You can find tons of blog posts about what journalists think and what social media business experts think, but for a moment, I’m going to throw in an everyday person’s perspective on the subject of blogging and journalism from someone whose day to day activity is removed from the business, journalism, and geek worlds.
I’m just someone who is just trying to make a living in the real world helping people live healthier lives, eat better, and make a living through lifestyle blogging.
I’m offering an everyday perspective because frankly I’m frustrated as I think some of these “experts” are out of touch with the everyday world where there are millions of bloggers like me who also make up the socialsphere. Yeah it’s pretty ballsy of me to say that, but I’ll expand more later on.
Here at The Everyday Blogger, most of our readers would most likely have to call in a life line if asked to name a web 2.0 social media expert.
But ask us who the top healthy living, food, parenting, green, or fashion bloggers are and we could come up with names in an instant.
Try asking your typical social media expert to name the tops bloggers in the lifestyle niches. The two worlds just don’t often touch each other, but I’m hoping to help bridge those worlds with this blog, The Everyday Blogger.
When the blue light special in the blogosphere was $500
To quickly recap, there is a controversy going on about a top social media consultant Chris Brogan who accepted a $500 gift card from Kmart to go shopping and blog about it.
He posted this paid blog post on his dad blog Dad-o-Matic, made it very clear at the top of the post that he was paid, and then at the end gave away $500 to one of his readers, albeit you had to do quite a bit of work to enter.
To you and me, that sounds straightforward and harmless. What could possibly be the big deal? In fact, you’re probably thinking the Kmart gig is really cool, and how can you be one of the bloggers that gets picked to do something like that next time.
The controversy is that there is a mindset that exists that all bloggers are journalists too because we post news and current events.
Our blog is a media platform, and the bigger and more influential you become, the greater responsibility you have to keep church & state, in the blogger case, editorial and monetizing, separate.
There are many bloggers who want to be treated like a journalist from a top newspaper or magazine because their blog carries as much if not more influence than these traditional media publications.
Thou shall not except cash & prizes for blog posts
In journalist world, there is a code of ethics that states you do not get “paid” by outside parties to write or influence a story about a product or company.
The journalist’s story is to be kept completely bias free and not influenced by what I call the “cash & prizes” exchange.
…Just because I’m athletic doesn’t mean I’m an athlete….
So, to the critics, Chris Brogan, and pretty much anyone else who accepts payment for posts, crossed the editorial ethical line by accepting this paid Kmart gig because as a top social media consultant he’s therefore a journalist and should know better.
Chris views himself as a publisher which is both editorial and monetizing which almost all stand alone bloggers are.
To the same critics, this Kmart debacle also smelled of selling out, and brought up this whole ongoing notion that getting paid to write a blog post promoting a product, service, or brand is unethical and seedy even if you are completely forthright at the top of the post and say, “Hey, this brand is paying me.”
So really, are bloggers the same as journalists?
But for a moment, from a broader everyday perspective, let’s talk about an even more important question at hand and that is, “Are all bloggers journalists?”
Really, does blogger = journalist automatically. The answer to that question is important because it can help better clarify many issues like this Chris Brogan example.
In my opinion, the answer is no. As a blogger, you can be journalistic in nature or view yourself as a journalist if you choose, but just because you blog doesn’t automatically mean that you are a journalist or that as a blogger you even want or have to be viewed as a journalist.
Journalists have also had formal education in their craft.
So far, there is no college degree in Blogging.
But likewise, just because you didn’t get the formal journalism training doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good communicator. Blogging is not just words, it’s also video, pictures, and podcasts.
I’ve been a pro level blogger for 3 years now, but I do not see myself as a journalist at all. If you ask any of my readers if they see me as a journalist, most of them will more likely tell you that they see me as the wiser yet cool older sister who helps them feel better about life because I “get it.”
I see myself more as someone who wants to use her experience, gifts, and talents to help others live their most authentic lives, and make a living doing it.
My personal mission is to make meaning and money while helping many. Blogging simply has been a perfect platform for me to accomplish that.
If I play sports, does that mean I'm an athlete?
Saying blogger = journalist is like saying that just because I play tennis all the time means I’m an athlete.
It doesn’t matter if I get paid to play tennis or not, or if I’m Jane Smith or Maria Sharapova, the fact that I’m on the tennis court playing all the time means that I’m an athlete. Well, no. It could, but not always.
Maybe I just play tennis a lot because I like to hang out with my friends and go eat with them afterwards. Maybe I don’t play tennis at all to exercise; I just want to socialize in a sporty environment.
