Andy Boyle (@andymboyle) of The Boston Globe made an impassioned plea to news organizations earlier this week that they stop differentiating between blogs and articles because they’re both equally forms of content. Someone’s been needing to put this into writing for a while now, and I’m glad Andy said it so eloquently:It’s time to stop bifurcating your content as blogs and news because they run on separate systems. It is all content, so why not call it that? Even if you have outside people writing posts on your website that are unmoderated by your staff — that’s still content that’s part of your media outlet’s website. I don’t have any research proving this, but in my short journalism career many media outlets just slapped the name “blog” on something because it lived in a different CMS. We should stop this. Please.
The discussion may just be a matter of semantics. After all, the term ‘blog’ is really just a vogue way of saying ‘web-only.’ But what’s the point in saying ‘web-only,’ if not to suggest that the content at hand is somehow not also good enough to be printed on a physical page with real ink in a newspaper that costs money to produce? If a news organization is truly trying to establish its presence online, it shouldn’t marginalize one of its most trafficked genres of digital content – the candid expression of real reporters and community leaders on niche subject matters – by denigrating that form of expression as merely a ‘blog.’ The term is so 1999.
The word ‘blog’ isn’t the real problem, though. The real problem is newspapers’ continued apprehension of appearing to endorse content that’s not in keeping with traditional print production processes. Most publishers still fear letting anything not written in a strictly objective, print-centric inverted pyramid style be associated with their brand. The norm of objectivity –– although clearly no longer a business necessity in an age of information abundance –– still looms large in the ethos of online legacy media sites. Don’t get me wrong, I think journalistic fairness is a noble and wise goal for which to strive, and I admit that even while most blogs are generally fair, some are clearly not. But why not just call the ‘blogs’ that we choose to syndicate on our websites ‘columns’ or ‘opinion pieces,’ as we’ve done for so long in printed editions? I suspect the choice to stick with the term ‘blog’ has something to do with the legacy notion of what’s real reporting and what’s not. And that classification, in this case, has less to do with the accuracy and quality of information than it does with preconceived biases about the medium in which it is disseminated. Just because something’s written for an online audience and doesn’t adhere to the print production process doesn’t make it any less journalistically sound. In fact, if anything, it often makes it more efficient.
It’s sort of like the now-hackneyed ‘bloggers vs. journalists’ debate that just won’t seem to go away. Just because some bloggers post salacious, unattributed gossip doesn’t mean that everyone who uses a web-centric/blog style of writing to communicate their thoughts lacks credibility or informative public value. It just means there are bad bloggers and good bloggers, and the bad ones shouldn’t be trusted. But if an individual – be it a staff reporter blogging about city politics, or a locally-renowned chef blogging recipes on a freelance basis – is credible enough that a news organization allows him or her to contribute content to their site, the very least editors could do is give them the dignity of being called a ‘columnist’ or an ‘op-ed contributor,’ instead of just a ‘blogger.’ If you value their content enough to put it on your site under their byline, and thus gain traffic from it for yourself, you shouldn’t be so cold as to distance yourself from it by differentiating it as a blog on a separate part of the site. You should just label it as opinion.