Blogging vs Journalism

Blogging vs Journalism

I don’t think anything has changed the face of journalism more than social media. Gone are the days where your only option for hearing what’s going on with the world were the nightly news or maybe National Public Radio if you were more “in the know.” Now with Facebook and smart phones, the options for obtaining information have blown wide open. Think of how many times you’ve seen a news story that wouldn’t have even existed without a video clip from someone’s phone. Of course, the equestrian world is not sheltered from this phenomenon.

When this post on abuse in eventing blew up last week, I read it and thought this is going to blow up in a rather extreme way. And it did. I didn’t wholly agree or disagree with the contents of the post, but something made me uneasy which the Chronicle of the Horse responded to fairly articulately.

Now before I go off on the subject of this post I am writing today, I do want to make sure my criticism is directed in the right way. I believe that adult amateurs who pay the registration dues, attend the rated shows/events and compete in the lower levels are the backbone of all equestrian sports. They have worked hard and scraped pennies to get out of the unrated levels (unlike myself!) and their opinions are important. Whether a blogger or not, these riders have every right to question things in their sport that make them uncomfortable. In my opinion, they’ve earned it.

I just think it should be done carefully.

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I took a journalism class in college, which taught me enough about journalism to know that I’m really not great at it. The ability to succinctly spit out facts absence of my own opinion is pretty beyond me. Why do you think I’m a personal blogger? It’s largely because I find myself pretty damn amusing, and my opinion somewhat worthy of other people reading. I can’t write posts documenting my sport without inserting my own agenda in there somewhere, even if it’s something as simple as “Colored or decorative collars on hunter jackets need to be obliterated out of the show ring!”

You’re probably thinking, “but as bloggers we never claim to be journalists you crazy person!” and that’s entirely true. However, here’s a thing about the internet that I touched on earlier – the waters are muddy now. Take this example from my Facebook feed:

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The above picture was shared on my Facebook feed with a caption saying they were the twin tornadoes that touched down in Lee County during the recent central Texas storms & flooding.

There were over 2,000+ shares of this “amazing Texas storm photo”, but I immediately recognized it from Shutterstock in some searching I had done for work months ago.

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And upon even further reading of the comments, found that they weren’t even real tornadoes at all. The entire thing was photoshopped.

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The original poster went back and edited the caption on the image he shared, but I guarantee you there are thousands of people out there going, “Man did you see those tornadoes near Austin on Facebook?!?”

Does this have anything to do with blogging about horses? No, but it helps me to slowly get to my point.

Whether we claim to be a journalist or not, when we put something out on the internet and label it as fact people will take notice. I know everyone wants lots of blog visitors and comments, but creating content comes with a lot of power. When you publicly name someone on the internet, it’s your responsibility to garner as many facts as possible from both sides of the argument and present them in an unbiased fashion.

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Maybe it’s because I’m a piddly personal blogger who covers extremely exciting topics like dog costumes and unrated 2’3″ jumper shows, but I’ve always thought name calling was a dangerous thing to do on the internet. I like asking questions, but I don’t claim to have many of the answers. Call me a coward or what you will, but I try to keep my space of the internet for insight and friendly discussion versus damnation.

I’ll leave the reporting to journalists.

34 thoughts on “Blogging vs Journalism

  1. While I don’t disagree with you, I do think that social media has changed journalism, and a lot of the old rules have changed. Also – what happens when “the other side of the story” won’t respond? Or when no actual journalism outlet is brave enough to touch on a subject in a way that’s actually going to matter? I have no doubt that COTH will write a very sedate, generic article about the blood rules that few will read and even fewer will care about. Because the readers won’t understand where it’s coming from and why, or the importance/real world problem behind the issues raised. And absolutely nothing would have come of it. Sometimes truth and transparency are the things that really end up driving change, and if real journalists won’t cover it in its entirety, what then?

    1. This is entirely speculation sense I’m obviously not a member of any journalistic staff, but I’d venture to guess that a journalism outlet typically WANTS to report on all the exciting gloom & doom. I mean, think about how much national attention any crisis gets over every news outlet. If media is silent on an issue, I interpret that to mean that the waters are murky and they have to get their facts together before actually reporting something.

      I absolutely 100% agree with truth and transparency, but don’t think many bloggers can get enough facts to actually tell that story. Bring up a subject and raise questions? Absolutely, do that all day long. But all the nitty gritty enough to damn someone? That’s where I start to drift off.

      1. I’m afraid I am a bit more cynical than that. Once I heard the notion that a news outlet is still a business, it clicked for me that they can do what they want. Like the old trope, ‘I make the news!’ mogul. There are some who say that if the media is being hit with nonimportant matters, such as a kardashian’s new waist size, they are trying to misdirect people from another story (check international news then).

        A bit conspiracy theory, yes, but I think it is easy to overlook that news sources in the end are businesses. We often think it is for the common good, but they need to turn a profit. The Chronicle, for example, is pretty much a feel-good circle jerk for the AA-circuit. They aren’t going to step in sh*t if they don’t have to. They were forced to say something, or so they felt, and i think, ended up handling it extremely poorly.

