Are Bloggers Different than Journalists?

I’ve spent lots of time in newsrooms, for both print and broadcast news organizations. My first job was as a reporter; the ethics of journalism were pounded into me at an early age. Be objective, don’t do anything to tamper with the integrity of the story, and report the facts. As a blogger, however, I can’t say I follow those same rules.

Should a journalist be so removed from a story that they let someone die?

A photo journalist at the Washington Post recently wrote about watching someone endure the fatal consequences of a snake bite; all the while she took pictures, documenting the man’s death. The article, “Why I Watched a Snake-handling Pastor Die for his Faith” chronicles the photo journalist’s ethical dilemma: to help or to remain objective. In the end, she maintained her distance and shot the photos.

Would a blogger remain as objective?

In 2005, milblogger Michael Yon was embedded with an American troop in Iraq. When the soldiers found themselves under siege, one of whom was shot three times and another who was in hand to hand combat, Yon picked up a rifle to join the battle. You can read an overview of Yon’s story by checking out, “Michael Yon versus General Brooks.” In short, Yon inserted himself into the “story” to help save a soldier’s life.

What about citizen journalists?

In this day and age, every one of us can be a citizen journalist. With video and still cameras on nearly every cell phone, all of us can–and do–capture the world around us. But, as “regular people” do we just capture what we see or do we get involved?

Case in point, a video was captured this week during a road rage incident in Los Angeles, California. Four men got out of their cars after the altercation and two guys filmed the encounter from the safety of their car. One man was severely beaten and repeatedly kicked in the head, but the men behind the video camera did nothing to intervene. The video is below.

It used to be that the “media” were are all trained journalists. They represented formal news agencies and their reporting was held to an ethical and professional standard. But, with the rise of new media, anyone can start a blog, podcast, or Web TV series. Any of us can capture video with our phones and upload it to YouTube or Facebook in seconds. No editor, no news director. We’re all self publishers; we’re all media.

So, where’s the line? Do all of these groups play a different, but important, role? Is a journalist removed, a blogger engaged, and a citizen journalist a voyeur? Is one of these ways right and the others wrong? Or are the differences important, with each of these groups serving their own unique purpose?

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About Amber Avines

Amber Avines blogs at Words Done Write and runs a successful communications consultancy in Los Angeles. You can connect with Amber on Twitter at @wordsdonewrite.


  1. wordsdonewrite says:

    @jasonkonopinski Thanks, Jason ;-)

  2. JeffHaws says:

    @amy_stephan @wordsdonewrite Good questions. It’s always been a delicate balance. Reporters tend to see themselves as storytellers in a way.

  3. JeffHaws says:

    @amy_stephan @wordsdonewrite Somebody must be the observer for the story to be told. Can you tell a story objectively if you’re part of it?

    • wordsdonewrite says:

      @JeffHaws @amy_stephan Thanks, Amy and Jeff! Would love your comments on the blog if you’re game. Could be a good conversation ;-)

  4. JeffHaws says:

    @amy_stephan @wordsdonewrite And how much value is there in “objective” reporting in today’s social world? Involvement has its place.

    • amy_stephan says:

      @jeffhaws I’m not so sure there’s such thing as objective reporting anymore. People get more news from Jon Stewart than genuine news sources

      • JeffHaws says:

        @amy_stephan Right. Well, there is, but it’s definitely fair to ask how often there’s a need for it. Court cases? Sure. Politics? Iffy.

      • JeffHaws says:

        @amy_stephan But it’s a complicated subject I’m endlessly fascinated about. So I could go on and on and on until you wanted to bludgeon me.

        • amy_stephan says:

          @JeffHaws lol, let’s not spoil a nice Wednesday with bludgeoning : )

        • JeffHaws says:

          @amy_stephan Yeah, that’s really more of a Thursday thing. Thanks for bringing @wordsdonewrite to my attention, btw. Cool little blog.

        • wordsdonewrite says:

          @JeffHaws Awwww, thank you for checking out my blog! And thank you to @amy_stephan for connecting us!

        • amy_stephan says:

          @wordsdonewrite @JeffHaws My pleasure! : )

  5. tdhurst says:

    @AspieJourno @wordsdonewrite yes. How’s is this an opinion?

