Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mom Bloggers: Nothing more, nothing less

I am a mom blogger.

I'm a mom. I blog about it. Occasionally I get free stuff, and I blog about that.

What I am not on these pages is a professional journalist. And guess what, fellow mom blogger? Neither are you.

A mom blogger, to me, is someone who writes about her life as a mother, as a woman. She touches on issues that impact her family or the world around her. The words can make us think, make us feel connected or understood - and can make us laugh so hard we snort our coffee out or nose.

Sometimes a mom blogger might review a product or offer a giveaway. She might get invited to an event or taping of a show or a launch. And she'll blog about that, too.

But what we're doing? It isn't journalism. It's journal-ING.

Just because you have Internet service and you blog doesn't make you a member of the media.

I should know. I became a professional journalist in 1990, when I graduated from college. Meaning, I got hired by an established news-gathering organization - a major newspaper. My job was to provide unbiased coverage of, in my case, various sports teams. And I continued to do so for different newspapers (and a magazine) for 15 years.

See, being a credentialed member of the media meant something: that I had education, experience, ethics. I was held to a certain standard. It was clear.

The arrogance of some mom bloggers fancying themselves media members is astounding to me. If you blog all about how you were at this primo event or you got that expensive (free) product to try, if you think YOU are the news, then you are missing the entire point of journalism.

As my friend Ciaran from Momfluential says, "Don't mistake online celebrity for being a journalist."

She's right. It's not the same thing at all.

Last week an appellate court judge in New Jersey ruled that a woman, who in a post on a message board ripped a software company and was being sued by the company for defamation, did not qualify to be covered by the state's shield law - and could be ordered to divulge her sources. (The shield law protects journalists from revealing confidential sources, so the judge was saying she's not a journalist.)

Yes, I realize she's not a mom blogger, but the judge's reasoning in the case resonates: "The defendant has produced no credentials or proof of affiliation with any recognized news entity, nor has she demonstrated adherence to any standard of professional responsibility regulating institutional journalism, such as editing, fact-checking or disclosure of conflicts of interest."

I believe this is exactly what separates the mom blogger and a journalist.

The typical mom blog has no editor. No one tells you what to write or how long it should be or by what time you need to post. You're not held accountable  for your content - especially when you can choose which comments to post.  

I'm not saying you would, of course, but you can act like a total ass at a major event and guess what? NO ONE CAN FIRE YOU! Sure, they can refuse to credential you again, and maybe they won't let ANY mom bloggers attend in the future, because there is a level of professionalism expected and you're nowhere close. But since you're really only there to meet some stars, you don't really care. I mean, you NEEDED that photo of yourself with George Clooney/Brad Pitt/Gerard Butler.

And, the minute you take that free blanket for your baby or video game for your tween or that fancy new laptop? Or those free passes to Disneyland -  in exchange for a vlog or a blog review or a whrrl?

Yeah. That violates one of the primary rules of journalism: we do not accept graft. Free stuff. Journalists do not operate on the barter system, there is no "I'll give it to you if you post about it" thing going on. A journalist might get paid by their publication to review a product or a book or CD, but the item itself is not payment. 

Sometimes I'd get a tee shirt or a computer bag with a logo from the person or event I covered. I'd turn it in to my boss. Or I'd just turn it down. 

A journalist can't be perceived to be someone who can be bought, or swayed by a shiny new purse. (I know bloggers are now required by the FTC to divulge whether you were provided a free sample by the company, and that's not a bad thing.)

I went through a lot to build a solid reputation as a sports journalist. Being a female had its challenges. I'm not just talking about dealing with a few idiot players in the clubhouse or locker room. There was the constant feeling of having to prove myself. It was important to me that co-workers, other guys on the beat and reporters I met when I traveled respected me and didn't think I was there as the "token woman" or just to look at naked athletes.

I paid my dues. I started covering high school sports, went on to do some college and minor league baseball, did backup work on major beats, and finally got my own Major League Baseball beat to cover.

