How to Tell a Journalist from a Blogger

A couple days ago, I was forced to make the distinction between journalists and bloggers in a long-winded defense of “the Fourth Estate.” [tweetmeme source=”jolieodell” only_single=false]

I only touched on this subject briefly:

I have to apologize on behalf of my entire profession for how you have been treated by a few bloggers, whom I’ll have the tact to not name here. There are bloggers who know and care nothing about real journalism, who see this profession as an opportunity for short-term gain at anyone’s expense, who find no joy in it and who dream only of fame in the now and a lucrative exit thereafter. These people are not journalists; they are self-serving scum. And they’ve royally fucked up how a lot of people see my profession.

The aftermath of that post suggests I definitely need to outline what makes a journalist a journalist.

You see, it doesn’t really matter what medium you use. You can be a print journalist, a radio journalist, a television journalist, an online journalist — journalism exists in every form of communication. If we were stripped of all media, there would be oral journalism. And as communication continues to evolve to include new forms of media, journalism will evolve along with it.

I’ll say at the outset: A journalist is not distinguished by the medium of his or her publication.

What, then, are the tell-tale signs of a professional journalist?

I thought you’d never ask. =)

1. A journalist is trained in journalism.
Whether in the hallowed halls of higher learning or in the less-hallowed halls of a professional newsroom, the journalist has been trained as such. The journalist’s work has been pruned mercilessly by the red pens of professors, peers, and editors.

A bachelor’s degree in journalism, media studies, mass communication, or some similarly named program along with at least a few years under the tutelage of editors is the best preparation for calling oneself a journalist.

A blogger might have a ton of general writing experience and even a degree in English or something along those lines, but — and this is a critical distinction — a writer per se is not a journalist. Not any more than a keyboardist is a concert pianist or a mechanic is a nuclear submarine technician. A journalist belongs to a specialized, technical subset of the writing professions that requires specific training. As one who has edited many a writer who attempts journalism, I can tell you the differences are vast — not simply niceties and nuances.

2. A journalist’s work is not overly precious to him.
As part of this journalistic training, you get accustomed to having your work ripped to shreds and watching whole paragraphs get shaved in column inches from the bottom of your articles — if you wrote it correctly and you’re lucky, it’ll be the bottom.

As a result, you do not get offended when your editor tells you, and I quote, “Jolie, this sentence fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.” (Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb) You begin to look at your writing the way a stranger would. You see the errors, the ugliness, the factual haziness, the sloppy turn of phrase. And you or your editor make repairs as needed without much fuss.

These words aren’t your limbs, your children, your masterpieces. They’re simply another grouping of column inches or another few hundred words to fill up the “news hole.” You’re not married to them, because you’ll be on to a new collection of words within an hour or two. With any effort, the next article will be better written than the last as you quickly learn from your mistakes.

The blogger is an autonomous creature, not accustomed to being under the scrutiny of a professional editor. He hasn’t had his work and soul trampled quite as mercilessly — although commenters can be cruel bitches, it’s true — so he’s a bit more attached to his words. Also, his words are more frequently tied to his personal ideas. More on that in a bit.

3. A journalist refrains from opinion in news stories.
Objectivity is a word oft-repeated in journalistic circles. The journalist strives for this: Neutrality, freedom from bias, absolute truth, facts unsullied by emotion. We cannot settle for “both sides of the story.” We must tell all sides of the story, and we must represent each side fairly regardless of our individual beliefs and views.

When this is the goal, getting your work hacked to bits by an editor becomes a lot easier because, as previously mentioned, you’re not married to the ideas themselves.

On occasion, the journalist will deviate from writing news stories to writing column or opinion pieces. In the more clean-cut days of print journalism, there was such a thing as an op/ed page; readers understood that opinion and editorial pieces expressed the view of the writer rather than the pure facts. This was the one page of the paper where you’d see the word “I” outside of quotations from other sources.

The journalist, when writing news, never editorializes, never opines, and never uses the first person.

The blogger is more wont to allow “news” writing to be colored by opinion. As a non-professional, at least in the early days of blogging before electronic publications were considered press, the news cycle came to bloggers secondhand. At that point, opinion and analysis were all that was left to add. For that reason and for others (having to do, I would imagine, with injecting colorful commentary to boost traffic), news blogs tend to include a great deal more commentary and opinion than we’re used to seeing in journalism. This can be a good thing in some cases and a bad thing in others; however, the formally trained journalist is not given to over much editorial content.

4. A journalist attributes quotations and cites sources.
One of the first lessons you learn in J-school is that “common knowledge” doesn’t count as a source, and everything must have a source.

Did it rain 5 inches yesterday? According to whom?

Was the city budget cut? According to which documents? At what meeting? By which persons?

Is a certain chemical bad for the environment? What experts say so, and what studies prove it?

In keeping with the standards of objectivity, no fact can make it into print without having a firm attribution to some source outside the newsroom. Attribution along with objectivity are almost inviolable commandments, and the professional journalist is hard-pressed to cross them. Attribution in the digital age amounts to linking back to the source when a digital source is available.

The blogger, on the other hand, can play fast and loose with “everybody knows” logic and refer to the omniscient “They” as a source of statistics or other knowledge. And linking back is seen as optional, since many bloggers would prefer to claim information as their own and silo pageviews and PageRank on their own domain.

5. A journalist is obsessed with the Truth.
As mentioned in a few sections above, journalists love the facts. They might be surprised when facts disprove a belief they hold, but they will not likely be too upset or go hunting for other “facts” to disprove the first set.

Much as in science, you’d use available data to find an answer rather than to prove and answer you already had in mind, the journalist presents the facts as they are without manipulating them into a foregone conclusion. Behind this obsession with data and facts — for many journalists, myself included — is the idea that the Truth will set us free.

The blogger, who isn’t necessarily committed to objectivity or other journalistic standards, will certainly attempt to shed light on the facts as he or she sees them; however, without years of training to beat down one’s own personal bias, it’s almost impossible to see data other than through the lens of one’s beliefs.

6. A journalist serves the people.
It cracks me up (a.k.a. pisses me off) when a supposed journalist says he is trying to help a company, no matter how small or scrappy, by posting an article about that company.

A journalist’s calling is to inform and serve the Third Estate — that is, the people with little or no power or influence in this world. Not politicians, not capitalists, not moral or religious leaders. In telling all sides of a story for the benefit of the proletariat alone, it is often the case that some companies and some individuals will also profit, at least to the extent that they operate in the best interest of the masses.

Journalists are accordingly called upon to be doubly skeptical (in the original sense) as compared to the average citizen. They’re not only looking out for their own best interest; they’re also attempting to safeguard that of their fellow human being and, when necessary, warn him of possible danger.

The blogger serves himself first and has no real social imperative in most cases.

7. A journalist is a skeptic (and often a critic).
Journalists get a bad rap for being a bunch of negative, cynical, jaded hardasses. And we’re supposed to be.

Part of the objectivity and vigilance of the profession entails seeing so many sides of so many stories that you lose the ability to take anything at face value. You don’t trust any source implicitly; you don’t accept a fact as such until it’s proven.

If a news writer has done any news editing, he is not only a skeptic but also a critic. You very quickly begin to seek out the flaws in writing and in life so they can be perfected immediately and concisely.

These attitudes make journalists cranky. And also alcoholics.

Bloggers, on the other hand, can often be nice people. They are not to be trusted.

But seriously, a blogger might question or attack a company, person, or bit of news; but to do so as a journalist requires a bit more detachment. The skepticism of a journo is disinterested and objective; it exists solely to ensure that the Truth emerges unscathed into the light. It’s not a matter of personal vendettas or profiteering.

8. A journalist cares about form.
At the outset, I told you the journalist isn’t a writer; he is a technician.

Technicians care about technique.

In addition to the finer points of grammar (and journos have got to care about those, since their writing has historically gone into irrevocable print), a journalist will care about style, which can vary by publication. Because of the mechanics of media production and consumption, the journalist also cares about the order in which information is presented.

The blogger is a technician of a different sort, and journalists would do well to pick up some of the blogger’s techniques. For example, the blogger typically knows more about metadata, web traffic, social sharing mechanisms, and SEO — the very techniques that have paved traditional media’s biggest speed bump on its path into the digital age. But mastery of digital techniques does not a journalist make.

9. A journalist isn’t a spy or a snitch.
It’s true that some of the wildest, most dramatic stories in the annals of this trade have revolved around the divulging of secrets. Watergate, for example — that required some first-class leaking and espionage.