  6. randyclarktko says:

    @AspieJourno @wordsdonewrite According to wordpress there are 74,672,477 blog sites attempting to define them beyond…

  7. randyclarktko says:

    @AspieJourno @wordsdonewrite …An internet hosted site offering written and visual content, would be difficult.

    • AspieJourno says:

      @randyclarktko @wordsdonewrite actually such a site is easy with the likes of YouTube, Ustream and Livestream.

  8. I liked what Andrew Sullivan once said, that all you needed to be a good journalist was a telephone and a conscience.

  9. JTDabbagian says:

    It makes me wonder…do we really need to be objective? There’s many instances where journalists were forced into the story one way or another. I recall a story by my journalism prof. where the reporters that decided to go to Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral ended up acting as pall bearers. 
    I think objectivism is something that has its advantages, but it isn’t the only way to be a journalist. 

    •  @JTDabbagian Interesting point, JT. When it comes to certain topics, such as ballot propositions, I do want a journalist who can provide me with the facts without inserting his/her own biases into it. However, if a journalist is writing a feature story about an old man who makes dolls, that level of objectivity certainly isn’t quite as important, is it?

  10. piercingmetal says:

    I think the dynamic of the media world that we walk upon has shifted this title considerably.  I’ve only been a music scene scribe for about 8.5 years and very early on I was referred to as a journalist by one of the publicists that I dealt with and it was weird to hear.  Was I a journalist or was I just some dude who decided to create his own site and offer up positive, objective viewpoints that really tried to stir up larger opinion about the topics I would discuss.  After receiving the title in that sense, I always tried to have a solid level of integrity, but that was easy since I consider myself to be a stand up and positive guy.  I have known peers who are all about the gossip and throwing peers under a bus to get an edge on them but I will not do that.  Of course I am glad as a music scribe that I am not put in the position of shooting pics as someone dies.  Maybe if someone falls into the photo pit and gets hurt while I am shooting but that would have been a sad accident and nothing I would have wanted to capture on purpose.
    Twitter and Facebook and Smart Phones have made almost everyone around you a Citizen Journalist but some are better than others and even amazing in some sense.  I even had a waitress talking about blogs with me once who referred to herself as such.  Its just the lay of the land and how instantly we are able to transmit information across to our friends, fans, followers, page likers and the rest.  I guess what I am getting at is that I think in today’s Net Geography, the bloggers and the traditional journalists are often one in the same.  You can tend to be a little more playful with the blog reporting but you are the means that someone is instantly served by your output of creativity.   I don’t think you need to study journalism as much nowadays because the medium changes too dramatically too quickly to make it an easy course of study.  Of course I could be wrong here.  Either way, this was really an interesting group of points, and something I have wondered about a lot in the most recent times of my writing and reporting adventures.

    •  @piercingmetal Great stories and insights! As for not studying journalism, I suppose that may be true. But, every blogger should take an English class (or their native language) if they don’t have a solid foundation upon which to write. It’s amazing how many blogs I see which are written by people who have no grasp of basic grammar or language skills.

      • piercingmetal says:

         @WordsDoneWrite Oh yes for sure, a basic command of the English language should be in place and it never hurts to have a grammar class under your belt or even a reference guide for good measure.  I thought I had that in there but I feared I was getting a little long winded so I stopped LOL.  I hope I didn’t seem to slight journalism classes, because that was not my intent.  I once met a gent who said to me so how did I start “my thing”, and I replied how I loved the subject matter which I discussed and an a very networking savvy person who can properly manage his contacts and build an audience up.  He frowned and said, “so I waste all this money putting my kid into classes for it and you just do it…..”; I tried to explain that there was a difference but he just chose to be annoyed so I moved on in the crowd.  Oh well.   

        •  @piercingmetal Ha ha. Great story! School smarts are a good foundation for success, but rolling up your sleeves and just doing it is what separates the men from the boys! ;-)

  11. I am glad as a music scribe that I am not put in the position of shooting pics as someone dies. Thanks for sharing experience with us.

    • piercingmetal says:

       @ella119 Hello fellow Music Scribe.  So far nothing like that has happened to me either, but I do admit that the photo pits at the Black Metal and Death Metal shows can get rather scary :0

    •  @ella119 Yeah, glad I haven’t been in that position, either!

  12. TracieBarrett says:
  13. wordsdonewrite says:

    @JohnRTomlinson Thanks for the share, John. Nice to meet you!

