I'm a Pig at Breakfast

I turned in a feature story on Tuesday, the first paid journalism I've done for a publication since leaving the Ask Ed Brice column at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2000.

Like many bloggers, I've had a lot to say about journalism over the years, and I internalized the self-glorifying notion that I practice a form of it here on Workbench. But after a few days of conducting interviews, checking facts and documenting all of my sources for an editor, I was reminded of a substantial difference between journalism and blogging that I had completely forgotten.


A blogger can feel good about his own standards of ethics and accuracy, but there's no cost for failing to meet them. Nobody gets drummed out of the blogosphere for getting something wrong, screwing over a source or writing things that bring shame upon your family. Making matters worse, your biggest mistakes may be rewarded by as much traffic as your best successes.

A working journalist has to worry about ethics and accuracy because your ass is on the line, along with that of your editors and the publication.

I can't think of a single blogger sued for libel or fired from a site over something he reported, and I've never read about one who did something fubar and thought to myself, "that poor sap will never blog again."

But as any reader of James Romenesko knows, professional journalists commit acts of career suicide on a daily basis.

There are obviously exceptions -- bloggers working for Nick Denton can blunder themselves out of a job and the journalist Susan Schmidt clearly has blackmail material over the editors of Washington Post.

To borrow one of my favorite cornpone Texas sayings, the difference between a blogger and a journalist is the difference between a chicken and a pig at breakfast.

The chicken's involved.

The pig's committed.


I can't think of a single blogger sued for libel or fired from a site over something he reported, and I've never read about one who did something fubar and thought to myself, "that poor sap will never blog again."

I dunno about that last part. I remember when it was revealed that The Agonist was plagiarizing material from Stratfor and passing it off as original analysis of the war.

He was roundly denounced in just about all corners and went from being one of the most-cited "warbloggers" to virtually disappearing off the radar.

The guy's still plugging away, but I'd be curious to see what his traffic stats look like from before that came out to today...

That's an interesting example. Here's the Alexa comparison of The Agonist's traffic rank compared to that of the Drudge Retort, which gets around 400,000 pageviews a week.

Blogging is to journalism what Wikipedia is to encyclopedias. It's somebody's 2 cents on the topic, and always needs to be taken with plenty of salt.

Actually, the same goes for journalism and encyclopedias, it's just that enough people agree on the "facts", so they don't taste the need for the salt.

considering how bill keller & tom friedman of the nytimes kept saying in their columns that america must go into iraq, it doesn't hold water to say that the top american journalists are any better than governmental lackeys who are lucky enough to earn their living by parroting the washington line

the fraud that american journalists commit is to go along with the gag that our politicians are split between lefties & righties: when it comes to setting foreign policy, nearly all politicians are bloodthirsty warmongers -- it's no accident that hillary & schumer ditched hackett in ohio: the last thing they want is to have to work in the senate with an iraq war veteran who doesn't buy their malarkey

You are just wrong.

There are huge implications for screwing up on a blog if you have a huge blog just as there are huge implications for screwing up on a story for 60 Minutes if you are a huge journalist such as Dan Rather.

I've been sued four times for libel for what I've published on my blogs. I've fought all four cases. Settled one. Won two. Fourth is pending.

Bloggers get condemned by their peers and by the mainstream media (if the blogger is big enough) when they screw up, just as much as journalists. It depends on how much traffic the blogger gets and how much influence the blogger wields. People don't bother getting angry at somebody who doesn't challenge them. There are only a few significant blogs, maybe one or two per industry.

If the suits are the ones listed by the Media Law Research Center, what huge implications did you face?

Though it has to suck to fight those suits, my impression of your career trajectory is that they ultimately helped you by further making your name, just as the best friend Matt Drudge ever had is Sidney Blumenthal.

Good Day All!

My editor and I were talking about this very subject last night. I am a budding "parajournalist" and have always been reticent to do a serious blog for the very reason Cadenhead outlined above: there are no checks and balances in the "blogosphere" for would-be journalists to be held accountable. (Aside from the lawsuits listed above, I'm speaking of having to go through your section editor, your editor-in-chief, and your copy editor to run an actual article versus simply typing something up in a blog.)

