National Geographic

Am I a science journalist?

I’ve just spoken at the opening plenary of the second day of the World Conference of Science Journalists at Doha, Qatar. It’s a panel called “Am I a science journalist?”with myself, my fellow Discover blogger Chris Mooney, Mo Costandi, Homayoun Kheyri, and Cristine Russell.

Here’s the description of the panel:

In the evolving world of science communication, how do we define a science journalist? This panel will discuss whether the venerable word “journalist” can or should be applied to some, all, or none of the new generation of science bloggers and educators who are remaking the field.

And this is what I said:

I want to talk about polar bears. Polar bears are famously in trouble because the ice of their Arctic home is melting. One of the consequences of this is that grizzly bears are encroaching into polar bear territory. These are two very similar species that tend to avoid each other, but they’re now being shoved into close contact. And they’re breeding – they’re creating hybrids called grolar bears.

I empathise with the grolar bear.

I’ve been writing a science blog called Not Exactly Rocket Science for 5 years. I’ve also been freelancing for magazines and newspapers for most of that time. I have variously called myself a science blogger, a science writer and a science journalist, and I know people who would disagree with the last of those. In five years, I have seen this “debate” about bloggers and journalists rear its head again and again. Do bloggers “count” as journalists? Are blogs journalism? And I’ve come to realise that this debate is exactly like the film Titanic: it is tedious, it goes on forever, everyone’s a caricature and they’re stuck on a massive sinking ship.

I am not kidding when I say that it goes on forever. I thought we were done with it years ago. But here’s BBC journalist Andrew Marr from last year: “Most bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting.” Of course, one cannot expect a columnist to let facts and reality get in the way of cheap rhetoric but indulge me for a moment, while I consider my reality.

When I write for my blog, I do so in exactly the same way as I would for a mainstream organisation. I ask whether stories are worth telling. I interview and quote people. I write in plain English. I provide context. I fact-check… a lot. I do not use press releases, much less copy them. I don’t even own pajamas.

My point, and it has been said many times before, is that blogs are simply software. They are a channel, a medium, a container for all sorts of things including journalism. Meanwhile, journalism is a craft. It is about involving accuracy, the collection of information, the telling of stories, that can be practiced anywhere by anyone with the right set of skills. It is not a newspaper. It is not a job title.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone who starts writing or talking is automatically a journalist – there is more to it than that. But I am saying that anyone can be. I have no training in science journalism and I never did an internship. All I have is what I call my Masters from the University of Pissing About on the Internet. I almost stumbled into this profession, and there are many others taking the same weird amateur route.

They’re not doing internships, they’re not beholden to a legacy institution. They’re just doing their own thing. Robert Krulwich in a recent commencement speech likened this approach to sneaking into Troy. Rather than besieging the city, or waiting to be thrown a key, you build a horse. You get on with it. You write because you love it. You report because it is something that you are compelled to do. You do it in your own terms – you decide which tools you want to use, what writing style you want to use. You build a community of “horizontal loyalty” with those around you and you buoy each other up.

And I think that all of this makes it one of the most exciting times to be a science journalist. It means a more diverse array of science journalism. The new approach doesn’t replace the old (that’s a straw man) but it does complement and enhance it. I call it to the Cambrian explosion of science journalism. I actually think that most people in this field get this and are excited by it.

But it fascinates me that some people react to this influx of amateur writers by drawing up defensive cordons. I have been told that it only counts as journalism if it’s investigative, or if it’s something that people don’t want you to write, or if it’s edited, or if you’re paid to do it, or if you use quotes, or if you wear a fedora with a Press pass ticking out of it. It’s a bizarre taxonomic game.

To an extent, I get why it’s played. I think people are rightly worried about their industry. As I said at the start: massive sinking ship. People see a profession in trouble, they want to save and protect it. They see these random interlopers trying to claim a stake and they think that it somehow devalues this noble thing that they’re trying to defend. I certainly agree that good journalism in all its forms is a necessary thing that is worth defending. But no one has ever saved something by playing with definitions. You protect journalism by trumpeting its values, criticising people who do it poorly and supporting those who do it well, regardless of the medium they happen to use. You won’t buoy up journalism through taxonomy.