  14. @blogworld blogging is a platform not a profession. People didn’t ask this sort of question when authors were filing stories by teletype.

    • wordsdonewrite says:

      @kyle64 Hmm. I think a “blog” is definitely a platform. However I have to disagree & say, to many, “blogging” is a profession. Noun vs verb.

    • I think that is because there were far fewer people using Teletype and for far fewer purposes. When you tell someone you are a “blogger” it has the same recognition as saying “I am a writer” or “I am a journalist”. I am not equating them just saying in the common vernacular if you tell a person what you do for a living they will have some idea what you do when you tell them you are a blogger.

      If you want to argue about blogging being a profession or a platform that’s ok with me. I would say it can be both.

  15. Amy Parmenter says:

    As a journalist and a blogger I see significant differences.  One is usually much more personal and embroided with opinion than the other.  But I think whether you watch a person die or just document it speaks more to who you are as a person than how you label yourself for the purposes of this debate.  Both are storytellers…but journalists are supposed to offer a more objective opinion — as objective as you can be given all the prejudices we carry…
    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  16. Amy Parmenter says:

    As a journalist and a blogger I see significant differences.  One is usually much more personal and embroided with opinion than the other.  But I think whether you watch a person die or just document it speaks more to who you are as a person than how you label yourself for the purposes of this debate.  Both are storytellers…but journalists are supposed to offer a more objective opinion — as objective as you can be given all the prejudices we carry…
    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

    •  @Amy Parmenter Interesting point, Amy. And, even as a “journalist,” you’re right, I had prejudices. Therefore, I asked not to cover certain topics since I knew I couldn’t be objective.

  17. Amber, thanks for sharing your story and your perspective. As a journalist and a blogger, here are some other questions for consideration that perhaps you can share your thoughts on.
    1) If you’re a journalist and you’re being assaulted or otherwise injured while doing your job, should other people have any greater responsibility to help you out than you chose to with them?
    2) If your video blogging or video journalism makes you or your publisher money because of the traffic that supports advertisers, does that compromise at all the ethics of your journalism? For example, taking a video of someone getting beaten up is not so much newsworthy as it is meant to attract eyeballs for it’s shock value — the same thing that punks in school do beat up a fellow student and video record it, and publish it on YouTube? (Not saying that it is, but you can see the similarities.) Is the only difference between a video journalist and a  blogger is that a journalist is trained to report it in a proper context? 
    3) The FTC considers bloggers having any business relationship with a publisher or advertisers/sponsors (either through the publisher or on their own publication such as a blogsite or even a web video channel) to be commercial speech. With traditional journalists employed under an established publication, that professional relationship is already discloses. Yet for most bloggers today receiving material compensation or some other business advantage by the publishers they are guest contributors for, no such disclosure is made. Should bloggers be treated more as entrepreneurs than journalists, when they are trying to be self-puyblishers, self-sustainable, and profitable?
    Also, the formal journalism agencies I’ve worked for in the past always had some commercial wing that did affect the news content side. I believe these situations are even more prevalent today. That’s why I encourage both formal and new media journalism establishments (from the enterprise to the soloprenuer) to disclose their business relationships with those who sustain their practice. 
    I’ve dealt with the ethical issues of video blogging and video journal over at I also recommend checking out this white paper: ”Press FORWARD: A Contextual Video Strategy for Today’s Newspaper & Magazine Industries”

    • Sorry, I noticed a spelling mistake. I meant to say, “With traditional journalists employed under an established publication, that professional relationship is already disclosed.”

    •  @Grant Crowell Hey Grant, interesting questions.
      1. I don’t think anyone has a “greater” responsibility than another. As humans, hopefully we all act in a way that we can live with and is appropriate in a societal context.
      2. Perhaps “training” is the primary difference. To take your point a bit further, we can see news reporting on ABC which is a Disney company or on NBC which is a General Electric company and in my opinion, that is definitely a conflict. But, corporations do own media outlets these days. But, I think that compromises the integrity of the news. As does a sense of loyalty to advertisers.
      3. That’s a really interesting question. In many ways, many bloggers are entrepreneurs, aren’t they? Perhaps that is a noteworthy distinction.
      I’ll go check out your white paper. Sounds interesting!

