Terry Boyd is a veteran journalist. The guy’s been shot at in Iraq, interviewed some of the most important people in the military and business and pounds out good, old fashioned reporting like it’s his job. Well, it kinda is.

So when Terry, who is now an entrepreneur and chief operating officer/editor of InsiderLouisville.com, decided to push back on a recent piece I wrote for his website, I paid attention. I’m also a trained journalist, but when smarter people talk, I listen.

Terry read my original submission about customer service in the social era. In it, I identified the car dealer in my example by name. Terry didn’t want to publish the piece without giving the dealer a chance to explain … in the piece. More social media inclined, my response was, “That’s what the comments are for.”

Justice scales by MilousSK on Shutterstock.comAs we went back and forth on the issue, I suddenly realized a critical difference between blogging and journalism: Fairness.

A piece of journalism, even an editorial or opinion piece, written by a trained and ethical journalist, at least attempts to give opposing sides or viewpoints an opportunity to respond before the article or program is published. A blogger just publishes, one-sided or not, assuming that if anyone wants or needs to respond they can do so in the comments.

Is it fair that a blogger pushes the other side to the comments? I would argue yes, but there is some weight to the notion that a portion of the audience doesn’t read the comments. They aren’t published in a blog’s main RSS feed. For many people, that story is one-sided.

Meaning it’s not fair.

But this is looking at the effect, not the cause.

The true critical difference between blogging and journalism, or at least journalism as we understand it (institutionalized, done by professionals, etc.), is that traditional media is produced for consumption. Today’s media is produced for engagement.

(Upon further review, I wasn’t the first to think this. The Pew Internet and American Life Project pointed it out in a recent presentation on the changing digital landscape.)

So long as a blogger doesn’t limit the opposing viewpoint or dissenting opinion from being heard at all, fairness is offered.

At the end of the day, I asked Terry to remove the name of the dealer. Not because I didn’t want them to be identified or that it would have caused an issue with InsiderLouisville.com’s ability to sell advertising or be seen as a trusted source for news. I asked Terry to remove the name of the dealer because it took away from the overall point of the piece. Less was more. See for yourself and chime in if you like.

Regardless of whether or not bloggers offer fairness, we sit in the midst if a chaotic crossroads in media history. True journalism — trained, ethical, balanced — isn’t going away, even if the major networks are picking political sides of the aisle and it seems that way. As a people, culture, nation and world we need journalism.

Even if the definitions that make up that hallowed institution change.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.farrellkramer.com/category/blog/ Farrell

    Another difference between comments and seeking comment is timeframe. When a journalist seeks comment before publishing, he or she has the ability to alter the story (or even kill it) based upon the response. This suggests that the response from the subject of the story is being taken into account in the production of the story, ie gathering all the facts before writing.

    The use of blog comments in lieu of this suggests the story is the story no matter what the subject has to say. It's a significant difference IMHO.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    This is a vital topic and I could fill pages with my thoughts on this but I want to point out just one aspect of this topic. At what point does a blogger have the same responsibility to fairness as a reporter? You can have an opinion and still be fair, right?

    As the reputation and readership of a blogger grows, I think at some point a line crosses between personal journaling and social responsibility even if the blogger never asked for it.

    • Brannan Atkinson

      I think readers have inherited more of the social responsibility — whether we wanted it or not. The audience has influence like never before.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    I believe this speaks to the changing nature of the word “audience.”

    In traditional newsrooms, “audience” means the entire potential audience — ALL segments of the population, ALL income levels, ALL professions, ALL demographics.

    In blogs, “audience” is “my piddly 500 subscribers and the 75 who trickle in on search traffic.” (Yes, it is rather brutal how small my fishbowl is.)

    I know my audience, and I don't even bother catering to the Audience, because they aren't reading.

    Traditional Journalism is built on a premise that what is being produced will stand the test of fairness to every potential audience, because there was precious little measurement for them to ascertain who was really consuming it.

    What you're experiencing, Jason, is growing pains. You had a mindset and a workflow that worked very well when you were my size, or even ten times my size. But now you're a Big Deal, and the Audience has different expectations than your original audience.

  • http://www.WhatDidEricSay.com Eric Miltsch

    Jason,

    Wonderful view into this side of the stage. Fairness is definitely a key element missing when comparing the two.

    It seems as if the (perceived) influence of the blogger is a factor at work here while the journalist sets out to accomplish a different set of goals. (Informing vs. promoting an affiliate)

    Although, I wonder – do most blog readers expect journalistic integrity from the blogs they read?

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Some blogs act more like news sites. There are so many different kinds of “blogs” now, we ought to just call them websites and classify them for what they do and who is reading.