For a start, it’s just impossible. There may have been a time when it was straightforward to say that person is a journalist and this person is not. But this is not that time. Here we have random amateurs committing acts of journalism without any training. We have seasoned journalists striking it out on their own in bloggy environments. We have people who are part-time journalists who make a living through a variety of means. I know people who are paid as journalists and do little beyond what a good RSS feed could accomplish. I also know people who would take it as a mortal insult if you called them a journalist but who write pieces that are indistinguishable from high-quality journalism. It’s a very odd situation.

And here’s a scary truth – a lot of these amateurs, the ones doing their own thing, are really knowledgeable. Your beat? That’s their field – they know it inside out. And an even scarier thing – some of them can write. Really well. Scientists aren’t meant to do that! Hey, at least no one’s reading them – wait, whaddayou mean people are reading them? That’s the end times!

And oddly, some of the people who are doing this are getting hired. I gave a similar talk two years ago and I said at the time that it would be great to see more bridges between mainstream and hobbyist writers. And there are.  I blog at Discover. Wired has its own blogging stable, as does PLoS and the Guardian. Scientific American hired Bora Zivkovic – in his own words a “rabble-rousing blogger” – to head their online communities.

So are these people all journalists? Here, I find it helpful to think of modern journalism in terms of mental disorders. The field of mental health is moving away from sharply defined diagnoses to spectrums of behaviours. In a similar way, there is a spectrum of journalistic values, norms and techniques, which are present to different extents in different people or even individual pieces of work.

I know I fall somewhere on that spectrum. Am I a journalist? Honestly, I care less about the answer than I once did. I am not being blase – I care very deeply about journalism, but there are few things more boring than journalists arguing over what counts as journalism. We live in a world full of stories, about amazing people doing amazing things and terrible people doing terrible things. I will use every medium I can to tell those stories. I will try to tell them accurately so people aren’t misled. I will try to tell them well so people will listen. If people want to argue about what to call that, that’s fine for them.

I would rather just do it.

There are 32 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Shecky R.
    June 28, 2011

    “Masters from the University of Pissing About on the Internet”… LUV it!! (forget the ‘school of hard knocks’). And love Krulwich’s analogy to Troy as well. Just a beautiful post with so many good points; should be read by all bloggers… and…or journalists.

  2. David Kroll
    June 28, 2011

    Well-played, mate. Wish I were in Doha to hear you in person.

    These arguments seem to emerge any time an institution’s business model is threatened by disruptive technologies. The music industry faced and continues to face the same thing as anyone can now bring their music directly to the people. Similar to “journalism,” some of this music is among the best of anything out there via traditional channels. In other cases, some people should have their USB microphones and GarageBand application seized from them at gunpoint.

    I find it helpful to think of modern journalism in terms of mental disorders.

    I quite enjoy the spectrum analogy – and not just for writers of blogs. I find it useful even among my colleagues who hold fast to the classical definition of journalism. As so many of these exceptionally talented writers are leaving/being asked to leave print publications, would we now consider a public information officer a journalist? They interview, they report – the intent differs from that of a newspaper – but these folks are journalists also.

    When I write for my blog, I do so in exactly the same way as I would for a mainstream organisation. I ask whether stories are worth telling. I interview and quote people. I write in plain English. I provide context. I fact-check… a lot. I do not use press releases, much less copy them.

    This is where I think that you differ from the vast majority of writers of blogs and why you are more readily perceived as a journalist. The typical writer of a science blog analyzes and even synthesizes, but the interviewing, reporting, and fact-checking (the kind you have to do for magazines, for example) is more the exception than the rule for this genre.

    Funny, this discussion seems far less boring when you’re the one who raises it.

  3. Al Dove
    June 28, 2011

    Quite the best blog post I’ve read in a long time – just a great read. You could be, like, a journalist. I mean it! :-)

  4. Linda
    June 28, 2011

    I have tried to come up with a better response to this but can I just say, Ed Yong, I love you. You almost make me believe the world is not going to hell in a handbasket after all. And I love how you can get all up in people’s faces about this in such a serene and well-reasoned manner. You really set an example for us all.

    And on a more personal note, you also make me feel better about my own weird career route. I wish I had the nerve to add my Masters from the University of Pissing About on the Internet to my resume.