        1. Yah I’m on board with this too- our news stations do not just report the facts, and neither do a lot of places where we get information. Conspiracy theories ftw!

        2. I cannot tell you how much I LOVE your characterization of The Chronicle. Sheer brilliance. I will keep this image in mind forevermore when I’m anywhere near a COTH article or board, so thank you!

  2. What absolutely fascinates me about this whole topic is how the internet has changed the entire conversation. It has effectively reduced a big, big world back down to town hall status and you don’t need a fancy degree or an in with the powers-that-be to get heard. Things that could be done down behind the barn and voices that could be effectively silenced before now get heard.

    It definitely opens up the possibility of mob justice (and I certainly don’t want a horde of angry internet-ers descending on me), but that’s how the pendulum swings–too much regulation means a round of mob justice, and too much mob justice means we find new ways to regulate. As it should be.

    Terrible things certainly come out of modern mob justice–Anonymous taking on a 13 year old girl a few years back comes to mind. That was not a good thing. On the other hand, when that power is channeled productively, it is a very powerful agent for change. Josh Duggar comes to mind–again the power of Anonymous digging up dirt.

    When there are apparent facts and actual proof, I am in favor of it being publicly disseminated. It isn’t the fault of the mob that someone did something egregious, whether that’s troll for women online when already married or ride around international courses with blood dripping off your horse.

    As a non-powerful, completely marginalized member of the greater horse community, I LOVE that the international community has to sit up and take notice of everyman for once. They can’t stuff it under the rug. They can’t ignore it.

    The modern power structure is changing. I love the internet.

  3. Ah, Lauren, have I mentioned I love you? Seriously. Articulate writing on a difficult subject with few answers. Thanks for putting this out there.

  4. Like you touched on, objectivity is the key to real journalism and I think it’s one of the reasons we should let real journalists write the big articles. I’m not saying bloggers or any internet platforms shouldn’t “report” on the stories that haven’t found enough media coverage yet, but you run the risk of polarizing posts turning people off of what the real issue is. Is blood in the mouth an issue? Absolutely. Am I going to go up in arms over it? With the way this has been handled, not now.

  5. I’ve been following this whole thing with fascination since the original blog post – I think it’s a really interesting case study, honestly.

    I do think journalism needs to encompass social media, and for the most part it does. A lot of media outlets have adapted and grown to embrace it. For example, the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for their coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, much of which was via social media (especially Twitter). Granted, comparing that subject with equestrian sport is apple to oranges, but still, I think it shows that social media can be used in conjunction with “real” journalism very effectively.

    I think you hit the nail on the head about presenting things in an unbiased fashion – those unbiased articles are really the ones that people should be looking for (should they exist) and forming their own opinions based on well-researched facts. However, even big-name newspapers still have blogs and Op-Eds, which, in their nature, are not unbiased. And when presented as such, that’s ok too. There’s still a place for opinions.

    I was/am totally fine with the original post. I thought it was pretty well researched to. Maybe it could have presented slightly differently so that the public response was less witch-hunty, but it’s a tough thing to do to anticipate the general response like that and unfortunately I think a lot of the public completely missed the point of the article because they ended up focusing too much on the one person.

    I Thought the COTH made some good points in that well-research articles do take time, but I thought it was a pretty low blow for them to call out their own forum and a single blog post in post that really did just make it sounds like they were making an excuse for not doing a piece on it yet. Pretty condescending, IMO. And there’s another site out there that also wrote a response to it that I just plain thought was really sloppy writing and was totally not impressed by it.

    I could go on, but this comment is long enough 😛 Like I said…fascinating.

    1. I will agree with you and say that I think the original post was about as well researched and worded as a working adult amateur blogger could write, and I will commend the author on that. What bothers me most is the subsequent comments (of which the author participated) and witch hunt that followed. That’s where the virality of social media can take an ugly turn in my opinion.

      When I said in my post that I was a biased blogger, I meant it! I’m personally a big fan of COTH, so naturally am going to lean a bit more to their neutral side versus the DEATH TO ALL polarity that some enjoy. But hey, we all have media we prefer over others 🙂

      1. Very nicely written Lauren. And I will agree with your note above- the post laid out enough of a story for me to want to learn more about the topic and potentially take a stand. However when comments started with things like” Sigh. I give up, since you seem to be unable to read ” in response to a differing opinion, I rolled my eyes knowing that this was a COTH trainwreck waiting to happen.

        1. Did you read the comments that finally elicited my “Sigh, I give up” statement? The person brought up “points”, repeatedly, that were already addressed in the original post. Over and over. There comes a point where I give up on saying the same thing over and over, and I reached that point with her. Especially because I thought those particular points of conversation actually took it in MORE of a witchhunt/personal direction, rather than the rule change/overall view of the sport direction that was the intent. My problem wasn’t that she disagreed with me, it was that I ran out of patience with repeating information that was contained within the original post, I encouraged her to reach out to other outlets with her concerns (which she did) and wished her luck. I suppose I could have just kept beating my head against that brick wall but I will admit I am human and my patience is not infinite. A lot of really great conversations came out of the comments, emails, and facebook messages that I got – some agreeing with me, some not agreeing with me… just not that one particular person. What we had there was a failure to communicate. 😉 I actually got one of the best rule change ideas from someone who did not agree with me in the slightest. We had a great conversation (instead of circular repetition) that was really fantastic. It’s unfortunate to me that your takeaway of the resulting conversations was the opposite.

