Bloggers vs. Journos — is that debate not dead yet?


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A post by Lauren O’Neil on the Toronto Star Interns blog got me thinking.

She writes about the seeing the destruction of the G20 occurring on telelvision and, thinking this was her big break, she went running to Queen St., camera in hand. Only to find throngs of “regular” people doing the same:

Hustling my way over to the Queen and Spadina, I couldn’t help but imagine myself scoring some outstanding protest footage. What a treat, my first summer as a working journalist in the big city and all hell breaks loose! I was psyched thinking that just maybe, if I got there early enough and played my cards right, I’d be able to blend right in with the crowd and get some wild exclusive videos.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this thought.

I could go on for hours about the throngs of digi-cam wielding soccer dads and iPhone photographer hipsters flooding the city’s core, but I’ll let my video footage speak for itself.

Notice, if you will, that the number of gawkers (myself being one of them) outnumber the actual protesters and rabble-rousing “anarchists” by at least 8 to 1, on average.

Then she gets to the heart of her post: Citizen journo vs. “real” journo. And why the citizen will never truly measure up:

Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that while, yes, anybody can go through the motions of reporting, not everybody can be a reporter.

Your chiropractor’s secretary can tweet photos from the scene of a crime with her Blackberry along with hundreds of other bystanders. She can even take some fabulous high-quality photos with her brand new Canon Digital Rebel T1i. But she doesn’t have the years of experience, training and raw talent that someone who does this for a living does.

Likewise, anybody can express their opinions in a letter to the editor, on a blog, a tweet or a good ol’ fashioned handmade zine. It may be well articulated, but it’s still rare to find a citizen-journo with as much impact behind their words as a an experienced veteran journalist.

No amount of fancy equipment or technical prowess can replace a well trained reporter who understands the importance of truth, fairness, accuracy, balance and all of those other things they teach us to value both in j-school and in the newsroom.

O’Neil has taken a lot of heat for her comments on Twitter (and in the first comment on the blog post), but she’s spot on as far as I am concerned (what’s funny about the negativity surrounding this piece is that O’Neil was a blogger long before she was a journalist at the Star — so then which came first, the chicken or the egg?).

One Twitter user even went as far to say she was just towing the line of Toronto Star editor-in-chief Michael Cooke based on his recent comments about bloggers vs. journalists at the latest CJF awards gala (@matttbastard mistakenly ID’ed Star publisher John Cruickshank as the one who made the remarks).

And while I may not totally agree with Cooke, I am sick of this debate of bloggers vs. journalists or citizen journalists vs journalists.

I’d like to know in what other career people would consider themselves “citizen” versions of? Because I can’t think of any. The example I throw back to when it comes to this debate is: Should I call myself a doctor because I know first aid? No.

So why should someone consider themselves a journalist because they blog?

Journalism, like being a doctor or a teacher or a pilot, is a career path. It takes training and experience — it’s not some guy on his computer, or someone taking photos on Queen St. as stores are trashed.

Journalism is about much more than the breaking news that ordinary people can capture nowadays. And not everyone can do it.

As O’Neil says, what really separates journalism from the blogging pack is the analysis, the objectivity and the resources. It’s too soon to tell how powerful citizen journalists may become as everyone becomes an eyewitness to events.

And yes, the gathering and delivery of the news may have to change in order to adapt to this, but there is still a place for “real” journalism — and it is different from the citizen journalism that also exists.

(FYI I am not labelling all blogs/websites as non-journalism — look at Torontoist, blogTO and OpenFile as examples of blogs which are news outlets much as the Toronto Star, National Post or Globe and Mail are).

This whole discussion makes me wonder why everyone thinks they can be a journalist but no one hijacks another profession. Does the public really think that little of us that they think a monkey can do our job?

If only our job was as simple as the outside world thinks it is. There’s much more to putting words on a page than you imagine.

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