Just because I’m athletic doesn’t mean I’m an athlete.
So, just because I have a blog and an audience and have the opportunity to be journalistic doesn’t automatically mean that I’m a journalist.
Maybe it just means I’ve just gathered millions of people who want to converse and learn more about cupcakes, how to get rid of their muffin top, feel less alone in this economic downturn, or whatever it is I do a good job of blogging about.
At the blog, we’re just like minded spirits who want to gather and bond in one place online.
Can we talk about real life?
But here’s an even bigger fact, one of the fundamental reasons why people love blogs over traditional media sites is because blogs are more real like our everyday lives.
Traditional journalism focuses more on facts and figures and less of the emotion and human imperfections of everyday living.
Some of traditional journalism can also be puffy and glossy, and be like foods with empty calories.
And vice versa, blog posts can be incoherent ramblings with no point except to say here’s my cute kitty, and I ate bacon at grandma’s house. But you know what, millions of people visit Lolcats. Who knew?
Is it a coincidence that more journalists are leaving their “old” jobs and are starting blogs so they can be free to express and write what they truly feel and believe versus writing to sell publications or get traffic?
It doesn’t matter if you keep the cash & prizes out of the equation, a journalist for a mainstream pub is still under the thumb of the editor who whether we admit it or not is influenced by the ad dollar because media is a business.
So really, cash & prizes are affecting the story one way or another. With bloggers, our food chain is pretty minuscule.
If the game is new, why do the rules have to stay the same?
Everyone keeps talking about how the media game has and is changing. If so, then why do the new players have to still operate under the old journalist “rules” which doesn’t work for us?
Why can’t we write a new set of rules that fit our world and how we operate?
And give us some credit, we know what honor is. We know what honesty is, and we know what authenticity is, that’s why we’re bloggers and not paid scribes working for “the man.”
The top bloggers in the world are there because they live by a code of transparency and authenticity which we could not get in the institutions.
New, easier, and cheaper technology is allowing us to create our own place where we are free to do what we want to do, and say what we want to say.
In my opinion, the top bloggers have the highest and utmost of standards and ethics because we have to, our audience policies us, and you bet they will correct us immediately and very loudly if we step out of line.
You don’t get to have 50k or a million people come to your blog every month if you’re seedy and dishonest.
How many journalists put themselves in that kind of daily crossfire? It’s safer to work at a publication and have them share the brunt of the blame and criticism.
You can always throw some blame at your editor or the honchos upstairs.
Don't call me equal if our pay is not even in the same ballpark
And bloggers and journalists are by means no way paid the same, so how can you say we’re equal?
Journalists know that every two weeks they are getting a paycheck and health insurance.
Do journalists know what it’s like to have to come up with a monetizing strategy so they can eat and pay bills?
Most journalists are employees. Your typical blogger is a small business owner.
If a journalist is invited to a conference and is of relevance, their company will pay for travel, food, and put them in a Marriott or Hilton.
We bloggers are staying at Motel 6 or bunking with friends and eating Top Ramen unless someone pays our way.
And even if a journalist is a contract writer, they still know they are getting a check according to the signed contract.
Try living in a world where the ad networks can unanimously tell you that they are slashing your CPMs and pushing out payment to 3-4 months, and you have no say in it whatsoever.
Try having to promote your eBook or setting up a store on Etsy or Cafe Press. Look at what bloggers get paid for a post versus what a professional writer or journalist gets paid for a “writing assignment.”
Does anyone ever offer a blogger a per word fee? And how often does a journalist hear, “Write for us for no pay just exchange for the honor of being on our high profile site?”
I'm cash low but soul rich
And even though we’re paid very little and have to bust our hustle in order to make ends meet, we still do it because we LOVE what we do.
For many of us, you can’t separate who we are from what we blog. We know that our content is making a difference and is helping to make the world a better place.
Most bloggers are doing work that is related to our life purpose, and so we continue to post every day, and we continue to stay in the conversation because we know that our monetary payoffs will eventually come but already we are rich in soul currency.
How many people can say that?
And this is why bloggers are winning the eyeballs. Bloggers talk with you not at you.
Bloggers will show their pain, their imperfections, and wear their heart on their sleeve.
Bloggers talk about real life not glossy life that most of us can’t attain. Bloggers will call out the BS because we’re tired of corruption, cover ups, and hypocrisy.
Traditional media sites are drying up because consumers are tired of glossy, puffy and depressing.
We’re tired of being told we’re not enough, we don’t have enough, and that the bottom is falling out under us.
