The difference between blogging and true journalism

If you want the difference between true, honest-to-goodness journalism and blogging, this Slashdot story is a good place to start.

The key is the word “reporting.”

Back when I was a journalist, I would talk with my editor every morning. We’d talk about what each of us knew was going on, and if neither of us had much of anything that sounded like printable story material, he’d reach over to the pile of press releases, glance over them, and if there was anything remarkable about one of them, he’d hand it to me with the words, “Do some reporting and let me know if there’s anything to this.”

Reporting didn’t mean massaging the press release into something printable. That’s something we did near the end of the day when we ran short of space. And if that happened very often, the managing editor wasn’t going to be happy. Reporting might include calling the phone numbers on the press release, but more often, it meant whipping out our notebooks, looking through our sources to see if there’s anyone we knew who could speak freely and intelligently about the subject of this press release, and then making some phone calls or even some in-person visits. And if I found something interesting in all of that, I’d pitch a story.

Reporting takes some time, because the people who want to be quoted usually aren’t the people who need to be quoted. Coaxing those people into talking can take some time. For one thing, they have jobs, and talking to press usually isn’t real high on their list of things they need to do.

When a reporter does a good job of reporting, at the end of the story, you really shouldn’t feel like somebody was just trying to sell you something. There’s a lot of that these days.

Bloggers usually don’t report. They can, but a traditional blog is a collection of quotes and links with some additional commentary thrown in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–it’s what I did yesterday: Here’s a news story about something the FBI’s doing. Here’s my perspective, based on my experience as a security professional and a DNS administrator. If I made my living as a diesel mechanic or a disc jockey, my perspective on that wouldn’t be as important. But hopefully my professional experience added a little value to it.

There’s room for both, and hopefully there’s value in both. If your goal is to be enlightened, rather than manipulated, knowing and being able to recognize the difference is helpful.

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