When Edward Snowden went to the press to reveal his story, he worked mainly with two writers, Barton Gellman of the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald, then at the Guardian. While Gellman has largely fallen under the radar and his journalist integrity was never brought into the question, Greenwald’s emergence as a reporter after being a creature of the blogosphere raised the questions of “Who is a journalist” and “are bloggers journalists.”
One reason might be that mainstream media is perhaps intimidated by bloggers. In a study by Julie Jones and Itai Hibersom, while most local newspapers did not portray bloggers as threats, larger publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post were more prone to portray bloggers as a threat to newspapers (281). In addition, larger newspapers were less willing than local newspapers to call bloggers journalists (282). As many newspapers struggle in the era of internet, they might see bloggers, who by nature of their work, as creatures of the internet, as potential competitors. As a result, by framing them as not in the same realm as journalists, they might allow news readers to see them as not a reliable source for news or as not fulfilling the same purpose as straight journalism.
In the case of Greenwald, he might be perceived as a threat to conventional journalists because of the fact that he broke what could arguably be the largest story of the decade, when he has spent his entire career working through blogging. In addition, Snowden actually sought Greenwald out, which could scare journalists, who would know they are in direct competition with bloggers. In fact, Bob Woodward, one half of the duo who broke the Watergate story, said he wished Snowden had called him.
Furthermore, as Jones and Hibersom note, with the rise of the blogging, anyone can be a deliverer of the news. In turn, this puts bloggers on the same playing field as journalists and reporters (274). However, one thing Jones and Hibersom might overlook is that while it is true that blogging allows for almost anyone to become a purveyor of news, conventional news sources have a much wider reach.
Another reason for this divide over who can be defined as a journalist is what bloggers and journalists define as proper decorum. Jane B. Singer noted that for many conventional journalists value nonpartisanship and equate it with objectivity (177). However, Singer writes that the very nature of blogging is personal and conversational between the reader between the reader and the writer (178).
This mixing of editorializing and reporting is exemplified in Greenwald’s reporting. Greenwald has never made any secret of his distaste for national security surveillance before breaking the story, which led Bill Keller, former Executive Editor of the New York Times, to criticize Greenwald for airing his opinions. But to those like Greenwald, who came up in the blogosphere, maintaining total nonpartisanship and neutrality allows for powerful figures to be left unaccountable.
In turn, the question of whether journalists are bloggers may be an extension of the general anxiety many journalists face in this era where print news is undergoing a shift and more people are moving to online. As journalists try to circumnavigate this new territory, they may be generally nervous to realize that with a new media platform, the rules might also be rewritten.
Jones, Julie, and Itai Hibersom. “Just a Guy in Pajamas? Framing Blogs in the Mainstream Newspaper Coverage.” New Media Society 12.2 (2010). Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
Singer, Jane B. “The political j-blogger: ‘Normalizing’ a new media form to fit old norms and practices.” Journalism 6.2 (2005): 173–198. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.