I am not a journalist.

The Prince Edward Island media intelligentsia has been all aflutter for the past several weeks over the admittance to and subsequent expulsion of local blogger from the Legislative Assembly’s Press Gallery. Following on from the original story there’s been a column in the local newspaper and a panel discussion on the local morning radio show.

The common thread running through these discussions has been a tacit assumption that blogging is sort of “journalism lite.”

Guardian Editor Gary Macdougall used the phrase “hobby journalists” to describe what bloggers do, and underlying the CBC panel discussion was the notion that we all need to consume this stuff called “the news” and that there’s a battle between bloggers and journalists to see who’s going to deliver it in the future.

But these bloggers vs. journalists debates set up a false dichotomy: in straining to compare blogging to journalism commentators are making the mistake of assuming that because bloggers and journalists both “write about things,” they are, of necessity, somehow part of the same enterprise.  

Comparing journalists to bloggers is like comparing journalists to poets or novel writers or songwriters or graffiti artists or priests: yes, we all interpret the human condition in our own peculiar ways, but the blogger is no more treading on the domain of a journalist than the poet is.

I’m a committed and passionate blogger: it’s deeply woven into the fabric of how I live. But the exciting thing about blogging for me is not its perceived abilities to “recast the news landscape,” it’s the notion that regular everyday citizens have, in the Internet, a publishing platform the likes of which we’ve never seen: low cost, low barrier to entry, global distribution of words and images.

And what’s exciting about that has nothing to do with the product and everything to do with the process

What happens when, for all intents and purposes, everyone has a printing press and a television studio and is responsible to no entity but their own conscience when using it? How does that change public discourse? How does that change how people think about themselves in relation to society’s institutions? In a world where anyone can publish anything at any time, how do we attach value to our own small bit of the dialogue?

By obsessing on the “market for content,” we’re missing that the tranformational aspect of these “new media” isn’t about consumption but rather about production: what happens when we’re all free to create in ways that have heretofore been beyond the means of the common person?

Who cares what gets created – that’s simply the by-product – the heart of the matter is how it’s created, who is creating it, and what doing so does to them.

Obviously journalists need to be part both of interpreting this and considering its implications for what they do. But so do school children and portrait painters and guitar players and choreographers and ecologists.

I am not a journalist. 

The words I write in this space I write for myself alone, without consideration for their consumption.  I write about things that happen to me, things that interest me, things that happen in my neighbourhood and things that happen in the world. 

If you happen to read what I write here, that’s great, but I’m not writing for you, and while I may be interested in your reaction to what I write, this blog is not about you, or what I’m writing about. It’s about how my life is enhanced by the very fact of writing itself.

That’s not journalism.

And because you have to be inside it to truly understand it, it’s not something that’s easily hashed out in a David vs. Goliath-style morning radio debate or a journalist’s newspaper column.

Should bloggers be able to join the Press Gallery? That’s no more than a bureaucratic diversion: the real and profound questions concern whether an engaged population of producers actually needs a Legislative Assembly at all.


Alan's picture
Alan on October 28, 2009 - 19:31

Isn’t it rather the case that you (and I) are writers and that sometimes the writing comes into the sphere of journalism? I would think that could even occur unintentionally in this medium.

There is no all or nothing to this. Once in a while there are writings on topics in the news or investigations undertaken by bloggers and posts that look a lot like a newspaper article. A little more often there are things that look a lot like editorials. Most often they are just responses to news in the nature of a reader’s comment. Heck, my Federal blogging led to a contract from the CBC to write pieces for pay in exactly the same format for their news website.

So while we may not be journalists we may well do citizen journalism from time to time which, like the 19th century newspaper publisher, may well reflect subjective agenda. Much journalism is a projection of an intention whether it is that of the magnate or the party or the individual publisher. You may not even be able to absolve yourself from the implication through your refutation of it.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on October 28, 2009 - 19:47

What we do have is a bias media that bases their credibility on impartiality.

But you had me until this..”the real and profound questions concern whether an engaged population of producers actually needs a Legislative Assembly at all”. That is the end, so I hung in there pretty well.

