What is Journalism?

Pundits have turned the question into a game of semantics, claiming it’s an irrelevant insider term people don’t care about, while continually moving the goalposts—even the Pundit King himself, Jeff Jarvis, has “rejected [his] own use of the term ‘citizen journalist’“. I’d argue that most people think of “journalism” the way they think of “literature,” when they think of either at all, to imply something with more depth than simply reporting or regurgitating the news.

I rather snarkily dismissed this post on Twitter earlier today, disappointed in the usually solid RWW’s linkbait title and tone, but just went back to check the comments to see what others had to say and ShortFormBlog’s founder, Ernie Smith, left a comment that clarified why he believes they’re more than just another shiny linkblog:

“Often, it means storytelling and adding context … offering background as well as immediate details. If we weren’t adding context, what would be the point?”

Adding context is what separates the NY Times and Talking Point Memos of the world from most of what FluffPo and its ilk regurgitates, and it’s one of the more important distinctions between real journalism and link-blogging—or tweeting, for that matter—but it’s not the only one. The handful of examples Smith notes aside, poking around the site reveals a slick design with not a lot of substance amongst their “over 200 posts per week.”

In other words, a pretty typical Tumblr.

Journalism is more than soundbites or “just the facts, ma’am” but getting “the facts” is a critical first step that involves the kind of research, investigation and perspective few link-bloggers can offer. While people may think they don’t care about “journalism,” they usually realize that’s not the case when the lack thereof leads to things like political scandals, financial disasters, and ill-conceived wars.

Suggesting ShortFormBlog is “changing journalism” is just silly, and suggesting Tumblr is doing so is outright ludicrous and not a little bit dangerous. The last thing we should be doing is lowering the bar any further than it already is!

What’s more interesting and relevant about both of them, though, is that they are rethinking how content can be presented, distributed and discovered—and in the end, that’s to the benefit of real journalists, as well as the link-bloggers who feed off of them, and the society that depends on their perseverance, regardless of the brand or business model their work is published under.

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