Why Do Journalists Have Such a Problem With Bloggers?

Any “trained journalist” who seriously believes that blogging has caused the demise of print journalism must have nodded off during the investigative part of their degree course. Sadly, the obvious fact that it’s a completely bogus, unfounded and ill-informed notion doesn’t stop our friends with a certificate in Advanced Scribbling from desperately wishing it were true. Blogs do make an easy scapegoat. Blaming bloggers for the present condition of journalism conveniently exonerates the journalist community from any part in the profession’s own demise. And it’s so much easier than collecting, sorting and assessing the evidence.

Yesterday there was a typical example on Twitter, occasioned by this blog post by a recently out of work journalist. The blog post contained the usual lazy thinking and needless insults that generally characterise the tone of this type of rant. But never let it be said that our accredited word monger chums ever let a little thing like fairness, accuracy and truth get in the way of a good old whinge.

The first claim of this anti-blogging blogger can be dealt with easily:

There are just too many redundant journalists jostling for too little work, and if you do come across a paying job, the rates you’re likely to get are quite pathetic.

Both these things are indeed true. Neither of these things has anything to do with blogging, however. If there are too many journalists and not enough jobs in journalism then the responsibility is either with Journalism schools for the over supply, or with the owners and employers of print media companies for the reduction in demand. Last time I looked bloggers didn’t run educational establishments, and they certainly don’t own any of the mainstream media institutions. Bloggers? Not guilty.

To be fair, the writer does recognise this when he admits his current employment status was owing directly to his

treacherous friends at the Guardian

Bloggers don’t run the Guardian. Don’t even want to.

The next point is just as easily dismissed:

Every clown with a keyboard is now a ‘writer’, so the traditional skills of the journalist have become completely devalued.

Clowns have always tried to write. There were clowns with quill pens, clowns on Smith-Corona’s, and there’ll be clowns around when we can write with a chip connected directly to Broca’s Area in our brains. Clowns are a constant. What does it say about “traditional skills” if they so easy devalued by clowning? What does it say about journalism that it’s major employers are choosing to replace the trained journalist with the amateurish clown?

The next point is a little awkward. I can appreciate how it feels to be made redundant from a well paying, high status, rewarding job. Fifteen years or so I was earning shed loads being all important and well-known in my little niche – then government policy changed and my little niche got folded up, torn apart, and tossed in the waste bucket. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t nice. It hurt like hell. And I could have responded like most journalists seem to do when asked to do something which they think demeans them … such as blogging:

I don’t need ‘exposure’ and I don’t have a CV. I’ve never needed one, my reputation going before me.

Nobody forces anyone to blog. It might be worth journalists thinking about reputation a bit though. And a CV may come in handy.

The last point the ex-journalist makes was obviously under pressure of anger, bile and righteous wrath. But it does show how little self-awareness most journalists have when it comes to the faults, foibles and fuck-ups of their own profession, and how quick they are to play the “someone else did it” when things go wrong

Anyone who can string a sentence together (and many who can’t) can get their pathetic prattle published these days. The rise of the blogger has meant the downfall of the honest hack.

The first sentence is partly true. Publishing is genuinely easy, even for pathetic prattlers. But the implication that the people who cannot string a sentence together can get and keep an audience is nonsense. Yes, we are all competing for attention, but the idea that readers are stupid and will accept any old crap is frankly ridiculous. Maybe the problem is that journalists hold their readership in contempt? And maybe people read blogs because there is something of value there for them? I know that “trained journalists” have a lot of nous trained out of them and will find the blindingly obvious hard to see. But maybe some blogging is good writing! The second sentence is quite frankly risible. So, the “downfall of the honest hack” has nothing to do with the reason most people find the phrase “honest hack” completely ludicrous then?

Later that day another ant-blogging blog post chimed in with yet more delightfully daft witless waffle that the journalistic community mistakes for logic, apparently.

No matter how you look at it, writing is a profession. It requires skill, dedication, time and energy – and people who do it for a living need to be paid in order to live.

You wouldn’t ask a plumber to work for free on the basis that if he installed your bathroom well, you’d tell all your friends how good it was and he would get more work.

Why should writing be any different?

Why should writing be different from plumbing? Well, since you ask …it shouldn’t.

Firstly, since when did “writing” become a profession? Even in the case of journalism itself the claim to be a profession in the way Doctor, Dentist, Lawyer are professions is dubious. Plenty of people get published in newspapers, get called journalists, and go to journalist conferences without the benefit of formal training. But let’s accept for the sake of argument that journalism is a trade, much like plumbing. Plumbers exist because I have a need (a leaky tap, a blocked toilet, a shower that’s stopped showering) and I’m willing to part with my well-earned cash to fix it. Plumbers don’t have a right to plumb. If plumbing college churns out too many plumbers and not enough toilets get blocked then some plumbers go out of business. So, while I would not ask a plumber to work for free, neither would I expect a plumber to demand a job simply owing to his training and reputation if I could sort my own shit out.