But the workaday journalist gets maybe a few of those stories in his lifetime. Journalism is not an exciting merry-go-round of overheard deals and eavesdropping in antechambers — or, to put a more modern spin on it, hacked accounts and leaked documents. If it were, journalists would be universally mistrusted and would never get invited to any parties, which make up a significant portion of our food-and-drink budgets as journalists’ salaries are generally low.

This is where bloggers have fucked over journalists more colossally than I can comfortably express.

A couple bloggers posing as journalists spied, snitched — and did so in a way that benefited almost no one except the bloggers themselves — and now all producers of media are painted as untrustworthy vultures.

The true journalist relies on deep knowledge of his beat, close relationships with industry experts, and dedication to his craft. He has the kind of skill that makes for a 20-year career in reporting, not the kind of childish sneakiness that makes for a one-time pageview blockbuster.

10. A journalist is passionate about journalism.
Finally, and most obviously, the journalist loves journalism. He may complain about it, but you aren’t likely to find him changing careers any time soon. He cares not just about his job but about his profession, and he will defend its ranks from the amateurs who sully it.

The blogger will invoke the word “journalism” and call himself a journalist, but he has no understanding of what those words mean. It’s one thing to wax poetic about “hard-hitting journalism.” It’s another thing to use the Inverted Pyramid, develop and adhere to a style guide, work with PR people with some kind of integrity, develop features and breaking news stories separate from opinion and editorial, and generally conduct oneself as a journalist.

A blogger touting his love for journalism is like a high school choir girl saying she loves opera: She might be sincere, but she’s got a hell of a lot to learn.

If you’re a blogger and you’ve been offended somehow by my piece, ask yourself why — I highly suspect it’s because I called some behavior of yours out as not being “journalist-y” enough. While it’s true that we all hold ourselves to different professional standards, the above are pretty basic. If you feel threatened or attacked by what I’ve written, I suggest you get back at me by taking a couple journalism classes at a community college and doing an internship at a local newspaper; it’ll change your writing and your life.

178 thoughts on “How to Tell a Journalist from a Blogger

  1. Well said! I realize you don’t need a journalism degree to fall under the journalist category as our predecessors learned through experience. However, there is a drastic difference between opinion bloggers and objective journalists.

  2. A great follow-up to your earlier piece, Jolie, but I beg to differ – rather strongly in fact – with your first point. There are myriad Journalists (note capital “J”) who never stepped foot into any structured, organized Journalism program. They instead cut their teeth in the trenches working to follow the other points of your post, oftentimes guided and mentored by those who went before them.

    I always use this analogy, just as a rectangle is always a square but a square isn’t always a rectangle, so too goes the blogger/journalist thing … A Journalist can be a blogger, but a blogger isn’t always a Journalist. To me it’s about the integrity and motivation (to the point of many of the line items you noted here) behind the work. It’s a mindset, a methodology, but wholly separate from medium or platform (as you said) but also not necessarily tied to having a degree.

    I say this as someone who *does* have a J-school degree, and who – while not working in a media organization or covering content as my core “job” – still considers herself a deeply steeped, dyed-in-wool, and proud member of the Fourth Estate.

    That’s my .02.

    Well, more like .25.

    • As I noted, you can be trained as a journalist at a publication, too. The most thorough training is school + trenches, but I’ll take a trenches journo over an English degree blogger any day.

      And your analogy is correct; it’s a question of Venn diagrams.

      • But if you acknowledge that a “real journalist doesn’t need that kind of degree in the first place, then why bring “A bachelor’s degree in journalism, media studies, mass communication, or some similarly named program” into your definition or “real journalist” in the first place?

        And why keep associating “English degree” with your definition of “non-journalist” and “blogger”?

        I’ll bet more REAL journalists have English degrees than journalism degrees. the fact is, an English degree is excellent preparation for being a journalist.

        I was was journalist who graduated with an English degree. I learned all the journalism lessons I needed form the newspaper – and later, news magazine – I worked for. And yes, I wrote real news stories.

        Your “Journalism vs. English degree” distinction is gratuitous and biased (I suspect you went to J-school), and it undermines the point of you entire piece.

      • I should add: As a former English major, I wish I’d proofed my comment above before I posted it. I realize that the typos probably don’t help my argument. 🙂

      • I’ve got to admit that, like MrHippity (why oh why not use your real name, MrH?) I bridled a little at the “bachelor’s degree in journalism” part of your post. I learned everything on the job, like almost everyone I worked with when I started.

        And I’d take that experience over a degree any day of the week. The experience of having to go out, find stories, and get them out there is what forges you into a journalist rather than a BA after your name. “Journalist” is a title you earn by real-world work, and not even the best j-school degree gives you that.

        That’s not to say a journalism degree isn’t valuable. In fact, for anyone who wants to be a journalist now, it’s the best route. But like most degrees, it’s a foot in the door, not the defining element of a job.

        (And, before you ask, yes, I’m fully aware of the curriculum followed by journalism schools – I’ve recruited enough j-school graduates to know their strengths and weaknesses.)

      • I have to agree with Cathy and others on this one. Rule #1 should be stricken from the article (with a proper footnote pointing out the change).

        I wish I had the book handy, but Harlan Ellison once had some choice words about J-school and how it’s actually hurt journalism as a whole, as everything you can learn about journalism can be taught in a couple of night courses. Everything else is superfluous.

        Think oroborus and other entities inclined to eat their own tail. : )

      • Jolie
        I think there is a lot of good stuff in this post – but I also think at times you over-complicate it.

        For my disclosure: I am a “trained” journalist. I went to Columbia’s j-school, yada-yada-yada.

        There is a much easier way to define what makes somebody a journalist. It is someone who does journalism.

        The problem is that often the definition of journalism is circular (journalism is content produced by a journalist or published in a journal/periodical). That doesn’t help us figure anything out at all.

        The working definition of journalism that I often use is: “the collection, filtering and distribution of information” with the caveats – that the information is accurate and reliable, etc.

        Using that – a journalist is anyone who does journalism.

        I think what you describe in your post is a professional journalist. But one not need be a professional to commit acts of journalism. A “blogger” one day can be a “journalist” the next without changing their medium (as you note the medium isn’t important). In fact, that happens all the time. The are just as much a journalist as anybody else on the day they are committing acts of journalism. They may not be a professional – they may not deal with PR professionals, standards, hell – they may even put their opinion in there – but they are still journalists.

    • I think you mean “a square is always a rhombus, but a rhombus isn’t always a square.”

      I agree that J-school does not a journalist make — it’s a relatively modern invention, and many fine journalists never went to college. A journalist is made by practicing journalism and learning from his or her superiors — this is some of the best training there is.

    • This is a gripe about a comment, but enough people below have agreed with it without thinking to point out that Cathy Brooks’ square/rectangle analogy was completely meaningless. The important part of the distinction is that a square IS always a rectangle, but a rectangle IS NOT always a square. Nor is it a question of Venn diagrams, but of concentric circles (the set of all squares lies within the larger circle of all rectangles).

      Not all journalists are bloggers. Not all bloggers (indeed very few, though they exist; see William Arkin’s fine work) are journalists. The analogy doesn’t compute. Now there’s a line of thinking that says that the future of journalism is more individualized, with more personal style, meaning that any real journalist would also have to share time as a blogger, but that totally contradicts the entire rest of the tone of this post, so I’d be hard-pressed to believe that as evidence.

      J-school degree or not, journalists have to be able to think, even about the details that seem most obvious or least important. Everybody giving a “me-too” fails this one, and I’d relegate everyone who did to blogger status, because they agreed with something because they liked the larger point that someone had to make. This is totally unacceptable as journalism. Bloggers look for evidence to back up a preconceived storyline, a horrible habit that’s infected and confused purported journalists everywhere.

      • In the bigger issue (cf. my previous comment), the problem is just that the average journalist does not reach the measure that he is supposed to reach. Notably, I doubt that the bloggers have infected the journalists—the problem is older than that.

        (As an aside, it is arguably misleading to compare bloggers and journalists at all, because “blogger” is a far wider term. A blog can be a personal diary, a general commentary, a forum for film or book reviews, a general gripe about the world we live, a fan site, … Reducing blogging to a news medium and making a comparison with journalism is inherently flawed—blogging is to journalism like TV is to newspapers, not like TV news is to newspapers.)

  3. Overall great post, especially Point No. 4 about attribution.

    The only thing I disagree with you on is the issue of using first person. I don’t see how speaking in first person/third person/etc. is any different from writing for a blog/newspaper/etc. There isn’t a significant enough difference between “There were 100 people at last night’s city council meeting” and “I counted about 100 people at last night’s city council meeting” to warrant a hardline rule that journalists should always write in the third person. If anything the latter is “better” because it’s more honest (in the third person example, who says there were 100 people at the meeting?).

