Journalism, Blogging, and an Identity Crisis

Raph al Guul

“Journalism is a profession, blogging is a hobby.” Lazlow Jones

It’s somewhat ironic that the man who uttered these words, Lazlow Jones, having a degree in journalism, is not actually involved in any professional journalism. Sure, he used to host and produce the popular Technofile radio segment back in the day, but he has since turned away from radio. Instead, he is now working for Rockstar Games, and he is known for his involvement in titles such as Grand Theft Auto III, Red Dead Redemption, and Max Payne 3. The closest he comes to journalism these days must be when he goes on promotional tours, being interviewed on the progress of his work at Rockstar. Yes, on the side, he also hosts The Lazlow Show, but if you have heard even just one single episode of the show, be it before or after it was taken off the air and moved to the realm of the internet, you will know that “journalistic” is a very inappropriate adjective to describe it.

Thus, while we might question Jones’ authority on the topic of journalism, it seems to me that his statement bears significance nonetheless. And especially considering that you are currently reading this on a blog that is sometimes referred to as a “student newspaper”, completely disregarding the fact that pretty much none of its content is news and pretty much none of the students are professional journalists (not even mentioning the fact that paper is not involved at all), we should probably think about the difference between journalism and blogging for just a second.

What are journalists, really? What defines them? Their education, employer, or maybe simply the nature of the content they create? Whether or not writers are considered journalists certainly depends largely on the attitude that they are faced with. If we were to remain in the realm of video games, take John Bain, commonly known as Totalbiscuit, for example. His Youtube channel by the name of “TotalHalibut” made host Ed Byrne laugh out loud at the Golden Joysticks Awards 2012 and call for a special award for silly channel names. Yet, in all seriousness, Bain has been consistently labelling himself a “games journalist” (even though most of his publications are not of written nature at all), and it finally sticks; big publishers and games companies are actually providing him with copies of their new releases for journalistic reviews and first impressions. It seems that Totalbiscuit’s opinion, however cynical and subjective it may be, is generally considered to be a journalistic one by himself, game producers, and even the audience at large. Bain, having studied law, however, certainly has not received the journalistic education one might associate with such a profession. And considering that his content is released on Youtube as part of the TGS network (a network that largely consists of “let’s plays”, gaming-related comedy, and walkthroughs), Bain’s employer certainly does not make for a convincing indicator that he might be a journalist. But all of that does not matter, as it seems to be the general attitude towards what Totalbiscuit does that makes him a journalist.

What are bloggers, then? What’s the difference between a blogger and a journalist, and are these mutually exclusive? Some people might say that blogging is simply a form of freestyle-journalism. Obviously, Lazlow Jones would beg to differ. A blogger may choose to write daily entries that all simply consist of made-up heavy metal lyrics. What’s journalistic about that? Take the ZEST, then, where some of the most regularly published content consists of fictional stories. Does that qualify for journalism? I don’t think so. But let’s not forget that this does not mean that blogging could not be journalism, nonetheless. Think about Faces of the Faculty, for instance. This short interview format requires journalistic efforts on part of the conductor and it certainly provides more than simple entertainment; it also offers information relevant to the key demographic of the ZEST. I am sure authors of features such as Faces of the Faculty would be quite offended if you called them “bloggers”. On the other hand, it would be unfitting to call our short stories “journalism”.

On the ZEST, journalism and blogging certainly are not mutually exclusive and the lines can be somewhat blurry at times (as are the definitions of the terms, which is why I chose not to cite Merriam-Webster on this one). However, considering that our contributors are not professional journalists, it seems that journalism, like blogging, can be a hobby, too. And, on a side note and although that may not be the case for the ZEST, blogging can be a profession, as well; believe it or not. To be fair, what Jones was after when making his statement was that a blogger’s article should not be considered as relevant or trustworthy as that of a journalist. But, considering that we don’t even quite know what a journalist is and why certain authors are “only” considered bloggers, can we actually justify this attitude? There are enough opinionated journalists (John Bain included) that are just as subjective as some of the most biased bloggers out there. And isn’t one of the major issues that of acknowledging that, while one might have an opinion, it might not stand beyond all doubt, an issue that bloggers and journalists alike frequently struggle with? So, what is the ZEST? A journalistic blog? An aspiring newspaper? And what do our readers come here for? In search for journalism, news, entertainment, blogging? I personally felt like the ZEST had an identity crisis from the very beginning – and that was beneficial to the variety of content that was consequently accepted by our editors. But I can’t help but wonder about its place between professional journalism and casual blogging. But hey, you just read this. Care to fill me in on what’s going on here?

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2 responses to “Journalism, Blogging, and an Identity Crisis

  1. Interesting post – the divide between blogging and journalism is definitely worth considering.

    I for one didn’t feel that ZEST suffered an identity crisis; in my mind it was always intended as a student newspaper (albeit online, due to lack of funds available for printing) and with more relaxed rules in terms of deadlines/regular contributors.

    If this makes it more of a “collective/community blog” than a newspaper then I don’t have any problem with that – I think the kind of snobbery that some journalists employ when looking at blogs as a lesser form of writing is unnecessary. There is good writing, and bad writing – and whether you have a professional journalist qualification or not doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer, nor are you automatically a bad writer if you don’t have one. Experience counts for a lot. Some excellent ‘journalistic’ writing is being done by bloggers. Yes, there are a LOT of blogs out there, and a lot that have dubious connections to online journalism, if any at all (nor do blogs claim to be professional newspapers), but looking at the quality of stuff posted on a lot of the major traditional newspaper sites (e.g. BBC news online, Guardian, etc.) this does not always conform with what I imagine the standards of professional journalism to be. (I don’t know if there ARE such standards codified anywhere, as such…would be interesting if there were).
    I think this sometimes-dubious quality of content is largely due to the nature of the internet and the demand for 24 hour news updates. Researching, writing and editing stories therefore have to happen very fast, and sometimes the quality will suffer as a result.

    But, having said that, I think that’s why I felt ZEST worked quite well – people had time to think about what they wanted to write, to edit it, and hopefully to produce considered work, rather than be pushed by deadlines or feeling they had to come up with something every single week. I don’t think any of us would claim to be professional journalists (or at least not when we’re writing for ZEST), but it’s all good experience that could be useful in future if journalism was a path one wanted to follow.

    For me personally, ZEST was about entertainment and providing an outlet for students to write where none existed before. Hobbies and clubs are not really a huge part of UZH life (there is, of course, FAVA and the drama group to be involved in at the faculty) but I thought that it was a shame not to have a writing-based group when there are lots of talented writers in the English Faculty (and outside it too!) who might have liked to have a project to be involved in. I came from a university background where everything and anything you happened to be interested in had some sort of group where you could find like-minded people – and thought why not introduce that in UZH, to a small extent.

    Just my two cents!

    • I guess the question of quality is one that I have only touched upon from a very general, content-related side. But you’re right; there seem to be certain expectations concerning both form and content that – though probably not made as explicit as one would think – are supposed to be measured up to by journalism. I guess that’s where the idea of a blog being more flexible in terms of style comes from.

      At the end of the day, I’m wondering if the distinction between journalism and blogging, as it were, is actually necessary, sensible, or even possible. Maybe Mr Jones is oversimplifying things 😉 Thanks for your two cents, we can always use donations.

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