I moved five times in seven years to places where I knew no one in order to further my career. I left behind friends, family and boyfriends. I once lived in a backwards town in Upstate New York, where I couldn't afford to turn on the heat very often (despite a record 130-inch snow fall) and subsisted at one point on hard pretzels.

I've had horrible bosses and fantastic ones who pushed me to ask better questions, to write words that moved people. I've met some of the brightest, funniest people on the planet and some of the sleaziest. 

I've covered wife beaters and drug users. I've written about a teenage basketball player whose baby died a few days after birth. A college athlete battling anorexia and bulimia. A larger-than-life baseball player hitting more home runs than anyone ever had.

I've waited - for hours - to get one quote from a player, only to have him totally blow me off. I've left dates and parties and quiet dinners at home because news was breaking and I had to work. I've taken calls on the treadmill. A former New York Yankees beat reporter once remarked to me during the playoffs, while watching the players' families in the clubhouse, "I see their kids more than I see my own."

I was away from home almost half of the year - as a newlywed. I've spent nights with my stomach in knots, wondering what the competition was going to have in their paper the next day that I wasn't.

Yes, I got all-expense paid trips to New York. Boston. Florida. Seattle. Toronto. Chicago. Sounds good, right? Not when you consider I was there to work - often leaving stadiums after 11 p.m  Many times I was gone for a week or more to three different cities through 10 airports and missed connections and delays and lost luggage and silly o'clock wake-up calls AND I was missing time I could be spending with my boyfriend/fiancee/husband.

I've been to a bunch of playoffs and World Series and even the SuperBowl once. But it's not the same as going as a fan. I had stories to write and deadlines to meet and competition to beat and news to break and editors to answer to. And David? He had to buy tickets if he wanted to sit in the stands.

By the time I left the business, I felt I had gained the respect of the people I covered and  also many other reporters around the country. I did my job professionally and I did it well. Players, the coaching staff and front office people knew if I interviewed them that what I wrote would be fair, whether or not they liked it. That's all you can ask for.

I had status. Trust. Credibility. Accountability.

I earned it.

Fifteen years. A lot of sacrifice. A lot of amazement. It's a way of life and it will always be part of me.

So yes, I think it's crazy that mom bloggers call themselves professional journalists or members of the media. 

This is not to say that what we do doesn't have value. It does, in myriad ways. And I'm truly grateful for the fabulous women I've met through blogging.

Mothers are a force to be reckoned with in this marketplace and companies know that. I think it's a great thing. Just don't mistake what's happening by calling yourself a journalist.

Now, if I'm doing a paid freelance piece for a publication, then yes, I'll wear my "media" hat. I've got the resume to back it up.

But in this space?

I'm a mom blogger. Nothing more, nothing less.

And so are you.


Momfluential said...

Wow! What a great post. I really love how you have contrasted the world of the journalist and the world of the blogger. I think the issue of accountability and career vs hobby is huge. I'm really looking forward to the comments you will get!

Julie {Angry Julie Monday} said...

Total hobbyist, I admit that. I'm always in shock to hear some of the things that come out of people's mouths at events. I work full-time, and I guess I was just raised with manners, and integrity. I'm just a mom with a blog.

Gina Kim said...

Excellent points, and writing. Here's something to muddy the waters: I responded to a Craig's List job posting in our town to a company looking for "local writers" to cover issues of local interest. Turns out it was, who "hire" an army of what they term "citizen journalists". It's a scam--Writer's Weekly watchdog Angela Hoy contacted several writers and learned their compensation was less than a measly $2.00 per article--but people doing it for the most part didn't care. These folks were promoting their own books, etc. The email I received from Max Miller at indicated articles are "reviewed" by someone, but there doesn't seem to be the editorial oversight required of journalists. Yes, I'd agree writers for are bloggers, but "citizen journalists"? Gimme a break!

galena said...