    Anyway, one gripe for a great post, but I thought it was worth bringing up.

    • Personally, I think that using first person in a newspaper can make people think that a story is biased.
      Using the third person example you should really say “According to the secretary there were 100 people at last night’s meeting.” (I agree that for that sort of information you should state where you got it, but I also think it should be from an official source). If you say “I counted 100 people” and someone replies later that there were only 75, it makes you, and the paper you are writing for, look biased towards whatever issue they were discussing, whether you are or not.
      I only want to see first person viewpoints in the opinion section, but that is just my personal preference.

      • My point being, journalists take head counts all the time, include them in the story without attribution and pass them off as quasi-facts: “There were an estimated 100 people at the meeting” (etc.).

        If someone contradicts you in the comments, decide if you think that criticism is accurate and respond to it accordingly (either disagree with them in the comments or update the story with a new figure or range).

    • Well traditionally journalist are taught not to use I in news articles, the rule its becoming a little more relaxed now though. I in particular think its a great help though, it shows that this is not a piece based on your ideas. And truthfully, it just makes it easier for the journalist to maintain distance from the story they are writing.
      In addition I don’t think any journalist would count or say they counted how many people where at something, they would find a way to get a real head count or estimate from somebody who was in charge of that, usually stating according to or it was estimated however many people attended.

      • Jolie had a good point on Twitter: third-person is “a good rule of thumb, especially for noobs/non-pros.” I can agree with that. If you’re not experienced with what I’d call “talking professionally” (re: tempering your speech for a professional environment) I could see a person lapsing into opinion. But like I said, changing from third-person to first-person does nothing to impact accuracy or truth.

        The “head count” thing was just an example. I could pull links to stuff if you want, but generally speaking, think of adjectives that get thrown around to spice up leads or standard “we tried” lines like “so and so could not be reached for comment.” It’s OK and it’s all sort of/technically true, but speaking in first person (“I could feel the fire from where I was standing, a block away;” “I called (so and so) five times, but he still hasn’t got back to me”) is, again, more honest and gives a more clearly formed picture.

  4. I wish all journalists, editors and publishers/broadcasters would follow all aspects of this definition.

    It’s the consistent absence of respect for your 3rd rule that turned this three or more newspapers-per-day reader into a zero newspapers-per-day individual.

    And then there’s “the local angle” in broadcast news. Don’t even get me started on that!

    • I wholeheartedly agree with Thomas. These days I’m surprised when I see an journalistic work that doesn’t contain an obvious bias.

  5. Sorry, I don’t buy it. There are plenty of “journalists” who have sold out to something or someone, and plenty of “bloggers” who are doing much more good for the third estate than so-called objective journalists. In an age when many journalists are being laid off and turning to publishing their own websites, or blogs and doing good work. And for the sake of transparency, let me say that I am one of them.

    There are good bloggers, there are bad bloggers. There are good journalists, there are bad journalists.

    My main beef with this post is that it’s time to move beyond the point of making artificial distinctions between bloggers and journalists and to accept the fact that journalism is evolving. Bloggers, if that’s what you want to call them, are here to stay in the journalistic landscape. Rather than trying to put them in some lower, non-journalistic class, it would be more productive to look forward and develop a new vision of journalism that encompasses everyone who is working to get good information out to the public while adhering to an ethical standard of doing no harm.

    And some things are common knowledge. Why waste precious column inches attributing global warming science facts to some obscure researcher when everyone knows that greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere? Wouldn’t that space be better used somehow else?

    • “My main beef with this post is that it’s time to move beyond the point of making artificial distinctions between bloggers and journalists and to accept the fact that journalism is evolving.”

      good point.

      “And some things are common knowledge. Why waste precious column inches attributing global warming science facts to some obscure researcher when everyone knows that greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere? Wouldn’t that space be better used somehow else?”

      i disagree with that. you definitely have to source that because not everyone believes greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere

      • As a reader and not a journalist, but also as a scientist, I can whole-heartedly attest to the fact that it *really* pisses me off when mainstream media make *any* statement in relation to something scientific (pick your poison: co2 up by x%, scientists breed lizard-rats, DNA found to contain history of humanity) without citing accurate sources. As much as you speak of Journalists being “unbiased”, I don’t know a single modern newspaper that doesn’t throw its own bias into the mix depending on readership, and that bias can be the difference between a factual story that sticks to the evidence it references, and a massaged story built around whatever it feels the readership would like to interpret from data not presented.

        Why do I like blogs? Because most of them (certainly the ones I read and respect) do tend to cite sources in one way or another, and I can quickly cross reference against those sources and see just how much BS is being written (or not). With newspapers, I feel there is an even greater need for accuracy and integrity, as cross-referencing facts while reading a piece of paper, on a train is next to impossible. If everyone cited good sources, then these could be looked up later if it’s a subject that I feel interested in.

        As I touched upon before, these days (in my humble opinion) Journalism as a whole leaves a lot to be desired, and could do with re-learning the 10 commandments that have been pointed out above. Take any tabloid newspaper for example (I’m from the UK, so my reference point is: The Daily Mail, The Sun, etc.); how are these any better than the blogs you claim are destroying Journalism and tarring all Journalists as bad apples? The Sun is a pretty far out example, but, the hacks who write for it still claim to be Journalists, and The Daily Mail’s ‘Journalists’ quite happily pump out the same heavily biased diatribe day in and day out no matter the subject.

        I think that it’s time to admit that the beacon of radiant Journalistic integrity you describe in the original blog-post is pretty much gone these days, replaced by a ‘whatever sells’ attitude (The NY Times and many other “general news” broadsheets are a perfect example of this). Perhaps the last bastion of Journalistic Integrity lays within papers such as the Financial Times, whose entire reputation is staked every time they run a story.

        (This dragged on a little longer than I had intended!)

  6. What about people that write for site like (I’m from Louisville so I’m using it as an example)? The writers there, some of them anyway, do post pieces that require a lot of research and journalistic skill with interviewing, reporting, etc. However, many of these writers do not journalism degrees nor is there an office with an editor to offer in-depth tutelage and guidance as a writer. Are the pieces then automatically considered sub-par reporting and is the writer then less of a journalist regardless of the actual content and merit of the piece?

    I agree with every thing on the list except #1 because I read newspapers and blogs daily, and I have read many pieces by writers and know writers who, according to the first rule on your list, would not be considered journalists, but the quality of their work and their views/ passions for reporting say otherwise. Some of these people are trying to get into the news industry one way or another in this terrible economic climate (especially for news outlets), while some journalists that have been fired have quickly moved on to other jobs (I know quite a few of these).

  7. Jolie,
    I really appreciate this piece. I think it nicely explains the differences between the two. I love journalism and blogging, but the lines between the two seem to blur more everyday. Most blogs I have ever come across are really just extensions of the opinions page, which is what they are meant to be.

  8. You’re absolutely right with what you’ve said here. Even as an “English degree blogger” I can respect the stylistic and methodical differences in a writer such as myself and an actual Journalist. I laughed when I read the part about journalists being used to having their work torn apart by an editor and aren’t offended—so true. Having not had much experience being edited to that degree, I’ve found myself a bit thin-skinned about criticism and the like in writing I’ve done.

    Blogging or any sort of writing that goes unchecked can be a dangerous thing and can allow you to get carried away. Before long, if you’re not careful, being totally unedited can mess with the very conventions you were taught in college. I think blogging can make us sloppy unless we keep ourselves in check.

    Anyway, good post!

  9. I’m not a journalist and not much of a blogger. I think your 10 tell-tale signs of a journalist hit the mark. But I also think that being either a journalist or a blogger is not a zero-sum game. Your 10 cannons should be something to aspire to, but if their perfect adherence is required for the title of journalist, I’m afraid there are few journalists in this world. I’ve seen bloggers that keep to the high end of these journalistic qualities and I’ve seen journalist, at the top of their profession, who regularly wade in the lower end muck. One can generalize about the positions of journalist and bloggers, but tagging people to a group by way of generalization raises my eyebrow. I think that everyone who aspires to serve their reader with as much objective information as they can should keep a copy of these 10 tell-tale signs close.

  10. I enjoyed this very much. As a blogger, I sometimes come across fellow bloggers who insist on using hyperbole and superlatives while never documenting any of it.
    There is also a large number of them who believe they have surpassed journalists by behaving this way.

  11. “A journalist refrains from opinion in news stories.”