We’re tired of seeing women who work out and don’t sweat, yet can drop 10 pounds by just walking 30 minutes a day.
We’re tired of being bombarded by stories of rapists, bombers, and fraud. We’re tired of seeing the same old recycled headlines.
There are bloggers who blog about news and current events and act and behave like journalists, and have blogs that operate like traditional newspapers and magazines.
Those blogs are like cross breeds of old and new, and more power to them. These bloggers may want to be the next media moguls, reporters, and journalists but not all of us bloggers do.
See through my lifestyle eyes
In the lifestyle niches, if you ask any blogger why they got started in the first place, it wasn’t because they wanted to be the next Katie Couric or create the next Real Simple magazine, it was because they really LOVED their subject and wanted to share it online.
Many of us started blogging with no intent to make money at all. If we did find a new career path or ways to make money, it was more by accident than by design.
And in the lifestyle niches, there are many of us who could care less about breaking news and current events that journalists typically focus on because frankly most of it is depressing, sad, and uninspiring, and to stay popular with high traffic in the news-like niches that’s what you have to focus on.
And likewise, how much breaking news is there in things like knitting, restoring old muscle cars, or advice on relationships.
People don’t go to those blogs for breaking news; they go there because they share similar interests and want to hang out with kindred spirits.
Martha Stewarts blogs. Does that mean she's a journalist?
Martha is a lifestyle guru who gets paid to show us how to have prettier homes, cook better foods, and make fun crafts.
If Whole Foods wanted to give Martha $500 to go shopping at their store and then blog about it, would she be crossing ethical lines? Absolutely not.
In fact, we would be dying of curiosity to see what Martha would buy and see what she’d create with those things.
The same thing would apply for Elise at Simply Recipes. Me and all my friends would love to see what Elise could whip up with that $500 from Whole Foods.
And, good for her for getting paid for it if that kind if gig happened for real.
We as an audience, expect Martha and Elise to be paid for their expertise because that’s what they do for a living and they are the best players in their niche.
We know that Martha already has high standards for quality, so she would not do a Whole Foods promo in the first place if the Whole Foods brand was not consistent with the Martha Stewart brand attributes that her audience benefits from.
Likewise for bloggers, the high quality bloggers who are known for their utmost standards have a following because their audience trusts the opinions and judgment of that blogger because he/she has proven themselves and stays consistent.
Payolah and getting paid are different
And what really is selling out? I define selling out when you start behaving contrary to your blogs message and values for the purpose of financial gain.
For example, it is very clear that I am anti diet pills. Everyone knows this. So, if one day I start blogging about how wonderful Trim Spa is and that everyone should use their pills, and that Trim Spa paid me to post that, then that is selling out because I am now going against my own brand values.
And yes, my core audience would be highly disappointed in me and tell me very loudly because they expect me to be consistent and keep the high standards I’ve established.
If Quaker Oatmeal wants to pay me to blog about how oatmeal can help you become heart healthy, I’ll take the money and tell my readers that fact.
My audience would be fine with this because one, the Quaker brand values is consistent with the brand values, and two, there is a benefit to my readers which I think is worthy of promoting.
I’m not selling out, I’m getting paid to do what I do best and that is to help people live healthier lives which includes telling them about products/services/brands which I think can best help them achieve their health goals.
But most importantly, my audience knows that I have to make a living too, and they get that the shilling is part of the process.
My job as a blogger is to write the pitch so that it focuses on the benefits to my readers, and so far, it’s been alright.
Get back to me when you've walked in our everyday shoes
To all those who think that paying bloggers to post about a brand, product, or service, is somehow an ethical crime, I challenge you to make a living as a blogger, as an independent in niches that don’t get high publicity like tech, business, or politics.
I challenge you to live without the security of a paycheck every 2 weeks and medical benefits. Try getting your Crème Brule or meatloaf recipe on the front page of Digg.
See how hard you have to work to break into the Technorati 100 with your sports blog, fashion blog, or wine blog.
Talk to me after you see your reports from the ad networks and calculate that your average CPM is actually $1.33, not $10-$12 like they sell you because the ad inventory is low and they had to back fill with remnant ads of punching monkeys and Acai Berry diets that go for pennies.
And let me know how it feels when an ad network tells you without warning that they are going to push out your payment another 30-60 days because they need more time and you have no say whatsoever, even though you’ve done all the work already.
Better yet, the advertiser gets to reap the benefits months before you do. If you get laid off, at least, you get a compensation package.
When you have stepped into our everyday shoes, I think you’ll start giving us bloggers more latitude and compassion because you’ll know what it feels like.