  • http://www.kherize5.com Suzanne Vara

    Jason

    I read this shaking my head in agreement but then you got me thinking. Journalists though are not always fair as they do many times pound one side, their side and not the other (many times seen in politics). Maybe I am referring more to tv where they are also show hosts and ratings could play more of an impact?

    Bloggers though I do agree will push it to the comments. Sometimes the more controversial, the more readers and these traffic chasers are a success. I see where a comparison can be made to tv journalists and bloggers as there is that numbers factor that does have an affect which may be more of the cause instead of the effect? I am not sure so I am throwing it out there to those who do read the comments here =-).

    Great article Jason. I love when I am able to have an opinion of shaking my head in agreement when I read an article. Thanks!

    @SuzanneVara

  • http://ravinglunacy.org/ headlemur

    Jason,
    Blogging is a tool for communication, Journalism is a career.
    “True journalism — trained, ethical, balanced” is a noble goal, however, there are a couple of issues that are germane to today's traditional media landscape.

    First is the bias of the editor, publisher, and or sales department as to what makes it into the 'news'. Second is the journalist's knowledge, experience, and whether or not they have any skin in the game. By this I mean having the society reporter do a piece on Credit Default Swaps is probably not the best way to get page views on a slow news day. Third is the 'news' concept itself. News is by it's nature unusual. You don't see headlines saying that 2 million people got up and went to work today.

    Fairness? Blogging as a tool and arguably a vocation has grown to be what it is because of the un-fairness and bias of the traditional media's reportage and presentation, not just in subject, but in not revealing sources, providing backup information and last but not least, conversation.

    Blogging and its commenting ability are much fairer than the 'Letter to the Editor' engagement of days past. Blogging is built for opinions although it can be used for other things. It gives folks the ability to speak out. This is supremely important because at the end of the day, whether it is a car or corn chips, it is a buyer and a seller. One to One.

    As for your piece on your wife's experience, I would have named names. Simply because that is how I am and I have discovered over time that there are two customer service tracks.
    Fix the Problem or Fix the Blame.

    Your dealer decided to Fix the Blame. That they even paused in fixing the problem should have your head exploding. Especially under warranty.

    This is also known as the Other Guy track. This is where you do the absolute minimum necessary and anything beyond the sale is the Other Guy's Problem.

    Fix the Problem. This is the Next Guy track. This is where you fix the problem so the next guy has an easier time if another problem occurs.

    Since you have posted this with the ethics and fairness tags I have a couple of questions.

    Your reasoning on the publisher's selling advertising is a red herring. If the company is bad why would the publisher take their advertising dollars so that they could do this to someone else? I would think that the trust meter would rise at that point. Especially if they mentioned this?
    You have already indicated had you named names, that the publisher was going to give the dealer the opportunity for rebuttal, so fairness is preserved, and the ethical obligation is fulfilled.

    If the dealer has just Fixed the Problem, would you have written about it? Or would you have written something else?

  • http://www.soundwebsolutions.com/blog clavoie

    Jason,
    I think a more apt comparison would be bloggers vs editorial journalists. Ideally, a news journalist looks to report news as objectively as possible — hence the need to seek comments from 'both sides' of the story (discounting Fox News-type biased reporting). The editorial columnist is more like a blogger, because readers understand they're coming from a subjective stance. Blogging adds huge value to the editorial world, because it turns it from a soap box to a discussion. I still have great respect for many editorial journalists and love reading their viewpoints…but the blog commenting community really adds depth.

  • Lucidprodigies

    I agree for the most part that an underlying one-sidedness difference exists however a more critical one is the control settings that enlist in an editing process prior to a release to safeguard the intent as opposed to a blog comment that is subject to critique and lower readership pulls due to an artificial support building formula.

    Very interesting article that has helped me focus better on the little guys a/k/a bloggers!

  • faybiz

    What about blogs that moderate or DON'T allow comments?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good question. Moderation isn't an issue, so long as the blog allows

      anything through that doesn't violate standard decency filters (language,

      hate speech, disrespectful comments, etc.). If the blogger moderates to

      adulterate the tone of the conversation, the blogger won't have much of an

      audience very long. Move on.

      As for blogs that don't allow comments? They aren't blogs. They're

      publishing houses. Again, they won't have much of an audience very long in

      this day and age if they don't open the dialogue. I'd move past them and not

      worry with them, frankly.

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  • http://twitter.com/kdolha Kristy Dolha

    I also write in both arenas…as a journalist, and as a blogger, and I agree that they have completely different functions, and therefore should be approached differently. As a reader, when I want to be informed, I seek out journalistic articles, but when I want to have my opinions challenged, explore different viewpoints, or feel connected with other individuals, I look for the blogs. Each offers value!

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