Secondly, this journalist seems unaware of DIY. Plenty of people spend time and energy dedicated to a skill simply for the joy of practising the skill and making something without professional help. Yes, writing is like plumbing, and blogging is the literary equivalent of B and Q.

During the twitter spat that ensued after the journalists had lauded this pile of tosh to the skies, bloggers were called “ignorant”, “random” and “lazy”. I’ll happily put my hand up and plead guilty to all those things. And it’s true that I’d never last an hour in a busy news room. But it also appears to be the case that the possession of a qualification in journalism doesn’t protect you from bad logic, wishful thinking, and blatant inability to face reality.


  1. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for including links to my blog in your post. However, I do feel what I said has been taken out of context here. At no point have I said I have a problem with bloggers – in fact, I follow a lot of blogs, and as the above commenter points out, I blog myself.

    If you read my post in full, what I was actually raising concerns about was my concern as a professional about doing work for free, and people making a profit from a website or blog (such as a company site) but then failing to reward the people who have helped them to make it successful. This doesn’t apply to community websites like yours (which I enjoy reading) or individuals’ blogs.

    In this light, I think your extension of my plumbing analogy also isn’t quite right. It’s fair enough to compare blogging to DIY, and I would agree with you on that. But what I was talking about was like strangers calling up a professional plumber from the Yellow Pages and asking them to do work for free, which is quite different.

    I hope that clears things up.


    PS (*plug*) I followed your disagreements on Twitter yesterday with interest. I wonder if both sides of the argument might gain anything from reading this http://vervewordsblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/journalists-are-real-people-too/ ? (*end of plug*)

  2. Who have you been speaking to Phil?

    I know a lot of journalists who have been made redundant and, as far as I’m aware, none of them blame blogging for their troubles.

    The migration of ad spend from print to digital – an issue only exacerbated by the economic crash – played its part, certainly. But blogging? No. Blogging still isn’t on many print journalists radar – if there is such a thing as a ‘print journalist’ anymore.

    The problem with blogging v journalism comes with initiatives like Trinity Mirror’s forthcoming move to replace solid local newspapers in Liverpool with glorified community newsletters, with content coming from local groups and bloggers.

    If Trinity Mirror put some resources towards training local people in producing professional hyper local news content , then all well and good but the reality is they probably won’t.

    Lots of local bloggers – almost certainly working for free – will get invaluable experience and maybe a few bylines but if they’re not researching, investigating and questioning in a rigorous and professional manner, the local community they seek to inform and represent are getting short changed.

    Meanwhile, professional journalists have to look for work elsewhere or leave the industry altogether.

    No disrespect Phil but the elementary grammatical and spelling errors in this piece wouldn’t get past even the laziest good-for-nothing sub on a local free sheet.

    There’s a lot to be said for the gifted amateur but news journalism requires a measured and professional approach, and I don’t think your average blogger can provide this.

    And yes, I’m writing this in the pub. Lunchtime O’Booze is alive and well.

    1. He was referring to the journalists’ blogs mentioned above, the ones he links to.
      Although you start out saying that bloggers aren’t to blame for journalism’s problems you do seem to have a bit of a go at blogging/bloggers towards the end of your post. Including a personal attack on Phil’s writing that I think is quite mean. I noticed a couple of typos rather than a litany of poor spelling and grammar (incidentally there are similar errors
      In the journalists’ blogs he cites). There is NOTHING WORSE than a grammar pedant commenting on blogs. Seriously, we must try to ccontrol these urges unless we are editing or marking students or writing our own stuff.

      Yes, it is sad that there are less
      opportunities for what Julie Burchill calls
      fun, easy, well paid jobs. The same could be said for actors, illustrators, academics and other jobs people do for talent and passion rather than only money- it is harder and harder for people in these professions to find steady paid work and
      many people are having to spend large
      periods of their careers ‘working’ for low
      or no pay. You can think: ‘it was ever thus for the artist’, or you can blame neoliberalism/the cuts/philistine popular culture.

      And, to return to a previous point: erm, not being funny (in fact being totally serious) but I have rarely read any newspaper cover to cover – or indeed many books for that matter – where the spelling/grammar is entirely without flaw. Humans make errors. That’s how we communicate. Yes,when the errors are
      clearly the result of a poor grasp
      on written English rather than typos or gramatical colloquialisms (I write how I speak, innit?) it might be worth crying about ‘lowering standards’; more often than not though some of the best ‘voices’ break some of the rules. And if we take
      Phil’s DIY analogy…well, sometimes if we do it ourselves the wall paper bubbles up underneath. So long as our points are fairly clear and well considered and
      portrayed in the tone we intended I’m not sure it’s THAT important.

