Bloggers vs Journalists: With Pro Blogger, Darren Rowse

by | May 1, 2008

Should bloggers be treated as journalists? Do they even want to be? Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net shares his thoughts in the first of a two-part interview.

Should companies and PR professionals treat bloggers as journalists? Are bloggers entitled to the same perks as journalists, and can they handle the same responsibilities? For that matter, are bloggers a threat to more traditional journalists?

I wanted dive into these issues. So I discussed that, and more, with popular pro blogger, Darren Rowse.

Aside from his reputation as the six figure blogger behind ProBlogger andDigital Photography School, Darren co-authored the book ProBlogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income with Chris Garrett. Much like his advice on ProBlogger.net, the book promises to be nothing of a get-rich-quick guide for bloggers, but instead “a practical guide to creating and marketing a blog.”

Visit the book link above to order your copy, or sign up for the newsletter to preview a free chapter. In all honesty (since we all know I don’t say nice things just to kiss ass around here), I’ve followed both of the authors’ blogs in the past, and the ProBlogger book is one of few books on my must-read list at the moment. (Update: While this was originally written in 2008, this is still a great book for beginner bloggers to have in their arsenals.)

Now, well-deserved plug aside, let’s get down to business:

Should (or Can) Bloggers be Treated as Journalists?

This is a subject I’m a bit torn on. Obviously, being that journalists can choose to get into blogging, bloggers can be journalists without a doubt. It’s the “should” part of the question that I’m less sure about (being a blogger who has covered news issues for some blogs in the past, while at the same time taking the PR perspective).

I look at it this way: For me, as a PR professional, to treat a blogger along the lines of a more traditional journalist, they have to earn that “right” individually. I don’t automatically consider them worth pitches, access to materials, etc. They have to first demonstrate through their blogging that they’re not only able to reach their target audience, but be able to do that in a responsible manner when they’re reporting news and industry issues. I think a lot of bloggers fall short, especially with the latter.

Darren is one of the most popular bloggers out there, yet he doesn’t consider himself a journalist. Instead he sees a distinction, saying “in my mind at least a journalist has some level of training in the reporting of news and current events.” However, he does see a growing overlap between blogging and journalism, saying that they sometimes share aims in their work and that “in effect [bloggers and journalists are] often competing for the same readers.”

That’s a point I have to agree with, and why I don’t shy away completely from building relationships with bloggers (in a PR capacity — note, I am now a full-time writer and professional blogger myself, only occasionally working as a PR consultant for some of my older clients).

[I]n my mind at least a journalist has some level of training in the reporting of news and current events. – Darren Rowse

They often have a different kind of connection with their readers, and can reach a similar audience in a different way than more traditional journalists can.

I really think you have to make individual judgment calls when deciding how to interact with bloggers, how far you’ll go to get coverage on blogs versus other outlets, etc. How do you feel about it?

Do Bloggers Really Want to be Treated as Journalists?

Here’s where Darren and I disagree a little bit. He doesn’t want the title of “journalist,” and thinks that “many [bloggers] would probably see the title as more of a hindrance, or as old-fashioned.” What I’ve witnessed over the last few years is quite different.

Darren noted that “a year or two ago, the only thing [he] felt [he] was at a disadvantage of was getting press passes at events or conferences.” He went on to explain that he no longer has that problem. I’d imagine not in his case. As I mentioned, he’s one of the more well-known bloggers, whose blog can lead to quite a bit of exposure. Would you refuse press passes or materials that could have you mentioned at ProBlogger? If your business would benefit from reaching his particular audience, I highly doubt that.