    This “rule” seems utterly divorced from American history, not to mention much exemplary modern journalism.

    You can’t separate the ongoing changes in the FORM of news from the changes in function. Credentialist fundamentalism like this is the path to irrelevance. Can you name an innovative and profitable news site of the past 10 years that hasn’t broken several of these rules?

    • “Objectivity is a word oft-repeated in journalistic circles. The journalist strives for this: Neutrality, freedom from bias, absolute truth, facts unsullied by emotion. We cannot settle for “both sides of the story.” We must tell all sides of the story, and we must represent each side fairly regardless of our individual beliefs and views.”

      More and more this is less the case, as journalists realize that complete objectivity is rare–dare I say impossible. Moreover, telling all sides of the story is something to aspire to, but rarely occurs in modern journalism. As to the commitment to “the truth”? What is that? There is no absolute truth (OK, there is one). We are thinking, feeling human beings with varying perceptions. There is nothing so simple as “absolute truth.”

      • My favorite parts are

        this part,

        “6. A journalist serves the people.
        It cracks me up (a.k.a. pisses me off) when a supposed journalist says he is trying to help a company, no matter how small or scrappy, by posting an article about that company.”

        and this part,

        “3. A journalist refrains from opinion in news stories.
        Objectivity is a word oft-repeated in journalistic circles. The journalist strives for this: Neutrality, freedom from bias, absolute truth, facts unsullied by emotion.

        Well said. Good article.

      • Unfortunately, “truth” is not a story. There aren’t two sides to every Truth; there’s just context. There are however perceptions; some of them are misguided while some are closer to the facts, but modern-day journalism’s insistence on presenting people’s perceptions as if they have equal ontological weight is very uncool.

    • Ryan, I can’t say much about American history, but in terms of how British news reporting work, I can tell you this is absolutely what we strive for. Note the word “strive” – like everyone else, journalists don’t always succeed.

      “Credentialist fundamentalism like this is the path to irrelevance” is a nice slogan, but I’ve learned over the years that people who spout slogans rarely have much argument to back them up. Care to tell me why you think this?

      • I don’t know which is more absurd: Arguing that traditionally practiced journalism /isn’t/ on a path to irrelevance; arguing that British news reporting refrains from opinion; or arguing that British news reporters avoid being spies and snitches.

        Actually, the most absurd thing would be arguing with these arguments. Even if I did feel like doing so, for some reason, it wouldn’t be in this little comments section. Not a good use of your time or mine.

  12. Where’s your proof that bloggers even consider themselves journalists? 😉

    I’m sort of kidding, but at the same time I don’t know of many that would label themselves like that.

    To be honest, this does seem a tad idealistic. I’ve gone to school, worked with, and even been interviewed by several workig ‘journalists’ and while this is something to strive for, very few are actually skilled at any of those points. There are amazing journalists, but I would argue that the vast majority (at least those I’ve encountered), are no more qualified than ‘bloggers’… at least by the standards set in this article.

    • I know a lot of bloggers who call themselves journalists or citizen journalists because they have a blog, contribute to content mills and tweet. None of them have ever taken a class, read a stylebook or earned publication anywhere.

      P.S. Travis, love your ever-morphing website.

  13. “4. A journalist attributes quotations and cites sources.”

    Oh really? This is rarely the case.

    Do your research.

    • Anyone who doesn’t attribute a quote isn’t a journalist, full stop – and I don’t care what their job title is. If you have a source and it’s sensitive enough not to use a name, you can use it – but it should be the exception, not the rule. And in this case, you should use the maximum possible caution with the story.

      You’re mistaking the bad non-journalism you read in blogs for real journalism.

  14. 6 and 9 especially are about the ethical issues that most bloggers won’t blink at, lacking the practical/formal education. Good and interesting read, thanks.

  15. You forgot the part where we’re obsessed with the truth but our advertising departments are obsessed with cash and ombudsmen are useless, and as conglomerates grow, why even bother — we could wallpaper our entire apartment buildings in all the stories we’ve seen killed and yeah, we’re giving voices to those who aren’t heard but heaven forbid not enough people die in an incident in a third world country because we all know there’s a specific number of people that must die per country in order for something to be front-page news and no, of course the inverted pyramid has nothing to do with why no one reads newspapers anymore, everyone knows that style is the most satisfying …

  16. Loved this!

    One question, though: does not the use of the word “proletariat” in point 6 imply a bias? (Granted, the word’s political association is only one connotation, but it seems to be the most likely one in common usage.)

  17. Holy crap! While I’m a 22-year newspaperman who fits most of the qualifications, let me say that most of the generalizations and absolutes in this post fell from the ugly tree, hit every branch and then laid there while the ugly dog took an ugly whiz on them.

    But seriously, an overlooked issue is: there are good journalists and bad journalists, just like there are good bloggers and bad bloggers.

    And secondly, a GOOD journalist doesn’t make gross generalizations, painting everything as black and white. Good journalists look for the gray areas, the context to every story that neither side of an issue wants your to know about.

    Jolie might in fact be a good journalist in this respect, but if so, it’s not reflected in this post.

    Spud Hilton
    Travel Editor
    San Francisco Chronicle

    • Goddamn. As a liberal arts major, former Navy officer, now writer (online and off) who is sick of holier-than-thou screeds, I say thank you, Spud. You just saved me a huge amount of WTF ranting in response to the above.

      Also, whenever possible, bloggers respond to the comments on their posts. Journalists who do the same get to be called bloggers.

      • Oh, what the hell. I started this conversation. I don’t need to interrupt my commenters every five minutes with redundant bullshit to keep it going.

        And Spud, while I respect your position as a Chron editor, I should clarify that I intended my “Ten Commandments” as guidelines that every good *news* writer and editor should *attempt* to uphold. Of course there are gray areas all over the place, something that I examine in depth in my “Be a Better Journo” series.

    • Yes, my reaction exactly, posted above. And your description of the gray area as the part neither side wants you to know about is good. I’ll keep that in mind as I chase stories, thanks, Spud.

    • I agree. However, this is her PERSONAL blog. Therefore, she’s allowed her opinions however biased, black & white or grossly generalized.

    • Those “standards” also exclude guys like I.F. Stone and Seymour Hersch from the old days, too (Stone started his own paper when he wasn’t even finished his undergrad… in Philosophy)… not to mention half the WWII/Vietnam/Korea correspondents and then later, guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe who formed the New Journalism. And what about Gay Talese? What about Truman Capote?

      This also seems to miss the realities of actually working for a newspaper, where journalists are very much beholden to 1) the bottom line (ie: advertiser eyeballs) and 2) the publisher’s ideology. See Canwest Media here in Canada as a prime example.

  18. As a columnist for a major metro newspaper, I use “I” all the time in my columns, which involve a lot of reporting, sourcing, and opinion. But I consider it all part of journalism, and myself a journalist to the core. Too often, journalists make the mistake of trying to be objective by writing in bland, boring styles. Readers want lively writing with a lot of voice, something bloggers excel at, but many mainstream papers have flushed from their systems. Writing with a personal tone, and telling stories from the first-person can still be journalism as you’ve defined it and connect with readers.

  19. I am SO in love with this piece, I want to tattoo it to my arms. OK, not really. But I do love it. I have felt my profession (20 years in national magazine journalism) become cheapened. At dinner parties, when I say I’m a freelance journalist, two to three other people stand up and say “I’m a writer too…I have a blog.” When I decide to follow up with the publications I write for, to distinguish my education and experience from someone who just decided to buy a url, I sound like a pompous ass. I guess I am, but i worked hard for this pompous ass of mine. Just because you hand someone a scalpel, doesn’t make them a doctor. bravo!

  20. There are bloggers, then there are journalists who run their own blog. I fall into the latter, yet somehow get lumped in with every other “blogger.” Blog is a medium, just like radio is a medium. Yet I don’t see NPR reporters losing credibility because some shock jock said something obscene across the dial.

    Here’s a fact for you. I broke a news story today, then watched as every TV station in town reported it on air without a shred of attribution (you can check with my TiVo if you need a second source). Then the Washington Post picked it up and attributed a TV station (I later called to request a change of attribution, which took a second call to finally get right). Luckily, one popular outlet did properly credit my site for breaking the story:, a blog.

    I hope you consider this before generalizing about “bloggers.”

    • I agree. Honestly, I’ve seen it again and again and every time it makes my blood boil: attempts to hold apart certain kinds of reporting and credentialing as somehow more privileged; it is, I believe, one of the hallmarks of much of what’s wrong with much the media today.