Wow, it completely blows me away that someone would even consider blogger and journalist as intechangeable. Great post!

AndreaLeigh said...

Great post and so true. I think some bloggers are getting way too caught up in the freebies. I say let's go back to what blogging is supposed to be about - the writing!

Pamela said...

I can't believe there are mom bloggers out there who would refer to themselves as journalists. That's just silly! I write an e-newsletter for my local community, but I still don't call myself a journalist. I barter. I do publish articles that I feel are "news worthy" to my community but because I offer my opinion, I am by no means a journalist. Some people! Great post....

Anonymous said...

You sing it sister! I also think the issue of opinion and the subjectivity one's allowed in the blogging medium is an obvious contrast to journalism, too. I mean that's the whole point to blogging. One day I think I'm going to just start a blog called The Soapbox and just rail against whatever I want. You might not think Canadian politics is exciting but it is, we got alot of douches up here! But I digress, you = awesome.

Aimee @ Ain't Yo Mama's Blog said...

Woah, this is news to me! I've never heard a mom blogger refer to themselves as a journalist or a member of the media. What?!? That is absurd, especially coming from people who are receiving free swag and promoting and endorsing brands and products.

Thanks for highlighting this topic, Cheryl. Well said.


parentingBYdummies said...

Interesting! I've heard tons of people say that. As in, join this group and then you can say you are a "member of the media" when you produce articles for us. I have an interesting situation personally. I write and manage the social media for a print publication which sends me places to have "experiences" that I then share with the community via the magazine's blog. Mostly places invite me there, as in "come check us out and write about us if you want". Usually I don't pay to go to the places, sometimes I do, but not always. The understanding is that I will write about what I saw, but there is no guarantee. I'm often not sure what to call myself. I have an editor, it's a magazine after all. But, what I do is leaning much more towards advertorial than editorial, even though no one buys my opinion exactly. It's a strange place I'm in and sometimes I'm a bit confused about it myself. Feel free to weigh in on my situation as you obviously know what you're talking about!

Daddy Files said...

I've never read your stuff before, but after today's post I will swear allegiance to you for all eternity.

I'm a print journalist and I'm appalled not only by parents who think they are a part of the actual unbiased media, but also blogs in general that try to pass themselves off as news sites. News is 100% news. It is not 75% news with 25% opinion. And that's exactly what a lot of "new media" looks like these days.

But until readers start to really care about where their news comes from and who is delivering it, we're going to continue down that slippery slope.

Sarah said...

Great post and great point! As a career journalist, and a food blogger, I have always drawn a distinction between what I do on my site versus what I do professionally ... they just aren't the same even though I do bring my journalist ethics to my blog.

kirsten said...

I completely agree with this piece, and don't think I'd ever suggest that a blogger was *necessarily* the same as a journalist.

I think, though, that it might be disingenuous to ignore the increasing impact of bloggers as part of New Media, and the transition from 'traditional' print media to online media.

What I think is concerning is that there don't seem to be any professional standards/guidelines/ethics for this particular brand of new media, and until it does, it will prove next to impossible for a blogger to claim true credibility as a journalist.

The Penny-Pinching Mama said...

Agreed - I really enjoyed your post, and reading about your experiences! I never call myself a part of the media, and I haven't heard people saying that they are yet. I hear the term, influencer a lot though.

Unfortunately, I don't think all of the established media publications are unbiased either though. It seems like there are agendas much of the time. Sounds like you were one of the good guys. :)

Missy said...

Terrific post!

Today's social media boom is definitely causing some people to experience confusion. There are less savvy readers who could actually confuse some blogs with online news sources. We, as bloggers, have a responsibility to be very clear with our readers about who we are and why we're writing (especially when reviewing products, events, travel...).

I agree with Kirsten that we should take heed of the power within social media - and do it with some scruples! I'd hate to see social media become over-regulated due to a lack of integrity.

