What is the difference between a blogger and a journalist? Is the guy labeled a journalist automatically more credible because of that label? How can a blogger attain that kind of credibility?
WebProNews recently sat down with freelance journalist Greg Ferenstein, probably best known for his articles at Mashable. He talked about how to stick out in the crowd of bloggers and the fine line between blogging and journalism.
Coming Up With Original Content
As you know, if you want readers, you have to have good content, and if you don't produce really original content, you may have a hard time finding that audience.
"At least in my case, I found a lot more people read my stuff when I did original investigations, so I was conducting interviews, looking at academic research, talking to people late at night about their new projects, so I could be the source of information all the other bloggers were talking about," Ferenstein told us.
"As far as finding original sources, the thing that always helped me the most was first just being a networker - going to conferences, meeting people, developing personal relations... because ultimately, bloggers aren't legacy media," he added. "They don't have a big name behind them. So all of the people that they ask for things (interviews [and] stuff like that), they have to have a personal relationship with because they can't guarantee the person who's doing the interview that they're going to get a lot of foot traffic."
Accounting for Short Attention Spans
Content is one thing, but it also helps to consider the audience themselves. Sometimes your good content may be lost to poor formatting or just lack of readability.
"I always assume my reader has acute attention deficit disorder," Ferenstein tells us. "Everyone on the Internet is skimmers. They're looking at Twitter feeds, Facebook, RSS, and a million different sites plus the 25 odd tabs they have going that they haven't looked [at] in the past week. So I format my blogs with italics, bolds, pictures...to force the reader into what I think is most important for them. Because your reader is going to skim. They can skim in the way you want or they can skim the way they want. I choose to have the power over that."
The problem with blogging is that there is a lot of skepticism tied to it. There is a good reason for this. Anyone can blog, so you have to earn the trust of the audience.
"I always like to imagine that my reader doesn't like me and doesn't want to believe anything I'm saying," say Ferenstein. "So I have to uncover an enormous amount of evidence to convince anyone I possibly could...you can't really attain that, but so long as you're shooting for that, you're going to develop and use a lot more evidence, and that will build your credibility."
Of course personal bias is always creeping through the blogging shadows. "Psychologically, people have a proclivity for seeing what they want to see, so you'll see a bunch of facts, but depending on what your ideology is, you're going to interpret that unknowingly and with the best of intentions, in the way you want to see it," Ferenstein explained. "And because bloggers don't have editors, they are both judge and jury, so they're more likely to pick up on the extreme interpretations of fact, and fulfill this heated kind of rhetoric that we see coming out of the online world."
"As bloggers, without an editor, you have to be extremely diligent in not doing that or you're just going to be a part of the problem," he added.
Blogger? Journalist? What's the difference?
That's not to say there isn't such a problem in traditional media, despite the presence of editors.
"I think bloggers are the future," said Ferenstein. "I don't really like the distinction between a blogger and a journalist. There are some horrible journalists, and there are some great bloggers, and they could probably swap positions and we wouldn't know much of a difference. Good writing is good writing, and as more people come into the space, there's going to be more opportunity for people outside the people with journalism degrees or with the typical pedigree or connections that used to get them into the legacy media organizations."
Because the landscape is so much broader, there's going to be a lot more noise, he notes, so "You're going to have to do something really unique to distinguish yourself."