      Some of the points, like source attribution and representing the citizens are ideals that yes, all journalists should strive for.

      Others, like attention to form – inverted pyramid was invented by editors who needed to form certain habits in readers’ minds and get them to flip to A5 where the grocery coupons are, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually the best way to write a story – are ridiculous and ignore the long history of successful journalism, and of reporting in general, that didn’t adhere to specific blessed-by-print-editing techniques. See, oh, all of the 1970s. Sorry, but sometimes, ballet isn’t the best form of dance; sometimes you gotta put on your jazz shoes.

      The term “objective” is hilarious. But I say that as a philosopher. Capital T-Truth? Give me a break. Yes, I believe in facts. But facts are always always always formed within a context. And ignoring context is another huge portion of what’s wrong with journalism today.

  21. Your vision of the journalism ideal is an attractive one. It also seems pretty divorced from reality. Newspapers in the UK have been caught time and time again not attributing sources, stealing other people’s copyright material from the Internet and then arguing about it, and simply making things up. Some bloggers do journalism very well. Some bloggers don’t do journalism at all. Some professional journalists don’t seem to do journalism that well either…

    • Martin, that just means there are bad journalists around, just as their are bad coders, bad cycle couriers, and bad sheet metal workers.

      If you aspire, as a journalist, to do the best-possible work then this is a pretty-good set of ground rules.

  22. My first tendency is to shout “Hear, hear!” affirmatively. But in many ways, I see the blurring of the two mirroring the exact transitional process that journalism itself has undergone in the last decade or so, which you touched upon by mentioning the increasingly imperative nature of journalism to draw headlines and attract readers by breaking the sacred objectivity clause. And while I could certainly argue passionately for the defense of journalism as a profession (being a former J-school turned English major), I’m afraid that this distinction is growing increasingly irrelevant to the majority of media creators (bloggers included) and their consumers…and only important to those within the ranks of the ‘fourth estate’, professional journalists themselves.

    It’s interesting and rather telling to think about why these distinctions are important…maybe that could be your next post…

  23. I have to strongly disagree with your first point. There are many excellent journalists out there that have neither been to journalism school or worked in a “professional” newsroom.

    To be a journalist you have to be willing to ask questions and synthesize data to create a readable story that can better explain an event or issue. While journalism school or a professional newsroom can help one learn those skills – you can also pick up that sort of knowledge by just doing it, over and over again.

    And to the point of writing – it may be fairer to say that writers aren’t always journalists – and journalists aren’t always writers. I’ve read the raw copy of lots of journalists who have been trained both in j-school and in newsrooms that certainly doesn’t read as if they’re any better than someone off the street with a 4th grade education.

    It is also a bit old-fashioned and somewhat narrow-minded to insist that “real journalists” never use opinion or first-person in their work. Some of the best journalism I’ve read has been in the first person or otherwise mixed in with a somewhat opinionated tone. Are you saying that columnists such as Tom Friedman, Nicholas Kristof and the like aren’t journalists? It seems like a slippery slope. Some stories cry out for a first person take – and not all news is objective.

  24. As a political blogger, I completely agree with your assertions. In fact, when folks ask me this same questions, it does not bother me to note that I am a biased political blogger. I could never be a journalist because I lack of a BA in Journalism.

    I do want to point out thought that a journalist is allowed to have, although relevant, an opinion in their stories. It is the reporter that must remain strictly factual in their articles. There is a difference between a journalist most commonly known as a correspondent and a reporter. It does bother me when folks confuse the two.

    My minor in Communications has allowed me to understand this interesting yet tricky relationship between bloggers and journalist.

  25. Hi Jolie,

    I get it…you’re a journalist.

    However, I think you’ve missed the point that bought the blogger, or better known as Citizen Journalist, into existence….it’s because your colleagues in Journalism f%@Ked it up.

    Since the 1970’s, and appropriately after the Watergate incident, investigative journalism has become slick entertainment.

    Very little, if any, journalistic integrity exists in modern day broadcast, print and electronic news.

    I’m even surprised that you’d believe writing this post would quiet the ongoing debate regarding journalistic integrity as compared to Blogger ambition.

    (or has your memory forgotten the Bob Novak’s involvement in revealing the identity of a CIA operative)

    Sir, the world’s gone mad.

    Really, you should consider reading this post again out loud and recount the Bush Administration’s planting of stories in the New York Times that ginned up the citizenry to go to WAR.

    I think you might be reading the wrong blogs, posts or authors who write blog posts.

    Bloggers didn’t create the shallow pool of editorial integrity present in daily rags like the NY Post or the Washington Times.

    Which is why ordinary citizens took a chance to tell a story about what’s happening in the world.

    But good luck on this definition.

    While it may have been significant at one time for the profession…if they every got back to it, bloggers will quietly go back to spending their time at leisure.

    …and confidently leaving the truth telling to the profession.

    • There are problems in journalism, no doubt.

      Let’s just call my post a list of ideals that the best journalists should *try* to adhere to in their newswriting.

      There are bad journalists, and there are good news bloggers — I’m just saying we should all try to have some standards rather than blindly defending what we do. I certainly have failed in living up to my own standards at various points in my career, but I will never stop trying.

      • Yes, and some of the journalistic standards you refer to are a good starting point. And it should be a common set of standards so readers have some idea of what they’re getting. We should all be sort of working within the same guidelines for the common good. I liked your point about bloggers who are only out to make a name (and a few bucks) for themselves. That makes them just as self-serving as the subjects they’re supposed to watch-dogging.

      • But this is exactly the point. By drawing the artificial distinction, you’re assuming your conclusion. There are good and bad bloggers and journalists. Most of these ideals “journalists” don’t actually seem to follow, and some of them aren’t even necessarily right (like trying to pretend objectivity rather than simply having transparency, which leads inevitably to “both sides” journalism).

        Standard media outlets have little to no credibility any more, particularly TV outlets, but also mainstream newspapers, what with leading us to war on BS and a million other problems. In the future it’s not gonna be the paper or mag or website you work for that determines your journalistic credibility, but your *personal* reputation, developed through your work. Judy Miller worked for the NYT, but will never again be trusted. The internet guarantees all the work can all be found.

        Journalism is changing, and our conceptions need to change with it. To mindlessly separate out “bloggers” is wrongheaded and counterproductive. We need to look at individuals’ work.

    • To apply your argument to another profession…

      “Every time I’ve had my car engine serviced, they’ve done a bad job! Screw them! We should close all those repair shops down and have ‘citizen mechanics’ with no training and no professional standards – that would give us better quality work!”

      See why your argument is flawed?

      The assumption with “citizen journalism” is simply that journalism isn’t a craft – it’s something that anyone can do, with no training, and no idea of *what* it is that they’re trying to do. Jolie’s core point, which I absolutely agree with, is that this is false: journalism is a craft, like everything else.

      And like every other craft, there are people who do it for a living and do exceptional work – but those people are the exception. There’s a huge rump of middle-range journalists, who do a creditable job but don’t always get it right, or never break a really big story. And there’s a tail of… well, let’s call them “less than good” journalists.

      You’re looking at the latter and condemning the whole profession. Is that really the right thing to do?

      You’re also conflating the *business* of publishing with the *craft* of journalism – but that’s another, longer post in itself.

  26. Julie,

    Thanks for this post – it’s a very important topic. Bloggers are an important component of communication these days, but as someone who studied journalism as part of my communication degree and having a great passion for the field, its hard to see pop-up Web writers not truly understanding the tenets of the profession. No disrespect intended as I work with bloggers every day and I am one myself, but it’s critically different. I think the majority of people don’t understand the heritage behind the trade, nor the education required (yes, there are some exceptions).

    One point I’d also add as I see this confusion frequently. Journalists are paid by their employees (media outlet they write for). They are not paid by PR people and they aren’t paid by the subjects of their stories. Media outlets stay in business though ad sales, via subscriptions etc… Being paid for stories violates ethics.

    Thanks again for tackling this topic.

    Rachel Kay

  27. When I was in J-school everybody wanted to be a “citizen journalist” aka blogger in order to address injustices they felt were being overlooked… I would argue the most significant distinction between a journalist and a blogger is that a blogger can and often does work in a vacuum — where the only critical feedback they receive is from other self-styled and often like-minded commentators. A journalist on the other hand is held to professional standards by other professionals and their readers/audience, and their work is honed and crafted over time by critical feedback. Ultimately the quality and trustworthiness of his or her work will be the measure of their professional reputation and career. The average blogger is a gadfly in comparison, with a lack of accountability and tendency towards personal agendas that most journalists consider to be completely unprofessional.