Very interesting topic.

FeliciaB said...

Just a question. Please don't flame me. I'm asking because I'm ignorant and want to be informed. Is an editorial considered journalism because it is printed in a news publication? What about opinion columnists? Are they considered journalists? What about writers who celebrity lifestyle interviews then have their interviews published in magazines? Are those writers considered journalists?

I consider bloggers to be editorial columnists because they are basically writing about life or current affairs through their own viewpoint. Would that description be the consensus description?

JoAnn said...

Is that why blog reviews annoy me?

I wrote the FFA News article for the local town paper in high school, so I think my blog is slightly elevated from mom blog. It's more like Mom with Extremely Impressive Credentials Blog...wait, that's you. I'm more of a mommy blog with strange agricultural history and a lazy aversion to using proper capitalization/ Oh OH! And I love emoticons. :) :( :P

Musings of a Housewife said...

Thank. You. (First time here - found a link to your post on Twitter.)

The Mayor! said...

Yeah baby! Sing it Cheryl! Remember all that "disillusionment" I spoke of, that caused me to go running in the other direction, & become the Fairy Blogmother instead??!! You've touched on a LOT of that here! YAY you!


Andrea (PARENTise) said...

Very Very Very interesting. I love your explanation of journalism and the comparison of blogging. I think this goes for blogging in general, not just Mommy Blogging - which I think is what makes many upset. Being dismissed as a Mommy Blogger - why put the Mommy in front - can't we all just be bloggers writing about different topics. That point aside - really interesting take - glad I read it!

MiniMe Mom said...

This was never more evident to me than when I attended the NCAA Championships Last year. I was talking to a journalist, who told me he would probably not even leave the fieldhouse until after 4 am. The dedication to his craft and article was remarkable.

I love Mom Bloggers, but it never ceases to amaze me that a few of them call themselves "celebrities". Being well-known in your industry and a celebrity are two totally different things to me.

Kris said...

No need to post this. =)

I can't wait to hear what provoked this post!

I'll be at Target from 9:25-10:10 tomorrow. Jameson has a make-up speech session.

Cheryl said...

The things that sucks about blogger is you can't comment after each post. I'd like to. Because I really appreciate all of you who stopped by and left your thoughtful comments.

I don't claim to know everything there is about blogging - or journalism, for that matter. There are certainly legitimate news-gathering blogs out there. So I just wrote about what I know, and that's the genre in which I seem to belong.

I am well aware of the power of New Media - and it scares the bejeebus out of me because, as some of you pointed out, there are no standards. And I'm still not buying that all bloggers are members of the media. It's simply not true, for all the reasons I stated in this post.

Anyway. Thank you. Thank you for being respectful and for sharing your opinions. It is MUCH appreciated.

And now I can get back to writing about my boobs and my kid's poops or lack thereof and my sugar addiction problem.

Lisa said...

I just read this whole post yelling, "YES! YES! YES!" at my screen. You rock.

WTF is a whrrl, by the way?

Jessica Gottlieb said...

Yes, just yes.

Minky Moo said...

Sooooooo, you're saying I shouldn't expect a Pulitzer for my stunning piece on diaper changes in tiny New York restrooms????

I kid, I kid. You're brilliant. I think we all agree on that! Seriously, I couldn't even say I was a journalist with a straight face. It's silly. Well done, you!

Maris said...

I saw your comment on Jessica Gottlieb's post and I agree with you on "But what we're doing? It isn't journalism. It's journal-ING."

I do think some take it to the next level by accepting paid freelance jobs (and some, unpaid, if they feel it worth it to them to gain experience, akin to doing an internship during college).

To commenter Gina Kim - I wrote for Examiner for about six months and in that time, I made $7. I think it's a scam. I know my friends were reading it and from those pageviews alone I should have earned more than that! They don't tell you their "proprietary formula" for how they compensate which I think is baloney.