I think “smaller” bloggers still see things quite a bit differently. Perhaps they’re not looking for the title, but I do think many want the “perks.” Here’s why:

  1. I was previously the Technology Editor for a large content network (you can read a little bit about this here). As such, I had to recruit writers (who also handled blogging). Being treated as a member of the media was a huge selling point in attracting qualified writers, and frankly, it worked. (On top of that, they were never short of excited when they did receive press passes, advanced news, etc.)
  2. I published a post about this issue previously, after I came across criticism of PRweb’s editorial policies, saying they should be more casual and relaxed just because it’s what bloggers want – I’d say that shows a certain sense of entitlement on the blogger side. Again, maybe not a longing for the title of journalist, but definitely a longing to be treated similarly (if not better based on their standards of what a news release should be for their needs).
  3. I’m a moderator on a popular webmaster forum, frequented by many bloggers. (Update: I quit serving as a moderator there in 2010.) So I posed this question there yesterday. Of the discussion so far, I’m definitely getting the vibe that bloggers want the perks of journalists – from one blogger saying they could have “provided better coverage of [a certain] global event than was being done by most news organizations,” to another blogger being a bit more blunt, saying “Of course [bloggers] should be entitled to all those things….” (“All those things” being news access, event passes, review copies, etc.) Others fell more in line with what I’ve already said – that bloggers can essentially be treated as journalists if they adhere to the same standards.

So I do think a lot of bloggers would happily take the perks of being a journalist. So then the question becomes “would most actually be willing to take on the responsibilities that go along with that?” That I really doubt. But what do you think, either from the perspective of a PR professional, journalist, or blogger yourself?

Are Bloggers a Threat to Traditional Journalists?

Personally, I’d be more worried about journalists having the potential to wipe out smaller bloggers. It’s tough enough to break into blogging if you haven’t already built at least a little bit of a name for yourself.

Sometimes your blog is what makes you known, but I think if we suddenly had a huge surge of professional journalists jumping into blogging, it would be that much more difficult for new bloggers to build an audience — at least those trying to compete over the same subject matter.

 

Then again, there’s something to be said for being independent and not tied to a corporate media source.

[W]hat we’re seeing is a more fuzzy division between the two with more and more journalists also blogging both personally and professionally, and with bloggers crossing over into journalism also. – Darren Rowse

Darren doesn’t see either blogging or journalism as a threat to the other. According to him, “what we’re seeing is a more fuzzy division between the two with more and more journalists also blogging both personally and professionally, and with bloggers crossing over into journalism also.”

He mentions that “we’re also seeing more and more mainstream media outlets attempting to embrace different forms of ‘new media’ including blogging.” He acknowledges that mainstream media overall may still be in a learning phase as far as figuring out how to effectively incorporate blogs into their networks, but that “we’ll see more and more blurring of the line between the two” as more journalists cross into blogging territory.

Darren doesn’t want to see either group feel threatened by the other, and instead points out that they may be able to not only coexist, but actually help each other – “Those trained in journalism could offer a lot to those of us who come from the blogging side of things. My hope is that the more these two world [sic] ‘collide’ the more we’ll all learn and develop in our mediums.”

I think that’s a great way to look at things in theory. I wonder how true it will prove to be in practice though as we do see these worlds “collide” to a greater extent.

[W]e’re also seeing more and more mainstream media outlets attempting to embrace different forms of ‘new media’ including blogging. – Darren Rowse

Are bloggers going to start embracing more journalistic practices (more detailed research and fact-checking for example)? Will journalists getting into blogging feel forced to be more lax in these areas when competing with bloggers who can (and do) post news almost immediately in a constant race to break a story (not something unfamiliar to journalists – just perhaps in a faster-paced environment)? (Update: As of 2014, I’m happy to say I’ve seen more of the former, with bloggers embracing longer features, more in-depth research, and improved interview skills.)

How do you see bloggers influencing journalists and journalists influencing bloggers in the future? Do you think the two groups will learn to welcome each other with open arms, or do you think there’s plenty of bickering yet to come? Where do you see that line right now, and how much do you see it blurring, as Darren predicts, within the next few years?

Share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below. And check back on Wednesday for the follow-up post where Darren Rowse and I share some tips on targeting and pitching bloggers with your story ideas.

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