Your past writings have led me to believe you well understood and celebrated the fact that we all are not producers. Many in our society are consumers, only. And, they like it that way. For some, why exert when it is provided by government for free?

That is why we need government…for their safety nets. What you propose is libertarian. And anarchy. I am of the belief even producers need laws.

Don’t even want to touch the “engaged” part, when one considers such “engagement” these days is a focus on Entertainment Tonight, what such and such Hollywood star says about health science, or what so and so is doing “right now” on Twitter (She is painting her toenails).

Jevon's picture
Jevon on October 28, 2009 - 20:08


Wayne's picture
Wayne on October 28, 2009 - 20:55

A rose by any other name…?

David Richardson's picture
David Richardson on October 28, 2009 - 22:02

This site isn’t a journal? And you aren’t the keeper of it?

I’ll accept that you aren’t a professional journalist, though.

Clark's picture
Clark on October 28, 2009 - 22:33

I always considered the Guardian to be hobby journalism.

J's picture
J on October 29, 2009 - 00:17

Hi there. I recently moved back to the Island and stumbled across your blog one way or another a couple of months ago while searching for something Charlottetown-related online. I enjoy checking in from time to time to see what you have to say.

That being said, I love your post today and it reminded me immediately of this:


While not completely related, it definitely hits on similar themes to what you had to say above and it’s enjoyable to flip through the presentation as it’s really well done. A librarian who graduated a year ahead of me from the MLIS program at Dal (M.J. D’Elia) presented it at this year’s APLA conference so you may have seen the presentation in person but if not, enjoy!

Josh Biggley's picture
Josh Biggley on October 29, 2009 - 01:36

I listened to the podcast of the CBC segment you have written about Peter. I guess the question is, what defines a journalist? I recently started writing for SpacingAtlantic.ca, the Atlantic Canada blog of Spacing magazine. When the writers, editors, etc. for Spacing participate in the online realm, do they somehow relinquish their role as journalists? Perhaps there should be some sort of entrance exam or criteria? A degree in journalism, some might say. However, I recently discovered that a journalist friend of mine does not have an ounce of education in journalism, in spite of holding a masters degree and, yet, he is still paid to contribute to both online and offline publications.

I believe the question at hand is not whether bloggers are journalists, but what type of journalists are bloggers? It is not the medium that defines journalism, but the intent, perhaps even the standards and ethics, that separates the journalists from the bloggers. As I debated this topic with my wife, she said “Not all bloggers want to be journalists!” to which I totally agree, but excluding those who want to be recognized as journalists, reporters or even editorialists simply because they don’t publish and paper or magazine is elitest and destructive to the common discussion that is public media.

On a brief aside, the suggestion that for-profit media is somehow more trustworthy, credible or even factually accurate is absurd and offensive. (This was one of the statements made during the podcast) Mainstream media is as tainted and maligned as they claim alternative media to be. While bloggers do write out of passion for a particular position, journalists write for profit. It takes a pretty gritty editor to approve a scathing story about, say, the largest advertiser in a newspaper, or a close political ally of the owners of the media outlet. We are all jaded, independent and for-profit media alike, but bloggers, in my experience, are more likely to admit their allegiances and agendas than the so-called public media.

Which ever way you believe, it was high time to that this discussion was undertaken in PEI. It’s been a battle raging across the globe for years. I guess we are just playing catch-up.

Mitch's picture
Mitch on October 29, 2009 - 01:49

In any public communication there is a producer and consumer (to extend your terms, maybe a bit reductionistic?), though the “scriptor” doesn’t have the power in any sense (rhetorically, authoritatively, or logically) to prescribe meaning to their work. The meaning is constructed by all participants in the dialogue, stating that you are not a journalist doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter that Gary Macdougall claims some sort of authority on behalf of professional journalists, the readers and the milieu they are part of, have a major role in creating meaning (see Death of the Author, Barthes).

