Yesterday, I happened upon a blog post by Dave Winer that irked me a little (something he's managed to do in the past). He writes:
“It is possible for a professional reporter to blog, even when they're doing their job as a reporter. But it is not a professional act.”
“Why are bloggers important to reporters? Bloggers are your sources. They are the people who previous generations of reporters had to reach by telephone.”
His worldview seems to be divided thusly: there are bloggers, and there are reporters. Reporters are a step above bloggers—or, they are at least held to a higher standard. Their work must be objective, well-researched, and probably edited by a third party before publication. Bloggers are free to do whatever they want, accountable to no one but themselves. They share their knowledge and expertise for free.
I don't want to put words in his mouth because I don't follow his work that closely and I don't know him personally, but my gut tells me I'm on the right track. Assuming that I've correctly understood his gist, I have a few thoughts on the matter.
There is more gray area to this topic than Dave is allowing here. While he grants that journalists can often be bloggers, it is not a two-way street in his mind—not because of differences in expertise level, but because bloggers do what they do for free.
But that's not always the case is it? The web is laden with bloggers who get paid, some quite handsomely, to do nothing but write blog posts. The quality of work between these people—and even between a given writer's posts, sometimes—can vary wildly, but the fact remains that they make a living doing what they do. To me, that is the very definition of professional.
You might as well say that podcasters aren't professional the way radio hosts are, but that wouldn't be true either.
Positioning bloggers as mere sources to be mined by reporters seems like a huge marginalization to me. Or a generalization, if nothing else.
Not all bloggers treat their writing as some kind of public journal or as a venue to rant about whatever political nonsense is happening that week. That kind of thing certainly exists, but there are also plenty of bloggers who go the extra mile to report facts just as well (if not better) than a reporter might. And I would argue that there are also plenty of paid reporters who have produced unprofessional work. It's very difficult to be objective 100% of the time.
I don't think "blogger != reporter" is a very useful distinction to make anymore. In a world where anybody with a smartphone and internet access can break a story hours before a reporter even knows anything is happening, it seems inevitable that the role of reporter will be gradually downsized in favor of crowdsourced information.
Sure, there will likely always be a need for sharp editorial voices to stand out above the crowd and help us make sense of it all. Great writing is great writing, no matter the source. But if some brave soul decides to live-tweet a violent riot happening nearby, does that make her less of a reporter than someone gathering facts in safety from thousands of miles away? I don't necessarily think so.
Here's another way to think about it: if somebody goes all-in on a journalistic story, investigating the hell out of it, doing interviews, the whole nine yards...but the next day decides to post about cat GIFs, what do you call them? A reporter one day but a blogger the next? Why draw that line in the first place?
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the line between "blogger" and "reporter" is growing fuzzier all the time. It's not a one-versus-the-other scenario that I see playing out in the future, but more of a merging of the two sides.
To think otherwise is to be stuck in the 20th century.