse 1384 - Are Bloggers Journalists?

"Welcome to Media Watch, I’m Jonathan Holmes and tonight a special program, venturing into the world of the so-called mummy bloggers (a term many of them dislike). With the mainstream media, including the women’s magazines, struggling, women’s blogs have produced some spectacular success stories."
- Media Watch, 22 Oct 2012

There are some underlying questions entrenched in this episode of Media Watch namely:
"Are bloggers journalists? Should they engage at a political level? Many journalists are dubious. So are some of the bloggers.

Before you can ask "are bloggers journalists?" the more basic question of "what is a journalist?" needs to be addressed; since we deal in the realm of words, what better place to ask this question than the dictionary?

1. (noun) a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.

2. (noun) a person who keeps a journal,  diary, or other record of daily events.
- from the , 10th Ed, 2009

(noun) a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or televsion
- Australian Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 4th Ed, 2004

I know that this is going to sound somewhat crazy, but I thought I'd look at a few of the blogs mentioned in Media Watch and see if they fit the criteria laid down by the dictionary. Is the person keepaing said blog actually a journalist?

My name is Eden Riley. I am a blogger.
I've been featured on Mumbrella, Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, Hoopla, Crikey, National Radio, Channel Ten, Mamamia, Kidspot, and more.
- Edenland, PR Page (as at 22nd Oct 2012)

Or perhaps, this off-hand comment which conveniently blows the case open:
Why do bloggers get paid? Because of the people reading their site. Simple. 
- Edenland, First Rule Of Blog Monetisation, 14th May 2012

The question of whether one does something for money or not isn't of itself cause to make it one's profession. If someone happens to win the lottery for instance, then if we apply the provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act (1997) it isn't strictly income until it becomes a regular source of income. It is reasonable to suggest then, that what determines the difference between a journalist and someone who happens to be occasionally paid for what they write is a matter of regularity. If Eden Riley in this case prouldy boasts that she has been featured by two newspaper companies, the national broadcaster and a television station, the chances are that in this specific case, she probably is a journalist, albeit one who doesn't write about anything I'm particularly interested in.

Nikki Parkinson from "Styling You" wrote:

We are journalists, yes. But we are more than that.
As bloggers we are independent publishers.
We are the sub-editor, editor-in-chief, the advertising manager, the marketing manager, the 
circulation manager, pay roll, admin and the tea lady.

- quoted via Media Watch

In Nikki's case, she writes more about the sprit of the second definition contained within the Collins; namely that a journalist is "a person who keeps a journal,  diary, or other record". That's also fine.

I think that people who keep a blog are journalists, be it under the first or the second definition of the Collins or under the description of the OED. I think that the vast bulk of blogs are exceptionally small scale which is perhaps why when you do hear of the one in a million that is commercially successful that people sit up and take notice but the truth is that the success rate probably really isn't that much different to most businesses.
Also, I think it's worth noting that the vast majority of people don't even have the patience to sit through anything more than a few paragraphs anymore. Twitter and Facebook have helped in their own small way to the slow death of serious journalism.

The second question which Media Watch didn't really address (because I don't necessarily think that it was the prime scope of this episode was:
Should they engage at a political level?

I will suggest that these "so-called mummy bloggers" probably don't engage in political journalism because it doesn't interest them. It stands to reason that any good writer like anyone who plays music, has a fire in their belly so they'd better stick an instrument in front of it. I also don't think that these "mummy bloggers" are going to write about the possibility that Sebastian Vettel might move to Ferrari in 2014, or that Scotland might vote to dissolve the United Kingdom in its current state, or that Labor in the ACT might gain an eighth seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly at the expense of The Greens' leader Meredith Hunter.
I would wager that political journalism doesn't interest mummy bloggers because it isn't fun for them. Personally I don't understand why you'd want to post pictures of your children on the internet but then again I don't visit these sites anyway.

Should bloggers more generally engage at a political level? Absolutely. Does it even matter that they're dubious? I don't think so, most of the population at large is dubious. Dubious bloggers/journalists are no more than the mirror providing a reflection on society.
The first major boom or journalism in England at least was called the "Augustan Age" and went from about 1710 until about 1730. Journals and pamphlets were being written and published the guilds, various craftsmen and farmers, shopkeepers, smiths and toolmakers, and even merchants, bankers and other entrepreneurs. Samuel Johnson whose work the Dictionary of the English Language appeared in 1755 but he also wrote essays and pieces for The Rambler, The Idler the London Gazette etc. Thomas Paine's 1776 piece Common Sense was a pamphlet and that helped to spur on a nation to find its feet. The point it that people since the advent of reasonably widespread literacy have and will continue to write about what interests them.
The question isn't so much "Should they (bloggers) engage at a political level?" but rather "Why shouldn't they?"

Oh yes, if anyone asks, I'm free to be sponsored if you like... Ford? May I have a new Fiesta for free? Aunty? Can I have a job mucking about at 700 Harris St? Maybe I could weasel my way into Media Watch itself?

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