My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Are Bloggers Journalists? Wrong Question.

With the Apple case in full-swing, everyone keeps asking “Are bloggers journalists?” I think that this is the wrong question. We can all point to bloggers who are not journalists, don’t want to be journalists and never will be journalists. This creates a pendulum swing where all of a sudden people exclaim that bloggers are diarists! And thus you get stupid shit like “should web diarists be allowed into the press corps?”

Stop.

This isn’t working. We need to get off this train.

Let’s switch artifacts for a moment. Paper. What do people use paper for? They take notes, write lists, document their lives, and publish things. Hmm. These practices sound a lot like some of what people do with blogs, only using a different medium. Of course, i’ll be the first to argue that blogs and paper are architecturally very very very different – that have notably different affordances and result in entirely different culture. But they both have an array of practices associated with them. And thus, you would never ask something like “Are paperists journalists?”

We know that not all bloggers are journalists. The question then becomes – are some? Well, this is where it gets interesting. Who gets to determine who is and is not a journalist? Historically, there were limitations simply concerning who had access to the materials to be press – things like the printing press. Thus, institutions got built up that were clearly press.. and then they consolidated infinitely until you had monopoly press and indie press. But there’s nothing like a bar association for the press, nothing that professionally declares one person to be a legitimate member of the press and others to not be.

So what actually demarcates someone as press? Identity. They see the work that they are doing, the values that they are following – they see this as journalism. We live in a country that rightfully included the freedom of press in its Constitution. There’s a realization that press should be separate from the government. Well, in a society were the lines between corporations and governments are difficult to see, should we really assume that only corporations can have the right to lend credentials to journalists? This seems like a dangerous statement.

Should journalists be credentialed by some overseeing organization? Perhaps. But they aren’t now. And legitimacy through corporate affiliation is not something that seems to resonate with the sentiment of freedom of press. Maybe bloggers should join the professional journalism societies – maybe that would help.

Some bloggers declare their practice to be journalism. They are trying to determine the “truth” of a matter. Sure, prior to Walter Cronkite, it was virtually nonexistent to discuss one’s personal opinion associated with news stories. But now? C’mon – have you seen Fox lately? Studies have been done over and over again showing that journalists’ opinions are discernible in their writing and televised coverage. Some bloggers are indeed putting their opinion in their coverage, but at least they’re being explicit about it rather than pretending to hide behind a curtain of pretend universal truth.

I think that the question needs to be shifted. We need to stop asking if bloggers are journalists and start asking if journalism can occur on blogs? People didn’t used to think that journalism could occur on radio or on TV. And there’s no doubt that the medium changed the practice. But we all recognize these venues as legitimate sources of news. In a society of corrupt media, a shift in media is actually quite appreciated and should not be oppressed simply because it does not yet have legitimacy or because its legitimacy is not associated with any corporation’s credentials.

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4 comments to Are Bloggers Journalists? Wrong Question.

  • Defining weblogs – making appropriate room for journalists

    Zephoria expresses her exasperation with the current discussions about whether bloggers are journalists, and it makes me think that the…

  • There are two things that always trip me out concerning the perception of reality:

    1) Our reality is shaped by our perceptions in some kind of force-feedback loop (somewhat of a tangent ^_^)

    and

    2) How far gone and crazy this country seems when I think about basic assumptions and actions in people’s lives. Like what this case is doing for people who don’t really care, our thoughts are framed by the question being asked. Of course that is how we communicate, we must assume the person we are listening to has a grasp of reality that is similiar to ours. Kinda like the last sentence. ;]

    Something I would like is for someone to explain to me why we do not extend the freedom of press to all citizens. You know, like how most people think it already is.

    . . .

    I should sleep.

    マイキ

  • I think we also need to be asking “what does journalism still have to offer after the myth of objectivity has been unmasked?” as well as “what exactly differentiates journalism from other forms of truth-telling, story-telling, and more colloquial/social forms of information” and, as long as we’ve already gotten all tangential anyway, how about “what is truth, anyway?” 😉

  • Mel

    Danah – thank you for this and all your other posts on the webdiarist vs. journalist issue. It is a tiresome debate but the underlying politics are important. For me it’s important because it underscores the idea of authoritative versus non authoritative voices and the idea of “who gets to speak/have a voice”. There are those who believe that one must *earn* the right to a voice. There is nothing more infuriating to such people than the notion of *just anyone* having access to the means to speak, to publish, the means of production … etc. The like the idea of gatekeepers because, usually, they happen to have access already. The most indignant voices in this debate are those who have access. Those who already have the means to speak. They are the first to deride the “web diarist” to comment on who or who cannot speak. They are the enemy of participatory media. It’s that simple.

    The following post, one I found today, is the very kind of censorious, judgemental, hierarchical bullshit that feeds the gatekeeping old media rank and file status quo:
    http://vaspersthegrate.blogspot.com/2005/03/you-are-not-blog.html