      •  @WordsDoneWrite Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Amber! (I’d rather eat the wet noodle if it’s been seasoned right ;-)
        I should mention that I recently learned from the FTC’s own media liaison shared with me their determination of publishers that have guest bloggers. Even if they aren’t being paid or there’s no literal “endorsement” of anything being given, they still require disclosure of any other material or business relationship beyond the guest post. Such as, if a guest blogger is an upcoming speaker of the publisher’s commercial venue, like a conference. Thing is, pretty much all publishers I’ve talked with are completely unaware of that, as I myself was earlier. I think many of them already do a great job with disclosure of their sponsored content and staff bloggers on endorsements, so this might be a great opportunity to exercise further transparency and build consumer trust. (It’s something I’m doing myself!) 

        •  @Grant Crowell That wacky FTC! But, in all seriousness, that’s an interesting subject, Grant. So, does the FTC say where that disclosure should be? In the post? In the author box? Perhaps a stand-alone page? I bet this is of interest to many people here.

        •  @WordsDoneWrite I’m currently researching all of their documentation from 2009 to present to find some specific guidelines on placement. That being said, I think all of the above are good places, and I will ask the FTC liaison if they have any specifics. (I want to see if they can give publishers options rather than a one-size fits all deal.)
          Currently I’m doing that with my own author bio on where I’m a freelance columnist for. One example is at the bottom of the page in the author bio, with a link pointing to more info on the business relationship. The other points to a separate bio page that lists I’m a freelance contributor right in the title.  Here are two example of what I mean:


          My personal view is that sponsored content (by an outside advertiser or 3rd party vendor) should be labeled as such above-the-fold of the page. If it’s a paid or other business/material relationship between the publisher and the guest blogger, I would recommend just including a link at the bottom of the page inside the author bio, that points to more information on both the author and the business relationship. What do you think?

        •  @WordsDoneWrite Amber, thought I’d share with the group here what the FTC relayed to me yesterday. The following is verbatim from their Press Officer:
          “The FTC is currently in the process of revising its “Dot Com Disclosures” business guidance for advertising online. The previous version was published in 2000, and clearly a lot has changed since then. Here is a link to the recent workshop in which the FTC solicited public comment on revision of this guidance. 

          In the meantime, the most comprehensive guidance can be found in the phrase “clear and conspicuous.” This business guidance explains clear and conspicuous.
          I don’t think there is any specific mandate that the disclosure must be on the same page, but the language that links to a different page must clearly and conspicuously state that the reader will find a disclosure at a different page.
          (And again, this is subject to updating when revisions on the “Dot Com Disclosures” guidance are completed.)”

  18. Marcie_Hill says:

    I a gifted writer who loves blogging. I know there is an ongoing debate about journalists vs. bloggers, but in the end the only thing that matters is sharing content that matters. Traditional journalists have been trained in the theory, ethics, gathering, creating and sharing stories. bloggers share from a place of interest and knowledge, but some put in as much work as trained journalists. Citizen journalists can provide information that the other two can’t because of location and timing.
    If you look at the issue from the content sharing perspective, there is no difference. They all disseminate information. But from an ethical and educational standpoint, there is a difference.

    •  @Marcie_Hill Good insights, Marcie. You’re so right about the common thread of content sharing. And, based on your points, it certainly seems as though there’s room for all three groups.

  19. basilpuglisi says:

    This has been a strong debate for some time now, the Crystal Cox issue where the court held that she was not protected under the law the same as journalist raised some serious questions, in fact it was one of the main reasons created a set of guidelines to its authors/bloggers, they where all issued traditional plastic PRESS IDs with security holograms and QR Codes. In fact it was the staff at blogworld that pointed out the lack of media credentials in the industry and how hard it is to tell who is an organized professional in the new media industry and who was not.
    On July 1st, @dbmei will rebrand and introduce a solution to this issue, a global registry and credential program for bloggers and independent media professionals. This will not be a membership but a program offered by our nonprofit for the purpose of developing a standard for freelance media “Professionals” allowing those that treat their profession as that, a profession to have meet the legal standards under the Cox court decision as well as provide credentials and support to those that for other reasons cannot get those “needs” from the corporation they contribute to, be it Huff Post, Patch, NY Times etc.
    As a nonprofit with content going back to 2009 and the process of creating a standard for Awareness, Education and Interactives we feel we have to introduce this concept, but hope to gain support from all those that do act like professionals, make their livelihood on their ability to capture or create great content. More than half the worlds content comes from those that are not considered “journalists” in the traditional role, but are in every way crucial to the access of information for awareness and education.
    Basil C. Puglisi
    Executive Director for
    Stay Tuned for July!

