Seth wonders if we're all journalists.
The short answer to that, as far as I'm concerned, is "Nope!"
While I've done both reporting of actual news for my website in pre-blog days, and plenty of commentary as well as what would amount to feature stories in an actual hard-copy newspaper, I don't consider myself a journalist.
Jeff Rosen doesn't think we're journalists.
Here's what Merriam-Webster says:
Main Entry: jour·nal·ism
1 a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media b : the public press c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
2 a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest.
Note that the definition that covers most of what you'd find on a blog is way down at 2c. It is not 1b, because I don't know of any blogger who expects to broadcast to the public at large, as in the entire population of any region. Maybe it's the intention that matters, and creates the difference.
I think this discussion has come up because people are using their blogs for all kinds of things they never could before, and the majority of this activity begs for definition. We need a word, and thus far all we've got are phrases. Much of what bloggers do is express their opinion, so the only actual resemblance to a media outlet is one giant op-ed page, or a magazine of popular thought.
As for ethics in actual journalism I can see how all these bloggers sitting back, holding their breath waiting for the Big3 to screw up could lead to more-scrupulous attention to detail among the papers and broadcasters. The bloggers don't have all the answers either. Some bloggers I've seen can barely construct a coherent sentence, let alone produce thoughtful commentary. The high-profile bloggers you hear about all the time got there because they've had training and/or experience in writing for public consumption. It's not as easy as it looks; writing of any kind is both a skill and a gift. I disagree that anyone who wants to be a journalist CAN be one. Anybody can have a car, but not everybody can be a Formula One racer.
In the days before telephones, radio, and TV, we had newspapers. Often people would gather in whatever local place they had available and talk about what the Daily Sun, Star, or Courier was reporting that day. That's how I see the blogosphere -- the Netizens discussing the news. People still do it in their local post offices and coffee shops, but offline you need to be there to hear what's being discussed. These places have their own "echo chambers" too. You'll mostly hear the same kinds of opinions among the patrons of Brownie's restaurant in Yuma AZ, but if you traveled to Brownie's deli in New York NY a quite different take on things would emerge, but in New York you'd hear the same kind of a different tune. We are still products of our environments, even though we have more freedom to choose what messages enter our sphere of reference.
The ethics question will be troubling for a while, I'm sure. Many, if not most, bloggers are untrained and unsophisticated in their use of this new medium. Still, ethics and standards are the same. In the mid '90s when I first went online, I was producing a hard-copy newsletter. I ceased publication when I recognized that my regular writers were sending me what amounted to plagiarized material. Thinking everything online was free for the taking, and not recognizing that stealing was still stealing, these people were sending me excerpts of books written by other people, but pasting their own names on the works. At the time some of the writers took exception to my stance, and told me in no uncertain terms I was being too picky, or other less-savory terminology. I think we've gotten past the worst of that; maybe gone too far the other way as regards copyright issues.
Honesty and disclosure will most likely prevail in this new medium. Go ahead, call me a Pollyanna, but I do believe in my fellow bloggers.
That's because the same sticklers for ethical practices are keeping an eye on the bloggers, too. They don't keep quiet if they think a blogger's on the take, or is deliberately posting bad information. Dave Winer's particularly good at that. Of course I can see why the man would want to do his best to keep the blogosphere clean. He built a lot of the foundation of this huge house.
Viral marketing, and guerilla marketing are blurring the lines a bit, between what is advertising and what is not. I'm seeing how both marketers and bloggers are finding their feet in this. The other day I was approached by a restaurant chain that wanted me to feature a new product on my food blog. I told them, "Thanks, but no thanks." My food blog is about cooking and grocery shopping, not restaurant reviews. I rarely eat in restaurants; if I did it might be a different story. Their pitch was awkward and presumptious; that alone would have put me off even if I was likely to use their product.
I established a policy long ago as regards book reviews: I don't purchase items on request for review. Right now that same policy applies to everything else, as well. With a book, all you need to do is read it and maybe have a look at the cover, so often authors will send an electronic version with a graphic of the cover. Nothing of "hard" value has been exchanged. On the other hand, newspapers generally pay the expenses for their restaurant reviewer. But tech magazines are often given (or lent) hardware and software for review. Radio stations often broadcast "barter" ads, where a company provides goods or services in exchange for airtime.
Maybe we need to establish some standards for what's allowed and what's not. Another case for Jeff Jarvis's blogger's association. (Sorry, Jeff, but your site loads too damn slow here for me to find the exact post on this. Nothing but dialup available in the low desert.)
Let the discussion begin!
UPDATE: more on this at Micro Persuasion