  5. Brooke N
    June 28, 2011

    “You get on with it. You write because you love it. You report because it is something that you are compelled to do. You do it in your own terms – you decide which tools you want to use, what writing style you want to use.”

    I love this, this is EXACTLY why Sarah & I started our blog – and we are growing & learning with it. It’s not an easy hobby, but it is definitely something we love – and I am so glad you’re giving science blogging such a good name.

    Onward!!

  6. Emmy
    June 28, 2011

    Great post, Ed – I agree with many points here. I think it’s like someone declaring themselves a musician; one person might say, “I sing in my hometown Country-Western band”. Another might say, “I play cello for the Boston Symphony Orchestra”. To me, they are both musicians. But without the added information, the question is meaningless; because no one is ever going to agree on a solid definition of what a real musician is.

    I would also say that there’s a certain amount of devotion one has to make to one’s craft before they’ve earned the title of a professional (or non-hobbyist). Some number of months or years should be put in, and some desire to move toward a better world of both journalism and science, and a willingness to reevaluate one’s own work. Neither science nor information is static, and journalists should strive to reflect that.

  7. The Intersection
    June 28, 2011

    Nice post, Ed. I am so bored with this question, as well. I don’t read science stories because the author is or is not a journalist. I read to get the science. In fact, reading “journalism” often drives me toward blogs where individuals go more in depth, are often more knowledgeable and more entertaining.

    If this is the Cambrian explosion of journalism, should we expect, at some point, to see a selective pressure weeding out those writers? I actually hope not. The diversity of science writers out there is a perfect fit for this era of individualism. Of course, this can also be considered a pitfall for those of us who appreciate science writing as a means of affecting science policy.

    However, for those who read science to celebrate the shear wonder of science, this is truly a wondrous time.

    Thanks for putting yourself out there. We need many more of you.
    Jamie Vernon

  8. Jacob Berkowitz
    June 28, 2011

    Ed,

    Bravo! The best commentary on the topic I’ve ever read. It used to be that many science journalists stumbled into it pre-Internet- it’s just that the only storytelling to stumble into was called journalism. The bigger issues are how do we actually tell meaningful stories that help the world/us understand ourselves and make money doing it.

    Write-on!

  9. Michael McBurney
    June 28, 2011

    Great article. Boundaries are indeed shifting. I currently work for a vitamin manufacturer which sells B2B to the food, supplement, infant formula and pharmaceutical industries. In my career, I have been a Department Head, Professor at 2 institutions, adjunct/visiting professor at 3 institutions and worked in the food industry. I am an active volunteer in several professional (Am Soc Nutr, Inst Food Technologists), trade (Council for Responsible Nutrition, International Life Sciences Institute, International Food Information Council) and NGOs.

    I blog regularly, trying to provide perspective to ‘latest research finding nutrient X does/does not do Y to disease/condition Z’. Does this make me a journalist? Not likely because my blogging isn’t nearly as good as Ed’s. Still, it is fun to help disseminate nutrition science and provide perspective to help readers understand the totality of the science. We need this because societies cannot afford to have people missing essential nutrients. As a society, we need to embrace strategies to improve nutrition and health.

    My priority is to educate and increase understanding about vitamins. Can someone working in industry blog without bias? Yes. As much as can anyone. Everyone is conflicted. Most scientists, as well as universities, publishers and companies are trying to build brands. We all have vested interests – in our research programs/output, in our reputations, in our careers.

    Transparency is different than conflict of interest. So TalkingNutrition.dsm.com is named (branded) so everyone will know who pays my salary. But this blog does not sell or advertise DSM-branded ingredients. It’s intent is to help increase awareness of the essentiality of vitamins and other micronutrients. To create a ‘rising tide’ of nutrition knowledge. Welcome to the diffuse boundaries of science communications.

    @dsmnutrition

  10. Ed Yong
    June 28, 2011

    @David – Re: PIOs, I think the intent factor is very important here, but obviously there are degrees as I posit in my bit about spectrum disorders. It’s also worth noting that the degrees on the spectrum get larger the more resources you have. Many of the delegates from developing countries apparently didn’t understand these developed-world distinctions. When you have only a handful of people fulfilling all these roles, the lines between them vanish.