  28. Amen! As a former practicing journalist, this is spot on. I think Fox News and a few other unscrupulous “news” agencies facilitated in setting the bar so low for non-journalist bloggers. Bad role models indeed.

  29. This is a nice little list, but as a magazine journalist, I can’t help but feel a little excluded. You seem to be defining “a journalist” rather strictly as a hard-news journalist. So, your list invalidates most most of the work I’ve ever done.

    When I went to a homeless church and told the story from my perspective, when I wrote the humor piece stocking your bookshelf to give people a false impression of you, when I produced a paragraph of snarky copy to preface a cocktail recipe—even when I did perky write-ups of products I had never personally experienced to fill space in the book—at all of these times I was engaged in journalism.

    You are spot on when you talk about credibility, attitude, and writing skill. Just don’t forget that “journalism” can also be frivolous, or opinionated, or stylistically experimental.

  30. This article seems like quite an oxymoron. It eschews the very guidelines it lays down.

    “The blogger is more wont to allow ‘news’ writing to be colored by opinion.” —citation please?

  31. As always Jolie your posts garner intrigue. I have a B.A. in journalism and I have a blog, but I am under no delusions that my blog is close to the type of writing I would have to turn out if I worked for a major publication.

    Personally I consider blogs to be shared opinion more than reporting of facts. Journalism as defined by the traits above is a tough bracket and it doesn’t sell particularly well (or pay well) these days. Therefore, there is more use of I and opinions that find their ways off the Opinion/Editorial page and into the meat of the publication.

    Isn’t it just fine as long as you state clearly that this is my opinion and my understanding while writing blog pieces or are there that many people out there that believe they are delivering hard news through their blog posts. I give credit to all blog writers for taking the time to think, post, and share. It is harder to say than do, but definitely not the same pressures you would have under an official deadline with required attributions.

    Just my thoughts, keep up the good work.

  32. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and your post has crystallised my thoughts on this matter further over the past few hours.

    They echo Martin Belam’s comment: “Some bloggers do journalism very well. Some bloggers don’t do journalism at all. Some professional journalists don’t seem to do journalism that well either…”

    Journalism is something that any blogger, no matter their level of experience or background, can do as long as they do it ethically and responsibly. When I break a story or move a story forward through doing my own legwork to get interviews or quotes, or simply dig around the internet for original evidence and then present it in a fair and balanced way, I’m being a news journalist. When I take a story from elsewhere that I can’t add anything to and repackage it for my audience (in a way that’s respectful to the content and its creator) I’m being a curator, when I write an opinion piece I’m being simply a writer. They’re all tools that a pro blogger has up his or her sleeve and uses as the situation demands.

    I agree with you though, we all need to keep ourselves in check by adhering to standards.

    • One of the things that I have on my blog is a statement of my blogging principles, which partly came out of trying to work out whether I should apply a news microformat to my blog posts. I think one thing that would help improve the standard of professional journalism in a digital era, or at least the accountability of it, would be for news outlets to have much more clearly defined principles that they adhere to, especially around corrections and clarifications.

  33. “4. A journalist attributes quotations and cites sources.”

    If only this journalistic law was applied more rigorously. There is nothing more frustrating than the inability of both in-print and digital journalists to refer explicitly to the source of figures and opinions. There is no excuse.

  34. First: I am neither blogger nor journalist.

    I completely disagree with point 1. Why should it matter to a description of what a journalist should be how you became one? This is like saying you have to go through inititiation ritual X before you can belong to group Y, which is mainly elitist behavior to keep other people out.
    If your definition is good, then you won’t need that.

    The rest of your points is a mixture of what most journalists are no more these days but should be and some inner contradictions.
    On the one hand you write that the journalist should not care about his work and allow editors to mutilate it as much as they want on the other hand you write all those points about writing without oppinion, shed light on all sides and citing sources. Should the journalist just accept it when the editor shortens a text by removing one of the sides or the sources?

    Bloggers have one big advantage over journalists and that is that most of them don’t have to go through editorial, deal with PR people and are not dependent on the good will of the employer they write for.
    Face it, most of nowadays journalists are not elite writers with self-conciousness and a set of principles. They just can’t afford it with very few exceptions. And even those few are fading in the waves of campaign journalism that wash over the world.

  35. Well i as a blogger am aware that i´m not a journalist according to your 10 commandments here 🙂 but i don´t claim to be a journalist and tell my readers that i for sure don´t refrain from opinion, but can you please explain to me why i have the feeling that at least 80% of the mainstream media “journalists” (at least here in germany)violate at least 5-8 of these rules in their daily work. If I´d work like my boss fired me?

  36. Great stuff, Jolie. Like Cheryl Fenton, I too worked hard for my “pompous ass”. What you’ve written has long needed to be said – now it needs to be seen far and wide. (Don’t think I’ll be getting a tattoo any time soon, though – I’ll tweet it instead!)

  37. Now I only wish publishers would hire journalists per your definition. Because obviously, they don’t.

  38. I have issues on points 3. 5. 6. & 8.
    – 3. Journos are not newsfeed and consequently interpret news.. subjectively
    – 5. An IDEALISED journo is obsessed with truth. But WHAT truth? (see 3. subjectivity)
    – 6. Journos serve themselves, like any other human being, myself included, THEN their media corp, under pressure to comply to their business goals, THEN the people, this being a subjective concept anyway: what “people”?!
    – 8. In the ‘better’ media, certainly. I am an avid reader of ‘the Economist’, precisely for their form. But the tabloids and other such media are definitely NOT exemplary.

    • Chicken & Egg

      Who trained the first journalists? Why is the process of blogging not the same as being trained as a journalist? Did some earlier generation remove the secrets of becoming a journalist from society and hide them away in news rooms or universities, forever out of reach of the unwashed mass of bloggers? I don’t pretend to be either a journalist or a blogger, but argument #1 seems to fall instantly.

      • well then, why dont i just go cut up some animals in my back yard and then call myself a surgeon? whose in line for a real cheap appendectomy?
        or maybe cooking food in a microwave makes me a chef? wanna come over for a 5-course dinner tonite?
        and all those self-help books i’ve read? well i’m a great therapist now…so you can tell me yer problems over that delicious dinner i’m gonna nuke for ya.
        i’m pretty darn good at french kissing so i betcha i can speak french if i try real hard.
        oooh oooh…i’ve always wanted to be an artist! so now i can call myself one cause i’m a pro at painting…painting my finger nails that is.

      • If a surgeon could prove himself without risking the life of people that would be fine. But since that is not the case we demand a special education before we trust him.
        Someone using the microwave only might not be a chef (although that depends on the definition) but someone training at making food every day for some years might well turn out to be a good chef in the end even without any formal training. Taste his food, then you will know.
        Nearly everyone is a therapist now and then in his social environment. And some turn out to be great in the end.
        And there are many artists without any formal education.

  39. Just one to add really, but in my opinion the most important:

    Journalists are accountable. If a blogger gets something wrong, it doesn’t matter. If a journalist does, this is a problem.

    • I don’t believe that’s true. A blogger is accountable to his or her audience, just like a journalist, and is also legally accountable for whatever is being published.

      • Paul, I agree with you. Lots of journalists screw up – and maybe the medium prints a retraction as something on the last page. I can’t recall a TV news program ever retracting a statement… so they must be perfect eh? Like we’ve seen with the media in general, if they prove to be untrustworthy people will not pay attention to them.

      • @Jon K.- Well that hits on a very good point that could be another thread/post all its own: In the modern media, your track record is your credibility. No longer do Emmys and Pulitzers suffice as hallmarks of excellence in the eyes of the public. If you produce good journalism and earn the trust of your readers, your reputation will be as a trustworthy and reliable news source. The days of touting a few awards an just being trusted, however, are long gone—and that’s for the best, I think.

  40. What a passionate piece! I like it although I think some standards you attributed to “real” journalists” are changing. To start with I suggest you read “The idea of objectivity in the age of New Media” It’s a great article!

  41. Your piece is well written and as a blogger, I agree with your points. I am well aware of the differences between a journalist and a blogger. Honestly, I find it laughable when bloggers call themselves journalist. While I found your post thought provoking, I did see your last paragraph or “editor’s note” to be condescending and unnecessary.

  42. Excellent article, you clearly define a journalist and journalism. I believe blogging has it’s place, it’s fun to do, and I’m sure some people would explode if they didn’t have a forum to vent to, but I agree that bloggers aren’t journalists. Following your requirements for journalists…how would you classify the people from Fox News?

    “Citizen engineers” or “citizen doctors” is as odd as calling bloggers “citizen journalists”.