Regarding the statement, “tranformational [sic] aspect of these “new media” isn’t about consumption but rather about production,” I would classify that as a false dichotomy. It’s dangerous to undervalue the civic utility of a larger diversity of information sources (I guess we’d lump that on the consumption side of things), that new information technologies have afforded us, especially for those people who are still unable to create content for public discourse. Imagine the transformation when the authority of traditional information gatekeepers evaporates and everyone has a chance to participate in a diverse and meaningful public sphere, not as producers or consumers, but as humans naturally communicating and connecting.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 29, 2009 - 01:52

I think you must be writing for an audience, Peter, even if it’s for one you only imagine. I don’t think you write here as if it were a private diary, which seems to be what you’re claiming. I think representatives ought to be reading the blogs or tweets of constituents who are attending the session.

Charles's picture
Charles on October 29, 2009 - 10:02

Imagine the transformation when the authority of traditional information gatekeepers evaporates and everyone has a chance to participate in a diverse and meaningful public sphere, not as producers or consumers, but as humans naturally communicating and connecting.

I think we already have this, and it is truly, utterly, horrible. It’s why the whole concept of there being news organizations in today’s society is laughable. News, and journalism in general, is about presenting facts. When you look back at the people who are considered great in the news industry (the Edward R Murrow types, even up to Dan Rather and Ted Koppel) they would present the facts of a situation in a rather dry manner, but you could be reasonably sure that what they were saying was true. Modern “news” is really no more then commentary. A short blurb is presented, and then it’s just opinions on what that might mean, what the significance is. Combine that with the rush to be first (so very minimal fact checking) and the push for news to be “entertaining” (so balloon boy gets more coverage than the multiple wars going on right now or terrorist bombings in Pakistan) and the public is no longer really informed. The gatekeeps were there for a reason: to keep the crap out and ensure the accuracy and dignity of the content produced. Not to censor based on who would be offended, but to censor based on quality of the work.

Back to the original subject, what the difference between a blogger and a journalist is, I’d say the difference is simple: a journalist present facts; a blogger gives commentary. Of course by that criteria, most of the people in the news industry today are really bloggers, not journalists.

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on October 29, 2009 - 11:57

This debate is being conducted beyond PEI with great vitriol — why I was impressed by the manner of the discussion here.

Peter I think that there is in fact no line really in what we do but only in the label. Some bloggers comment — some follow stories as journalists do.

Where is the line and why the passion?

If we look at schools we see the same line. A “real” teacher has to have a Teaching degree and get paid working for a “real” school.

The explicit assumption is that only such a “professional” training and only such an “accredited” organization can safely “teach”.

Of course this is utter rubbish. Most good teachers have a natural ability and learn to be really good by teaching. The actual course work for a B of Ed is merely a guild barrier. Good teaching does not need a school either — another guild barrier.

Journalists at the heart are only story tellers. I say only not in a deprecating way but to define what it is that they do. So are good bloggers.

A myth about journalism is that they are careful about the truth. This may be true in a micro sense but has never been true on a macro sense. Newspapers etc exist to sell advertisng space and to pay their owners. Nothing wrong in that per se. But as we have seen in our own lifetime, they have a deep systemic bias to the status quo and to pleasing those in power.

One of the aspects I enjoy about the press in the UK is that no one pretends to be unbiased. Each organ stakes out ground and speaks to that. Here in North America, the bias is cloaked.

More recently even the micro facts — balloon boy etc — are not checked.

But the passion to draw the line is fueled mainly by the reality that the old media is dying and is lashing out and looking to protect itself. A natural response but still nasty.

They claim that they have been undermined by losing revenue to Craigslist and attachment to Google. But if you look at the numbers, they have lost their audience and their readers.

I think in our now very complex world, the “News” offers only a commodity headline — Flu!!!! Risk!!!! Get Vaccinated!!! — Market’s Up Buy Buy Buy Markets Down Sell Sell — More Killed in Afghanistan More Killed More Killed — Michael Jackson/OJ/Jay Lo

As they lose resources, this frantic search for headlines gets worse and the cycle continues. As they lose circulation and ad revenue, they are faced with their systemic costs. The paper, the TV studios, the union rules, the guild practices. They all totter now. In reality, papers and TV stations will close all over North America. Canwest cannot even give their stations away! Thousands will lose well paying jobs.