    @Emmy – I agree with the point about devotion, although perhaps consistency (or upward trend) in quality is more important than just time alone.

    @Jamie – Undoubtedly, you’ll get selection pressures and some blogs, like some professional journalists, aren’t that good. But I use the Cambrian metaphor because what happened there was a large number of niches opened up and new forms emerged. Selection will happen, but there’ll be all sorts of ways of adapting. I don’t think we have to fear for a loss of diversity in science writing.

  11. Pascal Lapointe
    June 28, 2011

    I am a science journalist, and what I find sad about this debate is that I don’t know ANY SERIOUS SCIENCE JOURNALIST who deny that you, Ed Yong, are doing a work which is as good and even better as any good journalist. The ones journalists who continue do deny that bloggers are doing serious work are dinosaurs of the journalism, or outside observers, maybe like the ones who decided it would be a good idea to ask this question at the conference.

    So what I find especially sad is that we continue to quote those dinosaurs, and give the impression that a majority of the journalistic profession is like them. A little bit like the “debate” about climate change, uh? Two equal sides, isn’t it?

    **Serious** journalists and **serious** bloggers should talk each other more about the future of science writing, rather than wasting all this time about who is and who is not a journalist. Because in the meantime, things are changing: there are people like this American blogger pretending to be a Syrian lesbian bloggers, and there are deniers of climate change pretending to be science bloggers. And let’s not forget that unfortunately, for the majority of citizens, there are no differences between those bloggers and what you and I are calling a **serious** or “quality” or “believable” blogger.

    So: that should be the goal of all future discussions. **Serious** journalists could help **serious** bloggers on that.

  12. Ginny Hughes
    June 28, 2011

    For the record, there’s nothing wrong with writing in pajamas. :)

  13. KatiePhD
    June 28, 2011

    The “just do it” attitude is spot on. I keep trying to encourage my fellow grad students to figure out what they want to do (if it’s not post-doccing) and do it. If they want to leave academia and teach high school, go volunteer as a teacher in your “spare” time. If you want to write, write. Just because you want to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get paid to do it (which I think puts some people off taking the “just do it” path) but as you said, experience is extremely valuable, and that degree in Pissing Around on the Internet is probably more valuable and useful than a lot of accredited certifications out there. Really great post, thanks!

  14. Melissa Fu
    June 29, 2011

    Fantastic post. I am curious to hear your thoughts about science journalism/communication re the fires in New Mexico and the southwest USA at the moment. The coverage is a mixture of bloggers, tweeters, local newspeople, international and national journalists, commenting experts, and so on. Similarly, the coverage of the tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima power plant – there is so much out there. How much credence do we put in the international papers, because they are **serious journalists** and how much weight do we give the authority of locals who are blogging and tweeting about a place and a situation they’ve lived and known for decades? What role does science communication play in helping people to sift through essential information, speculations, technical science, and genuine fears and panic? Links to pictures of the Las Conchas fire from the ISS: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/171052/20110628/nasa-space-images-new-mexico-fire-las-conchas.htm.

  15. Davide Castelvecchi
    June 29, 2011

    I agree with much of what you say in your post, but I disagree on a few points:

    1) I work at a magazine whose bread and butter is experts writing about their fields, and yet I think experts are _neither_ in a better nor in a worse position to do so than non-experts: the best way to cover something is to have many people write about it, with many different points of view — including experts, professional journalists, and anyone else who has something interesting to contribute: that is one reason why the web, and blogs in particular, have a positive, liberating, democratizing role to play;

    2) I think it _is_ still worth talking about what journalism is and, yes, defining it, if nothing else as one of the (admittedly abstract) endpoints of the “spectrum”: precisely because boundaries are being blurred, it’s important to educate people on what journalists do and what their professional standards are;

    3) I disagree that the business of news is sinking like the Titanic: the business model of a lot of media, especially daily newspapers, is in trouble, but I think that the business of news as a whole has more vitality than ever, thanks in part to blogs;

    4) you seem to suggest that it would be bad to “use press releases” — do you mean that one should not read them at all? certainly one shouldn’t rely exclusively on press releases in his or her reporting but they are one of the main ways of finding story ideas and a crucial channel for organizations to communicate to the outside world.

