We are going to set aside, for now, the people who provide an easy answer to this question: the reporters, editors, and columnists who maintain their own blogs, either independently or under the auspices of their media employer. We will deal with them later because they raise a whole set of ethical issues of their own.
One way to approach the question of whether bloggers are journalists is to figure out what makes someone a journalist in the first place. We have seen that definitions based on professionalism, process, and practice are all problematic.
Indeed, both bloggers and journalists continue to wrestle with this issue of what, if anything, separates them, not infrequently descending into mutual name-calling along the way. Some journalists who appreciate the role bloggers can play still do not want them considered journalists; many bloggers flat-out reject the term and what it stands for. “It’s just the latest manifestation of the vanity press,” says Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s online CJR Daily.”Most of them don’t consider themselves journalists.”Nor should anyone else consider them that way, some observer says.”They’re certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo,” says journalism professor TomMcPhail. “Bloggers should be put in a different category, like ‘pretend’ journalists.”
But others, including some journalists, argue that what bloggers do is real- and valuable. For instance, the Washington Post’s Thomas Edsall, (who has reported on politics and government for more than thirty-five years, says political blogger can serve as an antidote to journalistic groupthink): “We in journalism -there’s an orthodoxy to our thinking. You can come up with an idea and you know its sort of verboten, or they’re gonna say, ‘oh, that’s only worth ten inches,’ and they’re gonna put you inside the paper. It’s not worth a fight. The blogs can sort of break the ice and make it clear that there is something pretty strange or pretty unique or pretty interesting or pretty awful about something.”
Many bloggers do have backgrounds as a journalist, and they are among the most passionate about the benefits of blogging. Long-time journalist and media executive Jeff Jarvis frequently discuss these issues in his popular BuzzMachine blog.”Journalism is institutional, impersonal, and dispassionate; blogs are human, personal, and passionate. Institutions take pledges because they have become separated from the people they serve,” Jarvis says .” At the end of the day, I don’t want to see blogs turn into an institution, or try to, for then they wouldn’t be blogs anymore.”
The debate over whether bloggers are can be, or should be journalists is not likely to end anytime soon. An ethical perspective may help add clarity. The fact that those citizens can choose from a vast array of different information does not change the commitment or obligations. Unlike those with institutionally defined social roles and ethics, such as lawyers, journalists have been left to their own devices in deciding what actions are ethical and in publicly enacting them. According to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the ethical principles that journalists have laid out as guidance towards an optimal way of doing their work are to seek truth and report it, to minimize harm, to act independently, and to be accountable.
Do these principles apply equally well to bloggers?