    I do believe that real journalists can start utilizing social networking (including blogs) in their day-to-day activities. Anyone with a cell phone can twitter about an event instantly. The profession has changed substantially over the past few decades and I’m interested to see how it will continue to change.

  43. Being a Journalist myself (a german one – to excuse myself in Advance for grammatical mistakes), I cant’ tell you how satisfied I felt reading your post.

    Sadly enough, one has to admit that there ist a lot of Journalists – an I don’t think that our countries differ in that respect – who do not fulfill your “signs”. Often due to shrinking budgets and the fact, that it’s more and more Controllers and CEOs who decide how to run newspapers or magazines instead of trained Journalists.

    I’m very sad of the attitude of many Bloggers – though some of them have brought a lot of well neede fresh impact in the Media – to see Journalists as their natural enemies.

    Critizising bad journalistic work without beeing forced to do that work themselves, a lot of Bloggers do what they often accuse Journalists of: Just throw a short look at things they do not really know the background of and then cynically critize it.

    Thank you

  44. This is way stupid.

    Journalism is fluid and always evolving. To lay out a bunch of points like this assumes that the discipline does not change. We need to look at it differently. Look at journalism rather as a set of ideas and principles in flux, now requiring new multimedia/multidisciplinary skill sets to tell stories, and calling for even more skills in the future that we can’t even anticipate.

    Those who manage to keep up with the evolving definition – be they bloggers or the old guard – those people are journalists.

  45. So J loves truth and he reports all sides. Now let’s see how this works in the case of the debate about evolution. No problem here, we only need a source outside the news room. The preacher is outside the newsroom as well as the biologist. Done. We reported truth with sources.

    Maybe not the truth about whether evolution is actually a fact, but the truth that there is a debate going on. Fair enough, ’cause that’s what the public today really needs: to be informed about the existence of the noisy boozo. Otherwise said boozo would have to crank up a website or sorta thingy, in order to make his opinion known.

    Who needs J to follow through with the thing and see, what the parties arguments are actually worth? This might even endanger neutrality! And who would pay for this? Everybody loves to wade through nonsensical stuff all the time, that’s why I forward my spam-inbox to all I care for.

    Personally I get my opions from webcomics.

  46. I understand that this is an essay and not a news article, but then doesn’t that make you a hypocrite? because wouldn’t this be categorized as a blog post? and you don’t seem to like bloggers, right? if you had gotten quotes from bloggers and journalists to present all sides then you would be an objective journalist… this just seems like an opinion piece that is devaluing your point even though I do think it’s a good one.

  47. sorry.. i didnt really look at this site until after i submitted my last post, so i do see that you claim yourself as a blogger.. so why are you bashing bloggers if you are one?

    • Brice, I don’t mean to jump on you, but I think you and a few other people in this thread are completely mis-reading the point of Jolie’s post. She’s not saying “journalists over here, bloggers over here” and trying to make some distinction between the two terms (which is also very clear if you’re familiar with her work). She’s saying that “journalist” is a label that applies to anyone who adheres—ideally and generally—to the ethics and guidelines she’s described.

      She is essentially challenging your notion of the terms: How we’ve traditionally defined journalists is no longer useful in a landscape where anyone can publish. There are “journalists”—people in the industry—who don’t practice journalism at all, but there are also journalists who do it very well. Similarly, there are “bloggers”—people who publish exclusively on the internet—who don’t practice journalism at all while others do and also do it very well.

      I believe the new definitions she’s going for are (at their most basic): Journalism is a practice, not a profession; blogging is a platform, not a rigid writing style.

  48. The larger problem is that regardless of how well-trained an individual may be in journalism, et al., the pressure of modern media is not to report the news, but to make the news as a form of entertainment. Even in mainstream media, journalists are too quick to report a rumor as a fact and do little or no fact-checking to ensure that what they report is the truth. It’s all about the ratings, e.g., the number of eyeballs so that advertising revenues can be maximized. This isn’t a case of journalists not wanting to pursue the truth and to communicate it effectively, it’s the driven by the demands of the business which typically has little or no interest in anything that doesn’t generate revenue. Far more insidious are the media houses that seek to shape public opinion to fulfill some agenda, a practice that is also far too common.

    Bloggers are often even worse about checking their facts before posting an opinion, although I suppose they can be excused because they aren’t trained journalists. For them it’s often the “fifteen minutes of fame” that comes from making outrageous statements without any responsibility for the sole purpose of generating readership.

    I know many journalists who are trying to do the right thing, and I have tremendous respect for them and the uphill battles they have to fight. That’s why, for the most part, I limit my news intake to the Christian Science Monitor. The CSM has consistently delivered unbiased reporting of the news and makes no attempt to “wag the dog” like so many other news sources.

  49. 11. A journalist has at most a passing familiarity with the subject he is writing on. When we leave the topics a 10 year old could understand, the outcome is random, like a game of chinese whispers. That does not stop them from writing about it, of course. “Newly discovered star is brighter than the sun” (duh, most stars are brighter; the sun is rather mediocre in this regard). “Diamonds in space” (no, not really). “Magical substance ‘d-orbital'” (you have no idea).

    12. More than half of the news is spin (

  50. I agree with most of the points here, EXCEPT the horrific insistence on separating “journalists” from “bloggers.” What’s the point? Simply to inflame/get pageviews? Good “journalists” and “bloggers” should do all these things. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is possibly number 2. But I’d dispute that 2 is true for all “journalists.” Is it essential to a “journalist” to always submit to the will of an editor? Maybe sometimes it’s better to fight, on principle, for what’s right.

    As someone who’s been a blogger, editor, and columnist, but never a reporter, I’d submit that all of these people are journalists, some good, and some bad. There’s absolutely no point in making a distinction between “bloggers” and “journalists.” Bloggers are journalists, and some are very good at what they do. Perhaps because the cost of entry to blogging is lower than entering mainstream media reporting, people might arbitrarily come up with a set of rules that seem to apply to most bloggers, but that doesn’t make those crude generalizations true.

    Dave Munger

  51. Very interesting story. I created a website (not a blog) about a sport and now I work for a professional publication on web. I never studied journalism so I’m a bit relectant to call myself as a “journalist” but I read a lot to learn the technical aspect.

    Dispute this first point I agree in everything you wrote. Especially point 5 and 10. The journalist has a king of “mission”, finding the Truth, and he has to feel it necessary.

    PS: I’m French so I’m sorry if my English is not perfect…

  52. Interesting read. You certainly opened a can of worms by posting this Jolie…waaaaay too much anger in the comments here. Chill out guys it’s going to be ok :). I think, as others have mentioned, that Jolie’s list is (at least in part) an ideal that journalists strive for. Even if we disagree on that, I think we can all accept that bloggers and journalists are different. How they are different seems to be open to interpretation.

  53. Your post would have been something more than feel-good self-back-pattery if you had given us some of the W’s: who, when, where, why. Who are some j and non-j practitioners, with examples and callouts.

  54. You filled a number of inches, but didn’t explain why we should care about journalists. Are they a historical curiosity?

  55. We need to get rid of the word “blogger” – or recover its original meaning. A blog is simply a form of writing – a log (weblog, of course) which is updated throughout the day or week. Journalists write blogs. Seen the New York Times website recently? The smart distinction is between blogs, features, news stories, columns, and so on. Bloggers v. journalists makes as much sense as columnists v. journalists.

  56. This is the best article about journalism vs blogging I have read. I’m gonna use it as reference material the next time an idiot says journalism is dead.

  57. so what about you Jolie, are you a blogger or a journalist?
    i know a hell lot of bloggers who are matching your “standards” and i know a hell lot of journalists who don’t.

    anyways, i like this comment and yesn you are right. what i just don’t like is thinking in categories.
    i don’t care about being a blogger or a journalist. i am producing content for a niche-market and i am just not interested in all these discussions of bloggers vs journalists. get your content out to the masses and let them decide!

  58. Just incredibly written. Resonated entirely. I was called a journalist when I was editor at, and always rejected the appellation – because I knew I wasn’t, even though I tried to apply these tenets as much as I was able to.

    Absolutely a joy to read this.

  59. So. “Journalistt”; no “good Journalist”; no “good Journalists aspire to“; no “good hard news Journalists aspire to”; …

    It might be simpler and more useful to focus on the characteristics instead – their nature and benefit, recognition and development. Several of them are appreciated in other fields too. And then, if combinations are important, address those.

    Rather than framing it as a hopeless classification argument of “he’s an X”, “oh, no he’s not”, “he tells the IRS he his”, “well, he’s not a *good* one”, … .

