Journalists vs. bloggers – defining the undefinable

The NSA records issue has brought forth some interesting characterizations — and they have nothing to do with the government’s behavior.

Jay Rosen points out that the New York Times referred to Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story, as “a blogger,” rather than as a columnist. Rosen’s hypothesis: The Times is perpetuating the “Bloggers are not equal to Established Journalists from Established Outlets” theory. In this case, it would appear not to be true.

And maybe, just maybe, we should be rethinking what a journalist is. It’s probably someone who practices journalism. And now we go down the rabbit hole of “What is journalism?” with its “I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it” corollary. For the sake of argument, let’s consider a journalist “Someone who does original research that has news value and then publishes it.” The size of the publication outlet shouldn’t define whether someone is a journalist in this day and age.

So it has to come down to original research — or original reporting.

When I ran a database company that provided address and contact data on folks to the media (based on aggregated public records), I had clients at most of the top-25 circulation newspapers and at least one station in every top-20 TV market. It was easy to determine that, say, KGO-TV in San Francisco or an NPR show was a journalistic outlet under that definition. The gray area came when opinion bloggers applied for access to the database.

There are more fact-finding bloggers out there now, more folks who do original reporting, than there were in 2008. At that time, many of the bloggers (and these are the ones the Times seems to think all bloggers are) regurgitated big-outlet media stories and commented on them.

In one month, I received applications from three of these type of bloggers: one from a publication that tracked the abuses in the Catholic Church, one from a newsletter that tracked Wall Street movements and one from a columnist from the Huffington Post.

Google searches didn’t reveal any kind of original reporting for any of the three. So I sent a kindly worded note asking for a resume and three examples of originally reported work. I never heard back from any of them.

And this happened over and over.

So I have some experience with opinion writers and aggregators trying to call themselves journalists — and some experience in calling BS on it.

Glenn Greenwald, at least in this case, practiced journalism. He did original reporting on a topic with news value (read: relevancy, timeliness, novelty, etc.)