No, bloggers aren't journalists

Last week, Jeff Atwood posted an anecdote demonstrating yet again that bloggers aren't real journalists. I know this meme has been floating around for some years, but I'm still surprised when people bring it up. In fact, I'm still surprised that it ever got any traction at all.

I'm going to let you in on a little "open secret" here: blogging in 2007 is no different than having a Geocities site in 1996. "Blogging" is really just a fancy word for having a news page on your website.

Oh, sure, we have fancy services and self-hosted blog servers (like this one); there's Pingback, TrackBack, and anti-comment spam services; everybody has RSS or Atom feeds, and support for them now built into browsers. But all that is just gravy. All you really need to have a blog is web hosting, an FTP client, and Windows Notepad.

That's the reason why bloggers in general are not, and never will be, journalists. A "blog" is just a website and, by extension, a "blogger" is just some guy with a web site. There's nothing special about it. A blogger doesn't need to study investigative techniques, learn a code of ethics, or practice dispassionate analysis of the facts. He just needs an internet connection.

That's not to say that a blogger can't practice journalism or that a journalist can't blog. Of course they can. It's just that there's no necessary relationship. A blogger might be doing legitimate journalism. But he could just as easily be engaging in speculation or rumor mongering. There's just no way to say which other than on a case-by-case basis.

Like everything else, blogging, social media, and all the other Web 2.0 hype is subject to Sturgeon's law. The more blogs there are out there total, the more low-quality blogs there are. And the lower the barrier to entry, the higher the lower the average quality is. And since blogs have gotten insanely easy to start, it should come as no surprise that every clueless Tom, Dick, and Harry has started one.

I think George Carlin put it best:

Just think of how stupid the average person is. Then realize that half of them are stupider than that!

Any average person can be a blogger. Thus the quality of those blogs will follow a standard distribution. For every Raymond Chen, Jeff Atwood, and Roger Johansson, there are a thousand angst-ridden teenagers sharing bad poetry and talking about not conforming in exactly the same way. They're definitely bloggers, but if we're going to compare them to journalists, then I think society is pretty much done for a blog.

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