    •  @basilpuglisi  @dbmei This is REALLY interesting. I’d love to hear more. Would you email me (address in author box below), so we can talk about this?

    • AlisonGilbert says:

       @basilpuglisi  @dbmei We await with great anticipation the rebranding in July for dbmei. Those of us who have benefited from the ‘read, write, share’ philosophy that dbmei embodies and cultivates in us as blogger has been tremendously valuable.Based on the growth as individual bloggers as well as the size of the participating group, one can only imagine the heights to which the rebranded dbmei will go. Wishing @basilpuglisi  and the entire @dbmei crew great success in our move forward. @AlisonGilbert  

  20. haroldgardner says:

    The lines are getting really muddy.  I think that media folks need to begin to disclose their ethical standards; so consumers can know what to expect.

    •  @haroldgardner Do you mean, if a reporter does a story on Proctor and Gamble, for example, (which does product testing on animals), that a reporter should disclose that they’re against using animals to test drain cleaner?

      • haroldgardner says:

         @WordsDoneWrite Sure even as they should disclose if they have an investment in a company or get free swag to evaluate in flattering terms.

        •  @haroldgardner That’s overkill. The last thing I want to hear is a reporter doing a two minute spiel about his or her personal viewpoints before every story. Edward R. Murrow didn’t start each broadcast with a personal disclaimer, nor should journalists of today. *Business* disclaimers are altogether different. People should disclose business relationships between the companies they work for and a company they are reporting on.

  21. KymleeIsAwesome says:

    Journalism is not defined by whether or not the information Congress out of a professional newsroom but rather by the gathering and reporting of news. It’s not about the medium but rather sharing information that might be of interest to the greater public. This is not to say that all bloggers are journalists. However, I believe people have this misconception that journalism is traditionally confined to newsrooms when it started out much the opposite, with people simply pasting out leaflets and such.

    Now, the ethics of watching someone die out get beaten brutally in the name of capturing the story is souther issue altogether.

    •  @KymleeIsAwesome I agree that there are many valid ideas of what journalism should be, but I think it’s especially important to be aware of what guidelines that governing bodies like the FTC say they are. The issue becomes tricky when so much of journalism today is not traditional and has some kind of relationship with commercial speech — whether they are a bona-fide journalist working for a publication with a sales and advertising wing, or a self-supporting blogger with their own sponsored and paid content.

      • KymleeIsAwesome says:

         @Grant Crowell Fair enough. And to be clear, the tradition of journalism goes well beyond the FTC’s definition in the last decade of journalism being what newspapers do. But let’s look at what newspapers do; they gather and report information. However, to limit this gathering and reporting to newspapers (which are a dying legacy product being supported and replaced by the digital products) is rather dismissive of the history of journalism on a whole. The roots of journalism are not exclusive to newspapers as the modern definition would have us believe. Defining journalism as “what newspapers do” is a way to control the flow of information and discredit an entire medium by dismissing those journalists who labor away without pay. This is not to say that all bloggers are journalists. As a journalist myself, I understand that journalism is a craft, a skill that not even all writers possess. My point is that journalism is not limited to what people call “traditional” publishers and since the tradition has roots in simply handing out self published leaflets, why should journalists who use blogs to distribute information be dismissed based on the medium? No, I’d argue that the quality of the information should be the barometer rather than the medium. And by that standard, there are plenty of professional news organizations that wouldn’t qualify. 

        •  @KymleeIsAwesome I’d agree with you, and add that what also needs to be part of the barometer is the disclosure of any business relationships between the journalist/blogger and either their publisher, sponsors, advertisers, or professional partners. Many news enterprises fail to disclose these relationships appropriately, despite what the FTC’s guidelines on disclosure  actually are. Part of that is ignorance, part is a mistaken assumption of what is required for disclosure. What I know is consumers expect and deserve transparency behind what news and commentary they’re getting.

  22. Now, the ethics of watching someone die out get beaten brutally in the name of capturing the story is souther issue altogether.

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