Blogs are not credible either--who knows who the person is sitting in their underwear in a pile of stale Wheaties plugging away at their keyboard with jelly-stained fingers--and thus only serve as a litmus stick to public opinion (by reading the comments over the blog itself).

Here's the advice my chief gave me last night in a fist-pounding-on-table rage: "Be the guy that comes up with the ideas and does the legwork. Be the guy that people blog about."

So instead of living viciously through the real journalists by religiously reading the Drudge Retort every morning and digging in your ass at the keyboard get your own ass out there and experience the news firsthand.

~Issac Stolzenbach

"I brood on these things. It is one of those old habits,
like date-rape, and cigarettes, which I like too much to quit."
~Hunter S. Thompson

Again you show you know nothing about what you write.

I made my name and had my 5,000-10,000 readers a day years before I was ever sued (I started blogging in July of 1997, published my first book (Prometheus Books) in June 1999, and got served with my first lawsuit in December 1999, well after I had broken my big stories (ones that would be followed up weeks, months and years later by such mainstream publications as The LA Times), been profiled in various publications, interviewed for numerous TV shows, and whatever way you want to calibrate a writer's career). The lawsuits did almost nothing positive for me. If you've ever been sued for libel, you realize that it is like being put through a ringer, even when you have your facts in a row.

The lawsuits cost me over $20,000 (my average income over the past eight years has been about $30,000 per annum, I live on the survival level) in legal fees, numerous sleepless nights, fears of public humiliation, and hundreds of hours of time I could've better spent elsewhere.

Sidney Blumenthal did nothing for Matt Drudge's career. All it was was an enormous hassle for Matt and was a black-eye for his reputation. Matt earns his million dollars a year from blogging through his own efforts. Sidney contributes nothing to Matt's income or his standing.

Rogers, you do have an important point to make in this matter (journalism vs. blogging) but you're not making it as accurately as you can.

The lawsuits did nothing to make my name. There was little coverage of them. Lawsuits do little to make anyone's name in such instances. It's the quality of your work that will make your name. You are not going to make a name as a writer, blogger, painter, or anything unless you touch lives. Lawsuits don't help you touch lives.

Comparing blogging to journalism is like comparing Mac computers to journalism. Blogging is just another form of technology that allows one to publish. Blogging is no more inherently journalistic (nor should it be judged as journalism) than using a Mac. Macs can be used for journalism but that is not their primary purpose.

A more useful question than wondering if blogging is journalism is asking if a particular piece of writing (be it published on a blog or in a newspaper or magazine) is journalism -- is it fair and accurate and does it disclose conflicts of interest?

Again you show you know nothing about what you write.

Why in the world would anyone get angry enough to sue you, Luke?

I kid because I care.

I'm happy to have you walk me through the process of why I'm wrong, because your career in online journalism's a lot more interesting than mine. But I still think the acceptable level of risk's much higher in blogging than I ever found it in pro journalism.

You reached a point where someone thought it was worthwhile to sue you. I think this makes your situation exceptional.

Most bloggers don't get to that point -- I'm drawing maybe 1,000 readers a day here -- so the times we practice journalism on our sites, we do so without the thing I lived with as a pro journalist for a decade: genuine consequences for screwing up.

As for Drudge, I follow the guy's career the way Saliere followed Mozart. At the time he was sued by Blumenthal in 1997, the Drudge Report was on AOL and had been on Wired.Com, but he wasn't by any stretch well-known. Some people still thought of him as the guy who posted newsletters on alt.showbiz.gossip.

Getting sued by a White House official was a huge boost for his profile that made him a favorite site for Beltway types, and around four months later he got the tip about the spiked Isikoff story on Monica Lewinsky that began the best year for late-night TV comedy in our lifetime.

I think Sidney's as much a parent of Drudge's success today as this guy.

What ratio would you give Sidney to Monica as accounting for Drudge's success?

I say 1/100.

Fair enough.

I wish someone had told me that the road to journalistic success was not journalism school but an HTML editor, round-the-clock news updates, and a memorable hat.

Well, at least I've got the hat part:

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