YET, it gave me some good writing experience and I met some interesting people through the articles/posts I wrote there. Silver lining, I guess.

Maris said...

Also - to clarify my position on journalism/blogging; I think bloggers are definitely members of the media. Just not journalists in the traditional sense that we think of a magazine or newspaper reporter.

Mom, Lover, Friend, Woman said...

Awesome post!
I know quite a number of bloggers who are "wannabe" journalists... I should nudge them towards this post :)

Magimom said...

Nice!!! I'm not in journalism as a career. However, I am a credentialed technical writer. I can, with efficiency tell you HOW to do something in writing. I do not consider myself a journalist or a member of the media. I am a mom, who's really, really good at explaining how to do things step-by-step! ROFL Happy Friday!

Diane said...

You make some really valid points. And to a large degree I completely agree with you. I'm not a journalist...I'm a researcher who also earns her living to a large extent by what I write. And I totally appreciate what you say about the need for responsible writing. In theory what you write about ethics and codes of conduct about journalism (and the media in general) is true for some but not all who are "real" journalists. I think there's been a dramatic and unfortunate shift away from those values in recent years. And I alos think there's a growing sense of apprehension in terms of trusting what is shared in the public media. Part of this could be because of the difficulty of getting the scoop because of the impact of technology and the way access to news and information is being redefined by all kinds of "ordinary" folks who post things on blogs, bulletin boards and youtube. Remember how updates about the treatment of the Buddhist monks in Burma 3 years ago was "reported" by bloggers? My point is...the face of news gathering is changing like so many other things around the world. And that probably means that whether the official media sources like it or not bloggers are going to increasingly be seen as "valid" sources of information. BTW I should make it clear--I DO NOT SEE MYSELF AS A JOURNALIST. Heaven help me...I'm just a lady who likes this social network and support of other women bloggers. But times are a changing and one has to go with the flow. If I've learned anything in my nearly 60 years...that's it. When you least expect it..the rules change on you. Anyway, just my point of view.

Cheryl said...

Diane - Thanks for your comment.

That's why I limited this post to talking about mom bloggers, not ALL bloggers. And yes, the 24-hour availability to any and all info has changed a lot of things - there's a reason why newspapers are dying a slow and painful death: they were reactive, not PROactive. It is up to the consumer to decide what's legit and what's not. Unfortunately, not everyone is savvy enough to know BS when they read it. And THAT'S frightening, because any racist, anti-semite, etc. can spew their hatred and people take it as fact.

Cheryl D. said...

Great blog! Obviously, mom bloggers are not journalists of members of the media! No argument there! However, as others have pointed out, journalists are not always journalists either! Many are just reporting out whatever information is spoon-fed to them without doing any independent investigation or review. Many news media outlets, be it newspapers or cable channels, are ridiculously biased to the right or left. I sometimes feel that my views are just as valid as whatever the media is spewing out. Don't get me wrong--I'm not touting myself as being a journalist. I'm saying the media might as well be a mom blogger in a lot of cases! LOL!

One guy who writes "editorials" for the L.A. Times wrote a completely misguided editorial on allergies in children. I really thought the paper should have not published such an irresponsible piece. But I was glad when they published my completely sarcastic, snarky letter about that editorial!

A long time before I became a mom, I worked as a congressional researcher for the GAO. I had to do my own research. Write up my findings in a balanced, neutral tone. My work was heavily reviewed--every iota of information was checked for accuracy, etc. I love the freedom and creativity I have as a mom blogger! I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Angela Orr said...

Cheryl, thank you so much for this great piece. I worry about the journalist/blogger relationship, where they converge and diverge, and what that means for both. While you've moved out of the journalism world, I'm leaning increasingly toward moving into it and I'm trying to gauge whether it's the right move. It's helpful to learn about not only the depth of training, but the hardworking reality behind the credentials.

