Don’t be fooled – Blogging is not journalism

Written by Lahra Carey

Days gone by, there was a clear separation between advertising and editorial…

During my time as a reporter at the ABC my mentor and News Editor, Ian Henderson (or “Hendo” as he is affectionately know in Victoria), would always remind me that I needed to ask myself who might be manipulating me in approaching me with a particular story.

We always sought to ensure that we reported without fear or favor (which made election coverage a nightmare with all those carefully counted lines – to ensure that both parties’ messages received equal coverage) and in the commercial media world it didn’t make any difference how much a company paid in advertising dollars, it would have no bearing at all on the kind of coverage their story received.

Journalism was (and still is) taught as a craft and a trade – of probing questions and story-telling and imparting important information.

However, today the rules have changed dramatically. Increasingly, our daily doses of news are brought to us by influential bloggers with growing audiences, rather than the objective and trustworthy news hound.

Let’s be clear – news from a trusted media source and news via a popular blog is not the same thing. Blogging is not journalism.

The main difference? Whilst news organisations run businesses which clearly differentiate between advertising and editorial, the same cannot be said for bloggers, tweeters and – occasionally – unscrupulous journalists who blog and tweet.

I’ve known more than one journalist (with a significant twitter following) threaten companies with a negative tweet about their brand if the journalist isn’t given preferential treatment or some kind of perk or benefit.

It’s a new (and ugly) breed of journalistic terrorism, which makes it increasingly hard to tell the good guys from the mercenaries.

So what’s the difference between a journalist and a blogger? Here’s my shortlist:

  1.  Bloggers are out to build a business by accumulating followers on their websites and attracting advertisers – usually by following the advice of other successful bloggers. Journalists are employed by news organisations to objectively gather information and report it.
  2. Bloggers are for sale. Journalists are not. A blogger will (almost certainly) never review a product without a freebie or a fee. Journalists cannot be persuaded to cover a story through bribery.
  3. A blogger doesn’t claim to be fair or need to apologise for a one-sided view. Journalists strive for (and pride themselves on) objective reporting.
  4. Bloggers do not differentiate between paid and unpaid space on their sites. All real-estate is for sale. Journalists cannot be sponsored to change their minds.

Both sources have important roles to play within any well-rounded communications campaign. In the same way that you tailor your content for advertising differently than for editorial, these same principles now apply to targeting bloggers versus targeting journalists.

Failing to treat these media producers and publishers discretely is a basic, but very important, failing.

When companies ignore the differences between journalism and blogging, your message loses authority and your brand loses relevance.