      I do think it’s sad about Trinity Mirror. I suppose the fact that newspapers aren’t making money means cutbacks. This will
      do nothing for quality. But a free press can’t be subject to state subsidy. So what to do? This is the most important question.

      (nb: I blame any errors in spelling or grammar on my own part in this fairly long rant on the following: I am in Russia typing on a mobile and can’t edit with any ease, I think I might be suffering from heat stroke, I’m lazy and slapdash and, fuck it, it’s only a comment on a blog. In the greater scheme of things, I hope it isn’t that important).

    2. I was speaking to @NickAhad and @LS1Hack, rather publicly.

      Really looking forward to your grammar critique … btw, I read local papers. Really? Let’s compare notes. Gaffe foe gaffe … that would be hilarious fun.

  3. Yes I’m aware that, among other errors, it would have been better if that had read ‘The same could be said for acting, illustrating, academia and other things people do for talent and passion rather than only money’. Damn it. Let’s think of commenting as what a drunken pub rant is to the crafted speech prepared in advance. Can we? Please? There’s, like, no edit function.

    1. And I used ‘less’ rather than ‘fewer’; like I do when I speak. BURN ALL THE STATE SCHOOLS.

      Right, I’m off to drink Vodka now. Good night.

      1. And ‘grasp of’. And I
        meant to put ‘let’s think of commenting on a blog being to journalism what a drunken rant in pub is to a crafted speech prepared in advance.’ Jesus, I really need to do some work on my spontaneous grammar. And maybe pay a proof reader to help me with my Big Acadmic Submission…

        Seriously *now* I’m off for that vodka.

  4. Hi Phil,

    Further to my comment earlier, I’d be grateful if you could authorise the response I made to your assertions above. You’ve stated I’m anti-blogging, which is categorically not true, and I would be grateful of the opportunity to explain the comment taken out of context above and ensure nobody misunderstands my original intention.



  5. Journalists complaining about blogging are reading the wrong blogs, frankly. Apart from the odd stellar journalist, the quality and rigor of blog writing on good blogs is often higher than newspaper writing. Subject specialists who can write, now have a window on the world. There are some newspaper writers I’d pay to read, but not bundled together with a whole bunch of re-hashed wire content and adverts – this is the heart of the matter.

    People want diverse content from multiple sources, but no longer a content experience curated by someone else, second guessing their preferences. The newspaper industry has singularly failed to deliver a payment strategy to reflect this – micro-payments – and still insists on all (paper) copy or nothing (web).

  6. When an industry’s suffering there are usually many different reasons, and a lot of pain and frustration taken out on anyone who wasn’t there in the halcyon days when journalism was a noble calling chosen by dedicated truth-seekers who would go off on a retainer without filing a single word for weeks on end; the good old days when journos who would find their stories while propping up the bar down the local all afternoon.

    You could blame incompetent business models, government media policy, uninteresting journalists and columnists themselves, the public relations industry, and many other candidates. “Grey Cardigan” is now doing well for himself in PR apparently… There are something like four professional PR people for every one journalist in the UK (it may be far more, I forget the figure off the top of my head) – these people’s business is in providing fodder for hacks to barely rewrite, reducing the need for real journalism and genuine writing to fill an editor’s daily pages. How much responsibility lies in their hands for the dwindling role of a print journalist?

    “Grey Cardigan” is angry and upset I can see, but he ought to change his attire to something a little more colourful and modish. Journalists who complain about the state of their industry today have just got to be better journalists. I didn’t go to school to train as a journalist – I didn’t think spending a postgraduate year at university to learn skills I could pick up myself by hard personal effort was a sound investment (plenty of media businesses make it their policy not to employ you unless you have the requisite journalism diploma, but fortunately I’ve never wanted to work for any of them), and to be truthful I think there’s something seedy about all our reporters having been trained up on the same courses at the same schools by those who have often given up life at the coalface. But in two years since graduating from university I’ve been employed as one in three different countries and worked freelance for publications of every stripe across the world, and worked hard and smartly to make a decent living out of it for a 23-year old up north – not penning tragic blogs about how tough it is to get into the industry. It’s not.

    Despite not having the patience and discipline to run my own blog, I simply find it insulting when “trained journalists” like this one and the usual(ly boring) suspects on Twitter mouth off (or at least tap off from their keyboard) about bloggers. Whether it’s good and worthwhile and always interesting sites like this (with writers I’d have in any magazine of mine long before any working today in Johnston Press’s newsrooms), or even teenage lads scrawling garbled sentences about Leeds United from their bedrooms, or smart young women waxing over the vintage fashion they picked up from the market last weekend… these are the people who give a damn, these are the people who are turning up, telling a story, and who actually care about what goes into your newspaper! The last people journalists should be condemning are the people who genuinely have a passion for the things they write about and the stories they’re supposed to be sharing. They lost their readers by failing to appeal to these people, and they won’t win them back by insulting them. Can you imagine Woodward and Bernstein spitting out angry truncated tweets mocking bloggers for thinking they’re the next Orwell? I wonder if they’d have blogs themselves nowadays, for that matter…

    So Phil, I don’t have a problem with bloggers, but then I’m probably not a proper journalist – thank goodness.
    And can someone tell me when Phil gets his lesson on punctuation, spelling and grammar? I’ve got two deadlines to meet and a bar to prop up.