I've been blogging for less than a year and I can only hope I haven't made an ass of myself in that short time. I know I'll certainly be more careful in the future! To that end, I'm printing out this article and all of the fantastic comments to save for future reference.

Echoing others, here: You are made of Awesome.

Cheryl said...

Angela - ACK! NO! STAY AWAY FROM JOURNALISM! Just kidding - sort of ;) SO glad you found my post and the ensuing comments interesting! thanks so much for the compliment, too!

Marla Jo Fisher said...

Hi, I am one of Cheryl's former journalist hard-news colleagues, and I am also a Mom blogger and columnist as Frumpy Middle-aged Mom. I really appreciate this great blog post that goes to the heart of the frustration I feel at bloggers who take every freebie they can land, and then write glowing reviews of their events or products or meals. This applies not only to mom bloggers but any blogger. It really disgusts me. Every time I'm invited to some blogger event, they always make it clear I'll get some $100 gift card for showing up, or get to shop at the in-house store, or get free passes or the like. They seem shocked when I say, "No thanks," and that makes me realize that everyone else is just TAKING THE FREEBIES! This goes against everything I was ever taught about writing objectively, as the New York Times says, "Without fear or favor." Thanks for illuminating the difference for all.

GutsyWriter said...

I'm a female blogger who is also a wife, a mom and loves to exchanges opinions on an international level with others, including expats. I must be naive, as I had no idea about getting paid and "bribed" as Marla Jo Fisher pointed out with freebies. I receive requests for linking with businesses, but always turn them down, as I want my blog to stay CLEAN, and free of advertising from companies. Is that what you were talking about? I have to admit, I do have one product, my flip video on my blog. I use it quite often in my posts and people have asked me about it. That's why.

Erin Wallace said...

I agree - we absolutely aren't journalists! And my blog isn't really a hournal - it's a blog! I'm blogging. And I love to read blogs because these are real people with no spin who share so many amazing things with their readers. I never would have started taking pictures if I didn't have the blog - it has opened me up so much. But I'm not a journalist! (stopping by from SITS)

Kim @ Money and Risk said...

Great post. I had no idea what was going on in the mommy blogging community as I only started reading blogs about 6 weeks ago.


One of the reasons why bloggers may think that they are journalists is because the standards in journalism has dropped dramatically. Fact checking does not seem to exist any longer. I've caught multiple mistakes in reputable papers such as the Wall Street Journal. Reporters are writing with a bias and leaving out facts to support their agenda.

Mainstream newspapers and magazine are relying on "experts" to write about things that they produce by copying and pasting from each other.

Plagiarism is rife in journalistic circles. Bloggers probably feel they are on the same level as the journalists these days with such low standards.

I will be frank that I no longer trust anything I read from any sources without lots of fact checking. I consider most news as entertainment these days and close to semi-fiction until proven otherwise.

Cheryl said...

Kim - I actually disagree with you. The reason you are finding mistakes has less to do with any bias or omission of facts to "support their agenda" and more to do with the skeleton staffs many papers are dealing with. Fewer editors, less experienced (and less expensive) reporters - all contribute to more mistakes.

Newspapers don't cut and past from each other. But they may use the same wire services. Again, they lack staff to cover the stuff they might have in the past, so they rely on the wires.

Plaigarism is not rife. Does it happen? Yes. Unfortunately. But rarely.

You should always read everything with a critical eye and make your own decisions.

Thanks for the comment - it's interesting - and disheartening - to read perceptions of journalism.

Kim @ Money and Risk said...


That's a good point about skeleton staffing. I do appreciate "real" reporters. I agree with you that newspapers have been struggling with finance.

Your story above of the hard work and dedication you put into journalism is what has built trust in the general public. No matter how long I may write, I would never presume to consider myself a journalist. It's a career that takes years to build the network and skills.

I'm just seeing so many non journalists writing for the regular media.

I wonder how much of the perceptions by the mommy bloggers who went over the line were influenced by all the attention and by someone telling them that they are journalists.

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