  16. Prime
    June 29, 2011

    Finally something wrote about this boring and useless debate on what constitutes “journalism”. I’m tired of fellow journos defending that what they do is journalism and not blogging, that bloggers are nothing more than diarists. At the same time utterly bored with (some not all) bloggers who write really stupid stuff and keep on harping that what they do is journalism too and should get a press card/invited to press events/be accorded the same privilege as journalists, etc.

    I’m a business journalist (I have a press card, employed by a media company), but to me journalism is just another job – an occupation, not some high and mighty title that can be bestowed on the chosen few. (To be honest, I’d rather focus on my travel blogging, or ehem, travel journalism – whatever! – but I need to pay the bills)

    To me there’s just good and bad writing/reporting. Whether that piece is published in a blog or a newspaper is irrelevant.

  17. Melvin
    June 29, 2011

    I prefer bloggers… There are too many journalists who just copy and paste press releases.

  18. PGB
    June 29, 2011

    I am a former award-winning journalist who now blogs. I have expertise in my subject matter that journalists do not have – they would interview me if they were doing a story on my subject matter. Few newspapers cultivate “beat” reporters anymore – journalists with real expertise developed over the years. Also, I am focusing on a tiny aspect of a big universe. I am eliminating the middle-person and going directly to the reader. The mainstream press often cannot or will not go into the depth that a blogger can go into. Blogs are an invaluable source of information. And, blogs are as credible as the author, just as newspapers are as credible as the publisher. I don’t put much faith in the newspaper tabloids that herald space invaders. So anyone in the media who discounts all blogs is ignorant. Why engage in a debate with an ignoramus?

  19. Peter J. Wolf
    June 29, 2011

    Ed, this is brilliant.

    I’ve only been blogging (http://www.voxfelina.com) for about 15 months, and about a very specific topic (feral cats), so I’m hesitant to generalize too much. At the same time, I’m sure my experience is not unique.

    You suggest that scientists aren’t meant to write. From what I can tell, many of them (again, at least the ones working in “my world”) aren’t meant to do science, either. The ones who use means to describe heavily skewed distributions, for example. Or those who routinely make broad generalizations (sold to the media as Truth) based on tiny sample sizes of local populations.

    Even peer-reviewed journals are plagued with willful ignorance and glaring bias.

    Challenge these scientists from the “outside,” and the common reaction is to point out one’s lack of credentials. They have the appropriate letter after their names; they are the experts. (In fact, it’s a rare occasion when I get a response. I can’t tell you how many letters to “corresponding authors” I’ve sent, never to receive a reply.)

    At times, I wonder why these people are involved in science at all, given their apparent disdain for rigorous discourse (which, in any event, is largely incompatible with the kind coziness I’ve observed).

    The journalism I most admire is investigative. Sadly, there’s far too little science writing/journalism in this same spirit. (As Melvin suggested, repackaged press releases are all too common.)

    There’s a quote from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis I cite—perhaps too frequently—on my blog: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

    I think blogging offers the opportunity (increasingly rare in a “market” that seems to place relatively little value on journalism) for writers to direct some much-needed sunlight into the dark corners of the world—including the scientific community.

    Peter J. Wolf
    http://www.voxfelina.com

    P.S. How does one indicate a Masters from the University of Pissing About on the Internet in one’s signature?

  20. Emmy
    June 29, 2011

    @Peter – Yours is the first feral cat blog I’ve seen (aside from ACA’s site). Nice, I look forward to reading it. I’m a former vet nurse and cat behaviorist (now Biologist). I don’t know which science blogs you’ve been reading, but no real scientist presents something as “The Truth”. It’s usually the media that do so. A good science post will:

    1. Present *exactly* how the study was conducted. This can be brief or detailed, but it should never be embellished with commentary or emotion from the blogger.

    2. The blogger says whatever they feel like saying about the study (hopefully in an entertaining manner)

    3. The blogger then provides a link to the study, emphasizing that their post is just their personal view of the study; and that the reader *must* look at the methods, results, etc before jumping to further conclusions about the study, which is normally based on dry data and statistics.

    Yes, there surely are bad studies; but sweeping generalizations tell us nothing. If we want to criticize a study, we must be specific about what methods were done incorrrectly.