Those that are left feel cornered and have to lash out — it must be someone else’s fault — those Bloggers!

I did not hear this on the CBC but I live with this every day in the US.

I think that this is more like the Reformation than any other precedent. A once invulnerable institution who defined their power by claiming to be the only connection to God, whose leader was appointed by God, whose Priests were the only true priests were being assaulted by an idea.

The idea was that all could find and converse with God directly. That there was no need for such an institution. That being a priest began in the human heart. Now that is not what the reformed church became but that was the idea that shook the Mother Church.

It’s not really about the bloggers versus the papers or the TV or Radio stations. It is the death of an industrial idea. The death knell for all such institutions.

Soon there will not longer be this debate about who is a journalist because there will be only a handful of papers and other traditional organizations and there will be a void.

Like planets forming from stellar dust, new institutions will form — many bloggers will find a place in this new system as will a few “journalists”.

This will happen soon enough here on PEI.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on October 29, 2009 - 18:41

One of the delightful things about mainstream news coming apart is that I have discovered that I can live without it. Very little of what I read in the Globe and Mail has any bearing on my everyday life. There is nothing I can personally do about a bus crash in India or a kidnapping in Alberta or some MP calling for this and that in Ottawa. If I want details, I can use the web to find more local and more relevant information. Newspapers and especially TV a have completely lost their authority as an y kind of filter for me. In the old days I relied on them because it was very hard to aggregate news any other way. If anything, RSS has killed journalism.

I suppose journalism still has a place, just as poetry has a place. But I think journalists are finally being confronted with the fact that their lock on truth has evaporated. I don’t care one way or the other about this, just noticing where I get my information about things from. Journalists have their place, and good luck to them. I don’t read them much, not reporters anyway. Opinion pieces are interesting for ideas and diversion, but Malcolm Gladwell, entertaining as he is, competes with 75 other writers in my RSS feed every morning.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on October 29, 2009 - 18:52

Charles…the distinctions aren’t helpful. The journalist has no more lock on the truth than a blogger does. That does not distinguish the two. If it did, the Iraq war might never had started. Politicians, journalists, citizens, lobbyists, bloggers: who has the facts? If the truth was so clear all the time, do you think there would be so much hand wringing in the public sphere.

Human societies are complex. If you are making a decision about health care reform, say deciding to extend public medical benefits to uninsured families, who do you go to for the facts? Journalists? Nope. I would live in fear of a policy maker that used newspapers as the factual basis for policy decisions. Instead, you go to a variety of sources and then you sit with others and make meaning together and then make a decision. Truth appears in many forms, and decisions in complex systems are little more than educated guesses at best.

So are Fox and CNN journalistic outlets? O’ Reilly and Beck and Olbermann and others have destroyed the notion of journalists all on their own as has John Stewart. These people started as journalists but have disowned the craft. Should they take up as much time as they do on TV networks with opinion, confusing the populace who are expected facts from a talking head on TV? Journalists don’t have facts. You get facts when you dig for them, not because you are credentialed.

People who blog do it for all kinds of reasons. Some blend reporting and commentary as Peter does here, some do one or the other. But if you are

No name's picture
No name on October 30, 2009 - 16:52

Dear Peter,

How about a blog post on the H1N1 shortage on the Island.

I trust you & your son are among the at risk population as you have received your H1N1 shots already.

Those who have selfishly stepped to the front of the line instead of waiting their turns should read the comments on the CBC story:

3 P.E.I. clinics run out of swine flu vaccine

Ken's picture
Ken on November 1, 2009 - 13:50

Writing about the legislature from a close perch or stuck on the outside with no access, for an employer or at large, is tilting at the windmills either way. Write something interesting and that is what matters to me. I’ll find your words somewhere if they ring clear. Courts, jesters, farmers, muskets either way the hot dog will get it’s mustard.

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