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The passion of publishing, or why some bloggers are journalists

There’s a very simple joke that sums up the difference between a blogger and a professional journalist, and it goes like this.

Q: What’s the difference between a blogger and a reporter?

A: About £25,000 per year.

Employing people as “bloggers” for a professional outfit is often a great way of making sure you pay the absolute minimum. But, in the world of small-scale specialised publications, it was ever thus.

One of the great mistakes of the “mainstream media versus new media” debate is to treat print media as monolithic, when in fact there have always been lots of different kinds of print publishing. The ethos, values and workflow of something like MacUser, for example, aren’t really anything like that of The New York Times. We never had vast salaries, legions of fact checkers, or mistrust of online (I was MacUser’s first dedicated online editor in 1997 or 98, and the magazine had been online for a couple of years before that).

In fact, the ethos of a magazine like MacUser was almost exactly the same as that of one of today’s high-end blogs. We recruited not from the ranks of professionally-trained journalists but from the massive pool of Mac enthusiasts, people who were passionate about what they were going to be working on.

When then-editor Stuart Price recruited me, I had no journalistic experience and absolutely no desire to be a journalist. What I had was a passion for the Mac, and plenty of personality – and if you’re looking for exclusives and stories, having the kind of personality which lets you relate to people matters a lot.

And that was how we recruited. During my time there, I think I was involved in recruiting maybe five or six people at entry-level positions. The vast majority – great people like Kenny Hemphill and Chris Phin – had no journalistic training. What they had, in spades, was passion for the Mac.

The craft of putting together a story, a feature, a review or even a whole magazine can all be taught on the job. I learned vast amounts on MacUser about writing and publishing, and I’m still learning from people now – Juliet Warkentin, my former editorial director at Redwood, taught me a lot about the black art of flatplanning.

But what you can’t teach is enthusiasm, and that comes from being engaged with the subject you’re writing about. A good reporter can write about anything, but the best people are passionate about the thing they’re writing about. Being passionate about writing itself isn’t enough to make you really good.

And that’s what our kind of publishing has in common with the world of blogging. Arnold Kim, who founded MacRumors.com and made enough of a go of it to be able to give up his medical career and go full time, puts it thus:

“I think a site like MacRumors succeeded because it was started by someone who was a genuine enthusiast of the topic and not just going for a paycheck.”

Arnold is right: MacRumors’ success happened because of the passion he had for the Mac, because it wasn’t just a job for him. However, I don’t really think he’s got this bit right:

“Especially then, there was no incentive for a traditional journalist to stay up late at night to report on the latest news and rumors. Those stories, if deemed news-worthy, would be published the following day.”

That’s something I don’t recognise – I’ve never met a “traditional” journalist who hadn’t spent a lot of late nights working on getting the story done. Back when I was news editor on MacUser, I worked every other weekend because the deadline for news was Monday 10am, and I wanted to ensure it was as fresh as possible – if I’d have completed it Friday afternoon, instead of (often very late) Sunday night, I’d have missed some stories.

Publishing, in any medium, is at its best when it combines the craft of reporting (researching, digging, writing) with passion about the subject. If you’re passionate about writing, be a writer: if you’re passionate about a topic now, you don’t have to wait for a magazine like MacUser to have a vacancy – start a blog, and have fun!

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  • simfin

    very true.. I was, by some odd series of circumstances, one of MacUser's education writers during the late nineties and can vouch for the fact that everyone involved was passionate about Macs, technologies and the appearing web. Yes I can write blogs, tweets yadeyada.. but there was something very special at that time; writing to deadlines and word counts thru the night and sending floppy disks by courier to the MacUser office! It's very different now to be sitting watching tv with a wireless device on lap and idly pontificating about the latest gadget or trend for a blog which may be read by someone other than oneself.. Ah nostalgia ain't what it used to be ;-)

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk ianbetteridge

    “writing to deadlines and word counts thru the night and sending floppy disks by courier to the MacUser office!”

    …where Julian would promptly lose them :)

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