blackburn institute

On August 27 I had the honor of returning to my alma mater, the University of Alabama, to serve on a panel at the Blackburn Institute, one of the nation’s most unique and dynamic leadership development programs for college students.

The panel I was on was called “How to Find the ‘Truth’ in the Shifting Media Landscape” and was all about how to discern fact from opinion in a world full of blogs. podcasts, alt-weeklies and more.

Despite my experience as both a full-time and newspaper reporter and a freelance magazine writer, I was there mostly to represent the world of blogging.

During the panel discussion an audience member asked, “These days how do you determine if someone should be called a blogger or a reporter?”

Of course, everyone in the room, including all my fellow panelists turned to me for an answer. I didn’t want to answer, honestly, because I feared this question would spark a conversation that would distract from what truly matters when it comes to blogging and journalism: quality of content.

But I answered, nonetheless.

As someone who is certainly straddling the fence on this issue, I’m in a position to see both sides. I have two degrees in journalism and several years of newsroom experience under my belt. There are things about journalism ethics that you can’t learn from writing on your WordPress or Squarespace blog with no editor. But there’s a level of creativity and versatility required to thrive in today’s media world that can’t be taught in a classroom and that many bloggers have mastered on their own.

Yes, I admit I sometimes get in my feelings when someone with no formal journalism education and no formal journalism experience is getting opportunities that I’m not. But it only upsets me if their work is shoddy.

The organizers of Fashion Week events, awards ceremonies, and popular festivals often give bloggers the same media passes they give to the mainstream press. They don’t care about the blogger versus journalist title and neither do I.

What I care about is if you’re doing good work. Even if you don’t have a journalism degree, have you taken the time to learn how to be fair, accurate, and thorough in your research and reporting? Are you being transparent about your biases and clearly stating that your opinion is your opinion and not fact? Is your writing clear? Are you sharing a compelling story worth the space it takes up on a page or on the web? These are the things that matter, not a title.

When I left my full-time reporting job one of my goals became to earn a press pass to an event without the backing of a mainstream publication. And I have, a few times, all because of blogging.

I am a blogger and I am a journalist, but not simply because of the degrees hanging on the wall of my home office. I am a blogger and I am a journalist because of the work I do every day.