  21. Peter J. Wolf
    June 30, 2011

    @Emmy—I should clarify: mostly what I read are the studies themselves. That, and plenty of related media coverage. What I present most often on my blog, then, is (1) a critical look at a particular study (e.g., its methods, limitations, etc.—the specifics you refer to in your comment), and (2) a critical look at how the study is described in the media.

    You’re right about Truth—that’s the media’s turf (politicians, too, I suppose). But all too often, I’ve seen members of the scientific community—armed with “facts”—go out of their way to reinforce the media’s (mis)perception on a given topic. And I’ve little patience for scientists lending their support to a witch-hunt.

    Which brings up another topic—one closer to Ed’s original post: Where does the line between journalism and advocacy/activism? One needs to be very wary of the we-report-you-decide model.

  22. Emmy
    June 30, 2011

    @Peter thanks for the clarification. For the sake of not taking up any more of Ed’s blog with my blathering, I’ll visit your blog. Your question is a good one. I’d say the line MUST be drawn by the reader. The blog post describing and explaining a study is always just one small side of the story (unless the blog author copied and pasted the entire study into the body of the post). The reader must understand that the post may represent anything, even the exact opposite of what the study says. Scientists are free to speak to the media – so long as they do so with great humility and honesty, acknowledging the limitations of their study, and telling both sides of the story as best they can. AND telling people to read the actual studies for the full picture of what is and is not there. For example if I’m a Gulf oil spill scientist, I should not be expected to keep secret from the public things that I have uncovered that affect human and ecological health.

  23. J. B. H.
    July 1, 2011

    Interesting topic. After a quick read, I noted in one graph probably the best argument for separating blogs from other vehicles which are ordinarily described as journalistic ventures.

    “When I write for my blog, I do so in exactly the same way as I would for a mainstream organisation. I ask whether stories are worth telling. I interview and quote people. I write in plain English. I provide context. I fact-check… a lot. I do not use press releases, much less copy them. I don’t even own pajamas.”

    The journalistic project is one that typically, historically provides accountability by virtue of staff oversight. In most “mainstream organizations” there would be at least one other person to collaborate with on projects, bounce ideas off of, fact-check, copy edit, proof, check sources, etc.

    Blogs have their place, and AP style newswriting can be followed by any writer, but to call oneself a journalist because you engage in self-publishing is to call yourself a book publisher because you have paid a printing company to produce your own book.

    Methinks there’s a bit more involved. Why not just call yourself a writer? Many writers interview people, fact-check, write in a variety of genres (including AP style or other styles of news writing), provide context, and get dressed before they begin writing. And many established and esteemed writers have been published in heralded papers such as the New York Times, etc. You get the idea.

    Best wishes from a newspaper editor and journalism prof who worked previously for years as a freelance writer. Interestingly enough, I never called myself a journalist, although my articles almost exclusively appeared in newspapers.

  24. Ed Yong
    July 2, 2011

    Comment #23 is a perfect example of the tedious stuff that gets put forward in this sorry “debate”. It’s got all the usual tropes: an abstract definition, “blogs have their place” or words to that effect, and a bit where the person in question quotes their CV. Marvellous. I might create a “Bloggers vs. journalists” bingo.

  25. Ed Yong
    July 2, 2011

    @Pascal – “**Serious** journalists and **serious** bloggers should talk each other more about the future of science writing.” Couldn’t agree more, and it heartens me to see a lot of such collaborative ventures springing up, based on mutual respect and optimism.

    @Davide – I like and agree with many of your points. I’m more than happy about defining the *values* of journalism, in the knowledge that anyone can uphold these values. I find these to include things like accuracy, verification, the search for (and collection of) information, transparency, and fairness. On sinking ships, I meant the traditional business model – I, like you, believe that news is more diverse and more exciting than it has ever been. On press releases, I’m happy using them for story tips but I don’t use them when it comes to the actual writing and I prefer if people don’t.

  26. Martin Robbins
    July 2, 2011

    @J.B.H. “to call oneself a journalist because you engage in self-publishing”

    Nobody has said this, and it is spectacularly dishonest of you to suggest that they have. It is a straw-man you’ve made up in your own fevered imagination, because you would rather attack arguments nobody has made than actually deal with the substance of the issue.

