Traditional vs. Citizen Media – It’s Social Darwinism in Action

I’m sure there are many out there who ask or are asked this question, and many have not yet found a consistent answer.

The question is, what’s the difference between a journalist and a blogger? Is a blogger a journalist and is a journalist a blogger?

The answer isn’t so simple because the conversation usually spins down a maze of different avenues. But, let’s keep it straigh-forward, with the intent of answering the question.

Bloggers have earned the title of “citizen journalists” whether we like it or not. The idea, is that content and the ability to publish it is so great now, that by default, content creators have become media – not just consumers, but contributors. Therefore blogs, camera phones, tags, pages on social networks, etc., have become part of the citizen media movement, and it has become an undeniable force. So much so, that savvy marketers are creating specialized campaigns that not only reach traditional media, but citizen media as well.

Once the sole dominance of traditional news media, many bloggers are now privy to valuable information, and combined with the ability to instantly publish information, bloggers are scooping reporters more often than not.

Let’s be fair though. The best journalists are in a completely differently league than most bloggers. They’re trained in the art of journalism, they adhere to values and ethics that bloggers are only starting to realize, and they understand the differences between fact and opinion and the value of sources. While many journalists have successfully crossed over to blogging, most, have been completely blindsided by citizen media for many reasons.

Now everyone is scrambling for survival and those who get it, are already competing for the future. So, to be clear:

A jounalist who blogs is a blogger.

A journalist that blogs and also writes for traditional media, is a journalist and a blogger.

If a journalists writes online without integrated social media elements such as comments, trackbacks, etc., then they are a journalist.

In turn, people who blog are bloggers, but they are not journalists.

However, the most important gem here is that, at some point “traditional” journalists will become extinct. They, and the publications they represent, will evolve. It’s Social Darwinism. Therefore, in some respects, every journalist may very well become a blogger.

Social media is a powerful medium and we can not control it. We can only participate. But nowadays, participation is marketing and opinions carry a lot of weight, whether sourced from journalists or bloggers.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve been really annoyed by journalists repeatedly claiming they have ethics that bloggers don’t. Do they have any idea how hard it is to get a CORRECTION OF FACT if you don’t have a lawyer or a PR person behind you? Journalists have been undermining the ethics of their own field in recent years: they do this when they let corporations buy content placed as “news”, they do this when they splice interview responses with new questions in order to create a more interesting or sensational story, and they do this everytime they decline to write the story of a nobody because they think the public won’t care.

    There are many sorts of bloggers, but the main difference between the credible ones and the ignored ones is recognition from the mainstream media and other high profile bloggers. This is a social gesture – it has nothing to do with accuracy or truth. Two bloggers can write the exact same opinion piece: only the one who gets links and acknowledgement from the bloggers who have “made it” will be viewed as citizen journalists. If the bloggers who have made it decide to condemn you for “bias” or “tinfoil hattery” or any other way of discrediting someone’s opinion – then your blog isn’t seen as journalism. Instead you become one of those “dangerous bloggers” that the mainstream media likes to beat down on.

    Again – the content can be exactly the same. A blog can be professional in every other way: spelling, engaging writing style, clear format. But if the bloggers who have crossed over as citizen journalists want to turn your editorials into mere “biased opinions” (no matter what wealth of documentary evidence you post – in fact you can get in trouble for poor judgment in trying to post the evidence) – then you aren’t a citizen journalist.

    As you can tell, I currently don’t think much of citizen journalists. It’s not because I think they have less credibility than mainstream media. It’s because they are real jerks about picking and choosing who to bring along with them.

  • Brian Solis

    This is incredible perspective…I wish it wasn’t anonymous, but I can respect that. If you want to talk offline, send me an email at PR2point0[at]gmail.com. Would love to explore this further…
    - Brian

  • Michael Tangeman

    First, in response to “anonymous,” he or she is right to be annoyed by the claim of many journalists that they are inherently more ethical. Like any community — of bloggers or journalists — there are those that are ethical and those that are not. Prior to p.r. work, I was a journalist for 18 years and I can tell you there are definitely unethical journalists out there.

    But, aside from the vast majority of my former colleagues, who I did find fundamentally ethical (even if most can sometimes be so sanctimous as to overlook their shortcomings, a failing we all share as humans), there is something institutional that does help to keep more of them from being unethical. That is a professional code of behavior that was built up with great effort over time and while the last few years of mainstream media history might seem to suggest otherwise, it has generally served to keep more of those who might be inclined to tray within certain ethical bounds.

    Which takes me to Brian’s original post and the conclusion he draws that “the most important gem here is that, at some point “traditional” journalists will become extinct. They, and the publications they represent, will evolve.”

    What if the most important gem is really that — like the political pamphleteers who proceded modern journalism — the bloggers will evolve? That the peer-to-peer blogger community will itself begin to impose codes of acceptable peer behavior and online conduct that will eventually give the citizen journalism of blogging more of an institutional feel.

    The purists would scream “sell-out” and decry this as co-optation, but history has shown that this is what happened to evolve the original pamphleteering citizen journalism into today’s mainstream media. We communicators all work within an open, market society and the market, over time, has a tendency to take the revolutionary new forms of expression and make them mainstream and institutional. My guess is that blogging will evolve and come to more closely resemble mainstream journalism than most prognosticators would toay be willing to predict.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

Contact Brian

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