Monday, December 3

Approaching Journalism: Tips For Bloggers

While listening to a panel discussion called “Being Opinionated in America” from the University of Berkeley that featured Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman (available for free download at iTunes), I noted that Friedman was particularly transparent in his approach to writing foreign affairs columns for The New York Times.

Five Points Gleaned From Thomas L. Friedman

• Writes fact-based commentaries that are reasonably objective
• Does not write to make friends and not doing so has no impact
• Consults with a brain trust of five people; reasonably transparent
• Fact checks for accuracy; seeks outside sources; no oversight
• Does not discriminate between the level of expertise and value of the insight

In drawing comparisons between his approach and that of bloggers, there seem to be some relatively minor distinctions, with most depending on the specific blogger.

Five Common Distinctions With Bloggers

• Some bloggers do write fact-based commentary, but most advocate specific ideas and share or debate points around their area of interest.
• Most bloggers do write to make friends, because nurturing these relationships can potentially increase their presence, reach, and perception of expertise.
• Some bloggers are influenced by select influencers, and the level of transparency is as varied as columnists. Some bloggers are also influenced by others who they never mention.
• Most bloggers do not fact check for accuracy or seek additional sources beyond what they can find available on the Web.
• Many bloggers do discriminate between the level of expertise and value of insights, often giving more weight to those who have a perceived expertise.

From me, these distinctions are especially important when considering the continuous debate whether bloggers can be journalists. I generally feel it truly depends on the blogger, always noting that some journalists are bloggers too (blogging is activity, not usually a professional designation). And, of course, many bloggers have no interest in becoming journalistic, which is fine too.

However, I do believe that bloggers can strengthen their content by adopting some journalistic approaches as outlined by Friedman.

• Never be afraid to seek offline sources to enhance the quality of the content; it’s often refreshing to read blogs that bring in ideas from non-bloggers.
• Never underestimate the value of any insight, regardless of the perceived level of expertise. Experts have an equal opportunity to be wrong.
• Authenticity is more important than transparency; meaning that disclosure is most warranted when it is relevant or directly influences the piece.
• And always be careful in pursuing online friendships for popularity so that these relationships do not hinder your ability to be honest with yourself and your readers.

The last point is often the most difficult for bloggers. For example, I generally encourage disagreement and debate while discouraging the shouting down of opposing viewpoints or diatribe, as sometimes happens when people support popularity over purpose.

I appreciate it sometimes sizes me up as someone who doesn’t much care what people think. At least that is what one of my friends told me last week. But that isn’t exactly so. I care wholeheartedly what people think; I just don’t always care a whole lot about what they might think of me for a certain point of view or working to remain objective.

There’s a big difference. In fact, it provides columnists like Dowd and Friedman the voice they need to make people think through issues without polarizing them along party platforms. Sometimes, this comes at the expense of their own popularity, if not, likeability. And personally, it’s something I hope to see more of in new media.

After all, the true test of any relationship is never when we agree, but when we disagree. Yes, we need some more of that in social media.



Anonymous said...


I was a journalist and am now a blogger. Although I seldom read political bloggers or those who portend to write news or commentary on current events, I see nothing in my current reading that would lead me to believe that bloggers can or should replace traditional media when it comes to most subject matter.

Of course, there must be exceptions that I am unaware of. The fact that I am unaware of them goes to my lack of interest in finding blogs to feed my daily news habit. I preferred those I know and trust, who are credentialed and have a body of work that I can review for accuracy and attitude.

Lewis Green, bizsolutionsplus

Rich on 12/3/07, 1:36 PM said...

Thanks Lewis,

I am not suggesting new media replace old media (frankly that seems troublesome to me), though there are some who advocate that.

I do think that bloggers may act at times like journalists (and their are journalist who blog: Wired, The New York Times, and after reading Valeria Maltoni today, the BBC.

What I am suggesting is that bloggers can learn a lot from journalists if they want to. Really, it depends on the blogger. One of my favorite blogs, written by David Maister, often presents material more like an engaged journalist than a blogger. And I often see your posts benefit very heavily from having been a journalist.

But clearly, moving toward journalism is not the answer for many bloggers for any number of reasons. Always great to receive your insights.


Rich on 12/3/07, 2:46 PM said...

BTW, My apologies for the apparent surprise changes in Blogger comments.

It seems I have to make a decision to disable anonymous comments to allow for select account back links (perhaps with OpenID as well) or leave anonymous comments and even then there may be no guarantees.

Thanks for your understanding while we sort out the change.


Hawksdomain on 12/3/07, 4:56 PM said...


Thank you for this post. As a 'newbie blogger', I have found this an interesting read. Of course, there will be days when I post just based off what I know, but I sincerely find your advice much more valuable than what I might find in another blog. This has to do with how I have perceived your expertise!

Hawk :)

Geoff_Livingston on 12/3/07, 6:19 PM said...

This a great post, Rich. I have already sent it to my network!

I really like the point about who you friend as a popular blogger. I struggle with this a little, and now say things without linking to the posts I am referring to. It seems to me it's costing me an edginess that I miss. Something to ponder.

Rich on 12/4/07, 9:46 AM said...

@Hawk, I'm glad you enjoyed it and laughed at "perceived your expertise!" Wonderfully witty. I don't pretend to know everything about social media, but I do know a thing or two about communication ... enough to have the wisdom to know that the more I know, the less I know I know. Ha!

@Geoff, Thank you sir. I really appreciate it. Ponder away. Ha! There are trade offs I imagine. Maybe the answer resides in knowing who you are. Love your new "bulldog" avatar on Twitter.


Ann Handley on 12/4/07, 1:33 PM said...

Rich -- Great post. Found it via Geoff's Tweet.

As it happens, this is a subject near and dear to my heart, since I'm a former Boston Globe reporter and current trade editor & blogger.

I see the distinction between bloggers and journalists thusly: Bloggers reveal their opinions and perspective up front; they wear them on the outside. Journalists try to not show their opinions and personal perspective; they wear them on the inside. A journalist (or at least a good one) will attempt to present all sides of an issue. A blogger isn't charged with that same mandate.

That being said, I have written journalistic posts, and I've seen others do the same. So like most things in life, there's a lot of gray area.

Ann Handley

Rich on 12/4/07, 3:25 PM said...


Thank you so much. Yes, Geoff is a great guy. I'll be seeing him this evening.

Your insights are very much close to my own. I love the way you have framed this up. I tend to move from one to the other well, which often leads me to same the same conclusion: the world is grey. Ha!

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

All my best,


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