What is the difference between journalists and writers?

What is the difference between writing and journalism?  The simple answer seems to be that writers work in a longer form and journalists basically just serve as reporters.  In other words, writers analyze, frame, and feature either in magazines or books, while journalists report (just the facts, M’am) for newspapers, radio, and television.

Well, those distinctions have become blurred, particularly with the rise of “citizen journalists” and mass production word factories that crank out millions of words without regard to quality or factual basis.  Where is the diminishing role of the “professional,” and how do we adapt to the rapidly changing technology and expectations of society?

I’ve mentioned several books in previous blogs and some radio and television shows.  This time I would like to highlight CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Howard Kurtz and NPR’s “On the Media” produced by WNYC radio.  Even if you consider yourself a “writer” and not a “journalist,” I think you need to look for reliable sources of information in this cluttered world of information that we call the Internet.

I used to have a boss who was very reluctant to be quoted in print because he thought that if you saw the words it print that must mean that it was true.   After his words appeared in print, he couldn’t weasle out of them.  While most people no longer have that naive notion, we are susceptible to accepting as fact whatever is published on the Internet when it may be entirely fictional.  Bias and objective points-of-view are classic discussion points in J-schools, but most writers don’t give them much consideration.  We’re more interested in being “creative,” or at least “marketable.”

But the cliché of “write about what you know” is extremely limiting in today’s world economy and political hegemony.  When I can watch Aljazeera TV in English live from Tripoli, Libya on my iPhone, I can experience a world that a previous generation would never have known.  That is not a first-hand experience, granted, but neither was reading a book about some other time or place. That also was part of my knowledge, background, and experience that influenced who I am and what I write about.

Is it too much of an overstatement to say that as citizens of the world we have a broader experience and understanding of the world than previous generations?  I think not.  Except for the very powerful and wealthy who had the options for extensive travel and contacts with influential people across the world, most folks simply didn’t have that kind of access to what was really going on in the world.  We only got glimpses of what was filtered through the media and the powerful shapers of public opinion, such as advertisers and movie producers.

Years ago when I used to travel outside of Texas I always was amused by the impressions of what people thought Texas was like.  Based upon the TV series “Dallas” and hundreds of western movies combined with the humorous stories of Molly Ivins, they had a vision of big oil, big money, and big hair, which was only partly true.  That certainly is a big part of Texas and reflects some of the more colorful Texans, but it is only a snapshot in time of a small piece of history.

I sometimes wonder if I’m wasting too much time on the Internet, or am I taking advantage of opportunities hither-to-unknown.  I certainly don’t have the energy or money to experience as much first-hand as I might like so if I can’t see it, feel it or touch it does it mean that I can’t write about it?




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