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Strategic Communications + Digital Media

What makes a journalist?

Posted By on April 1, 2010 in social media |

PR Week & PR Newswire released their annual Media Survey with surprising results about how news is researched, written and pitched.

The most interesting fact revealed that 52% of bloggers consider themselves journalists, compared to only one in three last year.

That statistic probably drove many reporters to bang their heads on their desks today.

With growing alternatives to traditional media and slashed newsroom budgets, blogs are filling a critical niche in investigative reporting. Bloggers have the ability to delve into a single subject and research it. Motivated bloggers can become experts in a subject area and build a solid reputation for monitoring it. Look at Stimulus Watch or My Two Census. Both are blogs (technically a wiki and a blog) and monitoring expensive government programs.

New media forces us to redefine what a journalist is. Ten years ago, you had to work for an official media outlet in radio, print or TV. You typically went to J-school and worked your way up from hungry reporter to making-slightly-more-than-poverty-level reporter. Now, anyone can go to Blogger.com and do the same thing. Many times that random person is better.

I can hear newsroom folks uttering, ‘but-but what about credibility and objectivity?” Well, the media has had many issues with credibility over the years (Memogate, Jayson Blair, any reporting on the Obama Administration), and the concept of objectivity was tossed out a long time ago.

Since this is a First Amendment issue, no one can define what a journalist is. I laugh because the public relations world has always dealt with this. Within the Public Relations Society of America, there’s a sizable movement to require a licensing program to work in public relations, which would be similar to a CPA for accountants.* However, you can’t ban the average citizen from writing a press release or calling a TV station, so technically anyone can do “public relations.” Professional journalists, welcome to our world!

With bloggers picking up the slack of investigative and beat reporting, and more and more news stories originating with blog posts, how will this ultimately change the journalism world?

Bloggers and journalists currently maintain a tempestuous symbiotic relationship. Journalists need bloggers for the muckraking, and bloggers need journalists to drive traffic. We also spend a considerable amount of time serving as the watchdogs of the media watchdogs. I would love to see a study analyzing what percentage of professionally reported stories originated as a blog post.

Where will this lead in the future? As the PR Week/PR Newswire survey shows, only 20% of bloggers derive most of their income from writing. The vast majority of bloggers do it as a hobby or voluntary work.

I remember debating in journalism and PR classes in college and graduate school¬† that the the blogosphere would develop a self-policing system if left alone by the goverment. Generally, I was correct. Bloggers know their success depends on their reputations. The best blogs rise to the top, and the inaccurate ones aren’t taken seriously (at least on the right). A professional level of bloggers has developed. The business model is yet to be perfected, but some people are making a living at this.

Hybrids models are also developing. Most media outlets have blogs now with official reporters. The survey reported:

Continuing a trend from the 2008 and 2009 surveys, over 70% of respondents in this year’s survey indicate a heavier workload as compared to last year, with the majority (58%) stating that the number of stories for which they are responsible has increased over the past two years. As in 2009, the primary cause of the increased workload is the need to contribute to online reporting. Of those surveyed, 62% are required to write for online news sections, with 39% contributing to their publication’s blog. 37% of US journalists also now must maintain a Twitter feed.

Existing media companies are also buying up blogs or hiring bloggers. Salem Communications recently purchased Hot Air, and CNN just hired Erick Erickson. Outlets like Huffington Post created their own model. Within the political spectrum, the left has been much more eager to invest in the infrastructure of building the blogosphere.  Bloggers on the right have yet to find a George Soros-like figure.

*Currently, there’s a voluntary accreditation process, but since no one knows what an APR is outside of the PRSA world, it’s not worth the time or money. I could also write a similar blog post about the convergence of digital media and public relations. Where does one end and the other begin?

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