  60. Given that numbers 5, 6 and 7 are; A journalist is obsessed with the Truth; A journalist serves the people; A journalist is a skeptic, what name do we use to describe people who write for the Daily Mail??

  61. How to Tell a Journalist from a Blogger?

    The one knows how to write, does some amount of background-checking, and has a passion for what he does—the other is a journalist.

    (To paraphrase a joke used about many groups over the years.)

    Do not get me wrong: I have no illusions about the quality of the average blog, but I have read many blogs of far greater quality than a typical newspaper article—and, frankly, the average quality of the latter is depressingly low. I have to make some reservations for the possibility that the situation is different in different countries, but the journalism in English speaking countries has never impressed me, in Germany (where I live) it is dubious, and in Sweden (my native country) it is typically awful.

    Among the many axes I have to grind: Poor language skills and “feel” for language, poor background checks, uncritical reading and writing, political (or otherwise partial) agendas, lack of depth of analysis, near verbatim copies of articles from e.g. Reuters, … Should I, as a blogger, fail in these regards—well, I have neither a degree in journalism, nor am I paid to write. That those who do/are still fail, that it truly depressing.

    I even remember an article in the FAZ on astronomy, which repeatedly spoke of the age of the universe—in light-years! Note here that FAZ is usually considered one of Germany’s leading newspapers both in terms of the number of readers and the overall quality. (And it is one of the few papers that I find tolerable.)

    In Swedish papers, I occasionally do find well-written articles—which almost always turns out to be written by non-journalists. (Typically, a book author who makes a “guest appearance” or a scientist who dabbles in writing. In a twist, books written by journalists who dabble in science tend to be catastrophic…)

    Indeed, many of the items listed in the original post simply do not apply to most journalists. Some are laughably wrong (at least where Swedish papers are concerned).

  62. Just when I was getting skeptical that no one still believed what my former news editor at the Staten Island Register taught me so well years ago that I still adhere to, I read this piece you wrote. It is like a breath of fresh air. Thank you for writing it.

  63. There are many “bloggers” that I would trust to be more honest than “journalists” … consider the Journolist farce that has been uncovered.

    To me, you can have the title of “journalist” but in reality actually just be a hack. And a biased one at that.

    Reporter…same deal.

    I find that I will trust certain, hmmm….. “writers” over others, not because of their title(s) but because of how they present information and when appropriate, acknowledge their own bias.

    It just turns out that it is a scarce breed of writer.

  64. Broiling a burger doesn’t make you a chef…
    Giving somebody an aspirin doesn’t make you a doctor…
    Writing a blog doesn’t make you a journalist!

  65. Nice attempt, but defining “journalism” is like nailing jelly to a tree. And blogging is jam. Or vice versa. Alternate title: “10 ways to tell that someone might be attempting ‘journalism'”? Since you mentioned passion, here’s something for your amusement, especially the century-old flashback on journalism education in the first half-dozen paragraphs: The Reporter Who Made Himself King

  66. Most of the points you make in this post would be equally valid if you inserted “a crappy journalist” in place of “a blogger”. And many of the comments you make about journalists would be equally valid when describing “an effective blogger”.

    With so many journalists being interviewed by news anchors and show hosts about events they’re covering, the use of “I” has become much more common, and the expression of opinions by journalists shows up regularly on TV and radio.

    I don’t dispute a lot of what you’ve written, but to lump all bloggers into one category is as silly as lumping all journalists into one category.

  67. Love this post!

    I was a communications major and have enough journalism credits under my belt to wince at how often #’s 3-8 seem to be ignored in otherwise “professional”/”reliable” media (they rarely seem to apply to television news media these days). It’s one thing to have perfected one’s craft well enough to intentionally break a rule or two once in a while (or as a consistent part of one’s cultivated, personal style); it’s quite another to be completely ignorant of – or blatantly ignore – the rules altogether.

    I personally don’t have the discipline to ensure I’m following your criteria for my blog. My punctuation is offensive, I’m far from succinct, I don’t want to be objective, and citing references becomes a painfully slow process for me. My solution: do the best I can to include the facts that I can, be honest if something’s not verified, and stay true to my values/ethics.

    In other words, I make no claims of being a journalist. I’m a blogger with an informal style who voices her opinion. It’s a conscious choice. Otherwise it wouldn’t be fun for me.

  68. It’s painfully obvious from this deconstruction that Fox News does not contain journalists.

    My bitch is about “objectivity”. No one practices it. Maybe it’s my problem but I have a hair up my ass about the way hard sciences get the “objectivity” treatment. Evolution is the big one, but to a lesser extent there is homeopathy, wifi allergies, acupuncture… a sordid list of hokum and contrariness that has become institutionalized.

    I’ll use stories about Darwin, evolution and Creationists as an example. It can be argued, I imagine, that objectivity requires that Creationists get their opinions in print just as often as actual scientists. But this form of objectivity is nonsense: there is no “side” to scientific theories unless that “side” is other, also scientific (meaning evidenced) theories. Creationism and it’s pious brethren “Intelligent Design” are not scientific theories, have no evidence to support them and make no predictions. They are moribund religious myths with no usefulness except as topics for social anthropologists. They have not earned and do not deserve to be equated with factual, supported-by-evidence scientific theories.

    Yet the (corrupted?) requirements of “objectivity” have Creationists quoted as if their opinions matter, and the centuries of research into mankind’s origins done by actual scientists is reduced to reductio ad absurdum soundbites.

    Objective analysis of the actual science would require that Creationists and Creationism never be mentioned concurrently with evolution ever again. The fact that many religiously inclined people have issues with modern scientific thought may be a story unto itself, but not in the context of these people actually being a challenge to the science of human origins.

    A thorough persual of the web will show their are many bloggers who are far more knowledgeable about many topics than standard journalists will ever be, if only because journalists aren’t specialists in any field but journalism. And perhaps it’s the editorial process that has reduced complex yet nevertheless settled topics (that evolution has occurred and it’s mechanism is descent with modification as an example) into equal “sides” that require equal time. It just seems that many times “objectivity” is abused in the interest of presenting conflict as a means of making the story interesting, or a faux objectivity that demands all topics must have two sides, even when they don’t. It’s no more necessary to consider Creationists viewpoints when discussing evolution than it is to quote the Flat earth Society in an article about GPS satellite replacement.

  69. A nice piece, and point taken. However, I did bristle a little at the underlying arrogant tone I detected in this (shall we say it?) blog entry. Namely, the quote below:

    “…a writer per se is not a journalist. Not any more than a keyboardist is a concert pianist or a mechanic is a nuclear submarine technician. A journalist belongs to a specialized, technical subset of the writing professions that requires specific training.”

    This implies that journalism is the epitome toward which all other writers strive, which absolutely isn’t true. While it is completely true that journalism requires a very significant amount of training and specialization, it is NOT the *only* writing career for which this is true. A journalist is certainly not a novelist (although there may be overlap, these skills are not one and the same). And a journalist is also not a copywriter. How frustrating it is when journalists continually apply for positions in my copywriting department assuming that, as a journalist, they must have a skills to perform any writing job. This is like a long-distance runner assuming he will win the 100-meter dash—he just isn’t trained for that kind of running. There are other specialized writing jobs that also take (different) specialized degrees, years of experience, and a lot of red ink from older and wiser writers/editors to master. (And like journalism, I think in the end the training and especially the instinct—which unfortunately can’t be trained—are more important than the specialized degree.)

  70. Great article! Can’t argue with it. Bloggers and journalists are like apples and oranges though. I think a good blogger can earn from blogging just like a journalist can earn from journalism. In blogging, your writing style can’t be the same as if you were writing for the local paper. There are SEO techniques and other factors involved. On the other hand, there are also bloggers who can be on the side of the “people” and can give great facts, stories and even news, without having to go through an entire chain of superiors to get an article out. So we have the ability to get the news faster and without any corporate influence. I mean let’s face it, many big corporations who claim to be “Fair and Balanced” (i.e. Fox News) are really brown nosing scums who want the world to see things their way. Ok, I do apologize if I offended journalists out there by putting Fox News in the same category as journalists…..


  71. Jolie – I fuckin’ love you!
    Seriously, as a local journalist, you’ve made my day. I do have contacts with a few bloggers, and there’s one or two of them I truly admire. But there are some I’ve landed upon, (and written on their sites) who’ve sent me mental with the way they claim to be better than journalists and then make fundamental mistakes or casually, purposely spread tat and rumour).

    Well written, well thought out and very much on the money.
    Cheers luv.

Comments are closed.