    @J.B.H. “Methinks there’s a bit more involved”

    What, exactly? Collaboration? Editing? Happens on many blogs. Oversight? Ditto – my blog for example is checked over by the Guardian’s legal team and given the once-over by a sub editor when needed. Or check out RetractionWatch/EmbargoWatch for examples of old-school journalism in the blogosphere. Is Brian Deer’s MMR journalism really only able to be classed as journalism because it was edited?

    As Ed points out, you’ve failed to really define the terms you’re struggling to use in your comment, which suggests to me that you don’t fully understand them.

  27. Janet Jones
    July 2, 2011

    But blogger’s and the public aren’t really the press, so the First Amendment doesn’t afford any protection to bloggers.

    Wrong again!

    In Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938), Chief Justice Hughes defined the press as, “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.” Pretty simple.

    Need a little more convincing?

    How about this from the Seattle Times: “An amateur photographer who was taken into custody last year after shooting pictures of two Seattle police officers while they were making an arrest on a public street received an $8,000 settlement this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said this morning.”

  28. J. B. H.
    July 3, 2011

    Martin Robbins and Mr. Yong,

    I am sorry Mr. Yong you are offended that I let you know I am an editor and educator. I thought it might be helpful for you to know, and attack if you wish, my credentials, given that yours are quite impressive and the reason, I presume, for this blog.

    Mr. Robbins, I quoted from Mr. Yong’s blog precisely because of your response. I also addressed his use of “mainstream organizations” to suggest he is comparing apples and oranges in comparing “traditional” journalistic ventures for precisely the reason you suggest. He uses first person and does not indicate a collaborative effort or oversight in this work, despite saying he approaches his work the same way as he would in writing for “mainstream organizations.” That struck me at once and is at odds with what you describe as your experience.

    We can argue until the cows come home that all AP style writing is journalism and those who write it are journalists–but we miss the point. I know “blogs” vary, and even mainstream papers use blogs as a means for writers to get ideas out quickly. Some are edited, some are not. But I know that most journalists who write for them are trained journalists who are accountable to supervisors and aware of the publication’s interests.

    On the other hand, there are bloggers who have no such guidelines or accountability. This is a healthy discourse and typically breaks down when bloggers who have no such accountability insist on being called journalists. Fine.

    I’m hoping, however, that anyone who hopes to use the “blog” then as a basis for information for a research project, for instance, doesn’t find that they’ve earned a big fat “F” on their project for failure to document their research with a source that has been verified by more than one individual via their own blog. THAT is still important to some of us in the academic world. To scientists or those who work in the scientific world, I would think it would be of utmost importance.

  29. J. B. H.
    July 3, 2011

    And let me add, the final part of comment is not meant for Mr. Yong. His credibility as a scientist would make his blog credible. If, however, a blogger who is not an expert in the field is writing on the same topic, that would make an incredible difference. That is why to call himself a journalist, in my opinion, is almost a step down. He is a scientist who writes great stuff that’s readable. Why reduce his bio to calling himself a journalist who typically must interview the scientist, figure out what the heck he’s saying, and then try and describe the idea to the reader???

  30. J. B. H.
    July 5, 2011

    One last note, I had two great college prof who spoke well on this subject. One in literature and one in history. They praised me for my “journalistic” writing style in literary digests, in papers, and in other pursuits during college–as long as I met the additional requirements they outlined. Even my science profs agreed with my writing style. Still, those projects were not newspapers, and I was not a journalist in fulfilling them, I was a student.

  31. Renee
    July 5, 2011

    Great points and great article. My biggest takeaway is that no one ever saved something by defining it, so that will probably not help journalism either. Thanks!

  32. John
    July 7, 2011

    Great piece. In a time of horrid corporate journalism there are indeed a lot of worthy amateurs doing fine work. Just look at how Hugh Grant helped break the NewsCorp cell phone hacking story. Much of our breaking news now comes from citizen reporters. In a sense, the industry has come full circle, back to its beginnings in the days of citizen pamphleteers.

    However, the former managing editor in me just has to ask: Regarding paragraph 6… what’s a ‘groler bear’? (All in good fun, my friend…)

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