You know you have lived too long when students think you know what you are talking about.
Yesterday, I was approached by a student who was writing an essay on “blogging as a means of journalism”. I told him I did not think of myself as a journalist. He did not agree. This is an edited version of the exchange.
– Do you consider yourself a journalist or any bloggers for that matter? If not, what do you think makes a journalist?
The fact you can ask the question implies the words ‘journalist’ and ‘blogger’ have different meanings. I don’t consider myself a journalist. Bloggers are certainly not news journalists – if they ‘break’ stories and report instantly on current news stories, it is not really a blog; it’s a news site. You could argue they are neo-magazine journalists providing comment and background.
Most bloggers are amateur dabblers and/or wannabe writers who want a voice in a world where they have none.
I started my blog to publicise a movie. Then to publicise stuff I was staging at the Edinburgh Fringe. It continued as self-publicity. If I were up my own arse, I might also say it preserves details of people in sub-cultures that might not otherwise be preserved. But it’s basically lightly-disguised self-publicity.
A good journalist is concerned with objective facts (whether reporting on them or commenting on them). A good blogger is usually more personal and ego-centric in style.
Some bloggers, of course, are frustrated wannabe journalists so the dividing line is muddy.
Personally, whether it’s a correct dictionary definition or not, I make a distinction between a newspaper report and reportage. I think a journalist/reporter’s piece has immediacy – you have to read it today or tomorrow for it to have any impact. Reportage (like George Orwell’s factual books and essays) can be read just as effectively years later. I would say Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia or Down The Mine are pieces of reportage by a writer, not journalism. Today, they could be written in the form of blogs.
– Do you feel any external constraints as a blogger? Do you ever feel under pressure to say specific things (or not say specific things) to protect people or yourself?
I do not generally write anything which, in my opinion, could legally, physically, professionally or personally damage people. I do not feel any pressure to say specific things and I do not give the subjects of my blogs copy approval in advance. My blogs are mostly interview-based and I record everything so I cannot mis-quote.
If – rarely – I want to disguise a person or a fact (eg if an unprosecuted or unknown crime or something ‘immoral’ or ‘embarrassing’ is involved) I will sometimes – very very VERY rarely – alter the name, geographical location or, if possible, the sex of the person involved. It means I can still tell the truth about the event itself but the person cannot be identified.
I have only done this less than a handful of times over eight years.
Altering the person’s sex totally throws people off any recognition.
– Has your blog ever been censored?
Only by me for reasons above.
I used to re-post a few of my blogs in the Huffington Post. I did once write a blog about rude words and discussed the use of the word “nigger” which is interesting because it is mostly completely unacceptable but IS acceptable from some people (eg Eddie Murphy, Quentin Tarantino) – and, in The Dam Busters movie, a dog vital to the plot is called Nigger, which was inoffensive at the time but is now worrisome to TV stations.
The Huffington Post would not publish the piece, although the word was solely being discussed as an abstract word.
– Do you ever have any issues in terms of libel or slander when writing your blog? Does it worry you sometimes that someone will ever take legal action against your opinions?
No. I worked for BBC Ceefax (part of BBC TV News) and briefly in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. So I am careful.
If anyone threatened me with a libel action, I would go to court, defend myself (because, in England, lawyers have no incentive to win minor cases – they get paid anyway – and the legal system has nothing to do with justice) and publicise the shit out of it to get more awareness of my blog.