Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

The difference between journalists and bloggers

Over the next few days, I’m going to blog on a few of my own projects before I even start about delving into the bigger issues floating around the blogosphere, so you’ll have to excuse while I go introspective for the next week or so…

Anyway, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I attended Microsoft’s Blogger’s Brunch, which as far as I know is the first corporate communications event organised in Australia designed to cater for bloggers. I think Microsoft struggled to come up with a good sample of Aussie tech bloggers, which isn’t really their fault, because they’re just aren’t many of them at all. While there’s a fair few of them working inside vendors or start-ups, there are very few of what I would call independent bloggers; ie especially outside the web 2.0 crowd. We had the same problems pulling together invites for our just completed Influence 2006 event (and I’ll blog about that event tomorrow!).

Whether it had anything to do with that or not, there were just as many journo bloggers assembled as there were non-journo bloggers, so it ended up an interesting mix of the two that I took a great deal of enjoyment out of observing (and yes, I know how sad that is) and noting the kinds of questions they asked and the way they interacted with each other.

The most obvious difference is that journalists tend to think about the big picture while bloggers like to focus on details. This is pretty obvious when you think about. Most journalists are trained to look for stories with the broadest appeal and that generally means thinking about the BIG ISSUES. Bloggers are experiential writers so they’re likely to ask questions about their own pain-points and issues. If you were being narky you might say journalists grandstand and bloggers get bogged down in trivialities. If you were being nice you might say journalists are deep thinkers while bloggers are keeping it real. Now, all of these are generalisations and may not apply to the US where tech bloggers might tend to write more like journalists and journalists are often nicher and therefore more specific, but for me, that’s the way it was at this particular event.

(By the way, I had heard a bunch of good things about Frank Arrigo but never had a chance to meet him and he’s most definitely an absolutely, genuinely nice bloke. So well done Frank and really, very nice to finally meet in person!)

I never got the feeling that either crowd really gelled with the other which would have been nice because I’m sure as is almost always the case the truth lay somewhere in between.

Another quick observation. The bloggers got to the event well on-time. Of the half-dozen journos (if you count me) two showed up late and one left early. I don’t think a blogger would ever leave something like that early. The journo obviously felt there was going to be no story and shot through (and in the process missed what was pretty much a world exclusive that ended up being picked up by one of the other journos who did stay around for the whole thing). I’m with the bloggers on this one. Back when I first started journalism, the long lunch was an artform and it was generally only as the lunch drifted into its third hour that the real stories came out. You also made connections and relationships.  These days, everyone is always on deadline due to Internet requirements and everyone seems to be chained to a desk. I will maintain to my dying breath that a journalist is generally only doing real work when they’re NOT sitting at their desk. Because there is really value in just talking and throwing ideas around and seeing what sticks. I think bloggers get that more than journos do, who tend to be very much into wham bam thank you mam, onto the next story.

I didn’t really get the chance to build on any of my hyphothesis’ during Influence because I moderated the Enterprise sessions while most of the bloggers hung out in the Consumer stream. But what I did think worked really well was the fact that we mixed a whole bunch of different people into the mix. Journos, analysts, users, bloggers, all of which think differently, all of which tend to have different issues or agendas and the end-result was a whole heap of incredibly interesting discussions – in fact, some of the sessions would rate as the most interesting enterprise IT discussions I’ve ever participated in.

And that wasn’t just down to the diversity of the voices either. I think it also had something to do with the scale of the discussion. I’ve been to a trillion round table discussions and they almost always get better the bigger they are. We generally had 20 to 30 participants and that worked really nicely – enough voices to ensure things seldom went flat yet still providing ample opportunity for everyone to contribute. Much bigger and I’m thinking it wouldn’t have worked as well.

When you think about it, those same reasons are the reason that the blogosphere CAN work so brilliantly. You get great multiplicity of voices and great scale. I also think some of the same equations apply. There’s a right size, where it gets too big and access is removed for some (by way of being noticed) but if there isn’t enough participants the conversation is boring and not worth getting involved with. And if you get too many of the same type people together, the debate is far less worthwhile.

They say it takes all sorts, and you know what, it really does!

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2 Responses

  1. I think there’s one other difference worth mentioning: accountability.
    If I, as a freelance journo, get loose with the facts or get slack in my writing style, editors notice and I get no work.
    A blogger can do whatever the hell they want, or at least do so with far fewer consequences. Sometimes it’s part of their appeal.

    S.

  2. Rob Irwin says:

    Good analysis there, Phil.

    Simon’s bang on the money with the comment on how blogger’s can play very loose with the facts, with far less consequences, than a professional journalist. I see it all the time.

    I’ve said it before; it’s only when companies start making examples of bloggers for getting stuff wrong or defaming people or whatever — and prosecute them to the extent they’d prosecute a journalist in the same scenario — that bloggers might sit up and think, “Crikey, there’s more to this lark than just publishing something online and deluding myself that I’m just as much a writer as those newspaper guys…”

    When they realise it’s not all beer & skittles and there’s actually great responsibility that comes with being a journalist, a few of them might quietly hand in their blogging badges.

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