  7. I’m both, a journalist and a blogger. Does that throw a spanner in the works?

    I find that blogs are often about one topic or niche, something they may not look for in a newspaper, possible a niche magazine. For example my blog is on health and food, I wouldn’t pick up a newspaper or watch the news for healthy recipes like I find on blogs. What I write on my blog and what I write as a journalist are very different things.

    There are some very talented bloggers out there who are very good writers. Why can’t the show that to the world?

    I think journalists should embrace blogging. I love being a journo and a blogger.

  8. As Phil said, writing isn’t a profession – it’s a skill that can be utilised professionally by anyone – authors, scientists, people in marketing or advertising and yes also journalists.
    It can be art or it can be commerce. It can be deeply personal – or it can be public, and yes – amateur or professional.
    Blogging began as a form of communication for the everyman, maybe even the underdog – but like anything popular, commerce crept in with some bloggers being sponsored or employed full time. Just because it’s paid does not make it journalism and just because the internet is increasingly more popular than print does not make amateur bloggers responsible for the demise of journalism. It’s a venn diagram with minimal crossover.

  9. Phil,

    I’m still not convinced that you can find any great truths about journalists’ view of the blogosphere in a post that almost seems to be a parody of the stereotypical bitter, twisted and professionally impotent hack longing for the good old days of analogue. The sense of entitlement from someone who can’t even be bothered to get a CV together but still expects to find work is simply staggering – and I’m not surprised he has problems getting shifts if that’s the way he talks to potential employers.

    The sad part of it is that many of Grey Cardigan’s old school skills are absolutely transferable to the digital world. And (I’d guess) it’s not as if he’s exactly a digital novice: Journalists have been filing copy electronically and subs working on Quark and InDesign for years. And if the skills you have aren’t saleable in the modern world, acquire some more.

    My main point is: Grey Cardigan’s views do not represent the profession as a whole, and to use those views as a springboard to slate the entire profession has very little to do with “fairness, accuracy and truth”. Ironically enough, “the obvious fact that it’s a completely bogus, unfounded and ill-informed notion” doesn’t stop you from writing a similarly bogus, unfounded and ill-informed post about it. In essence, you’re both wrong.

    As I said on Twitter, I wasn’t trying to score points by pointing out the errors in the copy, I was merely making the point – admittedly not very well – that it’s a bit rich for you to disparage the traditional skills of journalism in a post that would benefit from the judicial application of some of those same skills. People who write copy are rarely the best people to sub it. You need another pair of eyes, at least.

    I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to sub your copy for you but the piece above is littered with missing words and misused apostrophes. Smith-Corona’s? What does it say about journalism that it’s major employers etc? Well paying? And how quick they are to play the “someone else did it” when things go wrong?

    I could go on.

    I think the correct use of language is as essential in blogging as it is in news journalism. A company that knows its shit is very different to a company that knows it’s shit. All writers make mistakes in their copy – and I’m no exception. Rather than getting all pissy about it, perhaps in the future you could consider yourself fortunate that someone gives enough of a shit about your work to try to help you improve it.

    Big love xx

    1. The post was a bit of a piss-take, and I didn’t think you were trying to score points … assumed you were just carrying on the fun like the other chaps.

      The serious point about it was that the journos we mostly talk to on Twitter do blame blogging for the demise of the newspaper industry, and resort to name calling and silly abuse when you ask them how and why. And they did laud the Grey Cardigan piece as if it were the bang on the head of the nail, then started on the old bloggers are ignorant, random, lazy thing when again I asked for justification. They’ve never given one serious response to my question about the relationship between blogging and journalism. Right now on twitter the response to my genuine question is to ask about my shorthand speed and tell me I couldn’t know anything about the industry as I was an outsider – both entirely irrelevant to the question.

      Anyway, off to edit the copy.

    2. Though I do quibble that two random apostrophes, one missing word, and perhaps one extra space merits the word “littered” in a thousand word piece.

  10. I suspect journalism probably started going down hill the moment they introduced journalism courses; which are more likely to produce conformity – both in style and to rules and regulations – than the traditional, centuries-old route of simply learning your craft on the job from the bottom up. Add to this the decline of investigative journalism, and the fact news has increasingly been replaced by comment sections that long precede the bloggersphere in their narcissism and inanity, and really journalism only has itself to blame.

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