Now while I am pretty public about my approach to what I write about, questions like Rich’s have me thinking about which rules bloggers should/could play by and what the implications of not playing by those (or any) rules may be.
There was some talk a number of years ago about bloggers being citizen journalists. This was pretty controversial at the time because there were these upstart bloggers encroaching on more traditional journalists’ territory without the overhead of an editorial process and a variety of checks and balances that journalists are supposed to comply with. Bloggers, it seemed, wanted all the benefits journalists enjoy without the limitations and controls they are subject to. Those limitations and controls exist for good reasons, not least of which is to keep the press a reliable source of information. It was around that time, or perhaps shortly afterwards, that someone (I don’t remember who and I can’t find the post) published a post on Thought Leader (I think) about how journalists have the benefit of a sort of quality control process in the form of their editors and other similar mechanisms which help keep them honest. Of course this is an ideal situation because there have been comments about declining journalistic standards and ethics leading to a relatively poor state of journalism at some publications.
So here we are, a couple years later, and bloggers are attracting more and more attention by companies who would otherwise focus their PR efforts on traditional journalists. Bloggers are invited to product launches, site visits and other media events. I was recently flown to Dubai together with a journalist to cover a Nokia media event. It wasn’t too long ago that no-one would seriously have considered sending a blogger, of all people, to an event like that and yet here we are. Last week a number of bloggers were sent to the Seacom landing site. I estimate that there were at least as many bloggers on that trip as there were traditional journalists, if not more. The reason for this is fairly obvious. Bloggers are networked and can be pretty influential in their niches. Some bloggers even have mainstream journalists following them and engaging with them.
None of this background really answers my question though. If bloggers are treated a bit like journalists, should they play by the same rules? Should bloggers gather information in a similar way, approach the material from a similar perspective and adopt a similar stance towards the subject matter of their posts or do bloggers have the flexibility to do things differently?
I suppose it is a little simplistic to assume that all bloggers want the same thing and approach their work in the same way. It is also a good idea to remember that many traditional journalists are bloggers too and they approach their blogging with the discipline they apply to their careers as journalists (blogging may even be part of that work too). It is probably more helpful to focus on the blogger’s activity instead. Does the blogger’s work resemble a journalist’s or is it something else? Does a blogger purport to cover her material as if she were a journalist or does he approach his material in a more casual manner?
I write about things I am passionate about. I believe that this passion means I am incapable of being unbiased about what I write about and I instead focus on being authentic in my posts. I write what I feel, think and believe rather than what I am told to write. That has become my measure of success as a blogger. In doing so I also attract criticism for being too focussed on particular brands or topics. Does this undermine my credibility? I don’t really know and I would rather be as transparent as I can be about my influences and leave it up to my readers to decide how much weight, if any, to give to what I write.
That may be the wrong approach. Perhaps bloggers should follow some baseline set of guidelines. Authenticity would be one of those guidelines but there may well be more guidelines dealing with degrees of detachment from the subject matter of a post and other measures designed to ensure more objectivity and a more balanced approach. I tend to think of bloggers being a little like Romulans to journalists’ Vulcans – influenced more strongly by emotions and willing to follow them in a post. Should bloggers be more detached? Is there a line to be crossed at which point a blogger goes too far? If there is, where is that line?