          1. I’m glad that a number of great conversations started through your post- rightfully so.

            Point being that when comments take on what I would consider to be a belittling tone, the overall issue loses some credibility to me.

            Sometimes, especially on the Internet, it’s best just not to respond. And here I’ve gone breaking my own rule.

        2. I agree with Amanda that it seemed to me, as if the one commenter had an agenda and kept ignoring some of the key issues while repeating the same questions, just not listening to the answers. That gets old and I feel Amanda handled it rather well.

          1. It certainly read to me, that the above mentioned commenter had not read Amanda’s post with comprehension – at all – but was reflexively defending a point of view which didn’t address the original post. Hard call how to respond to that – I think Amanda was more polite and patient than I would have been…

    2. One more thing actually, relating to the tornadoes. I think the public has a responsibility to look into things themselves also. The “share” button on Facebook is a very powerful, very dangerous tool – you can mass distribute something with such ease and it can become widespread without a second though. It would be nice if people fact checked for themselves before they shared something, but of course, that’s hard and takes time so it will never happen :/

  6. Actually I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you on this one. I don’t think we need to leave any subject up to “real” journalists. We’re bloggers, we don’t get paid for writing, we have a tiny corner of the internet that people can choose to visit or not. We should be able to speak our minds and readers should consider the source (some silly ammie rider from New Jersey, in my case) when they read our opinions. Just like people can choose to share that double tornado photo or, like me, can look at it skeptically and assume it’s fake before sharing (which, turns out, it is). If I read an article on COTH, I expect it to be fact-checked. When I read a blog post, my standards are a bit lower, but I like that there’s a forum for everyone’s views to be expressed. Amanda’s post blew up because it’s a controversial topic and she set out some pretty bold opinions, but I say good for her.

    I love that the internet provides a way for me to say whatever I need to say and reach people I otherwise wouldn’t ever connect with. Other than saying something untrue or intentionally hurtful, I think every topic is up for grabs. If the subject of my post is another person or another person’s horse, I usually ask first before talking about them, but if something happened in my sport that I felt strongly about, I’d speak up. I’m glad Amanda did, because she felt passionate about calling for a re-examination of the Rules in her sport, and I think she toed the line appropriately and avoided blaming one rider. I know people saw her post as a witch hunt — and readers are equally entitled to their opinions, you also have to expect strong reactions when you speak out strongly on something. I think overall social media and blogs are a positive influence because they bring about dialogue like that. When you aren’t paid to write, you can write what you actually think, not what the magazine/industry leaders/patrons want you to say or allow you to say.

    1. I do see your point(s) and I think you know that I consider you an educated person that I respect. Part of my reason for writing this is that the majority of the internet are NOT well educated like you who fact check or who have a lower standard for blogs than formal news outlets. Many see something written and automatically accept it as truth.

      Is that a bloggers fault? No, not at all… but it’s something to be aware of in my opinion.

      At the end of the day, I can’t sleep at night if I put something in writing in such a public way that discredited an individual’s livelihood/character/career unless I knew the entire story… which isn’t usually possible as a personal blogger who didn’t see something with their own eyes.

      1. Hmmm… you have a good point, about our social responsibility, I guess you could call it. It makes me wonder whether people might actually be taking me more seriously than I assume they do? Something to ponder….

  7. I wholeheartedly believe that there is a distinct difference between blogging and journalism, and that it is a responsibility that each blogger should recognize and respect. I think there’s no reason not to discuss a topic on your blog, but when you decide to talk about a specific person and a specific incident, you better be damn sure you have all the facts.

  8. This whole thing has been really fascinating to watch unfold. I’ve pretty much stayed out of it completely in terms of making a stand, although have discussed it in private with some people. I have a feeling that the subject is incredibly convoluted and I truly don’t think it’s necessarily as black and white as it seems, which is usually true of most things.

    But I loved your post Lauren, because it really illustrates the direction that our media in general is going in. Even our primary news sources have become more than just a reporting of the facts. When was the last time that we could turn on a national news station and not hear facts littered with opinions? Or facts presented in a different light than a station just a channel or two away? Even just seeing the stark differences between two news sources shows us that even though theoretically both sides have access to the same facts, we don’t always come to the same conclusions.

    What makes matters worse is that we’re addicted to outrage more than we are addicted to information. We tend to jump on an opinion, especially one that tugs at our heartstrings or gets us pissed off, and then gather facts that support us. All of us do that, it’s a cognitive bias that we have based on our evolution. And there are people out there, such as the tornado sharers, that simply don’t understand that just because someone, anyone, is reporting on something, doesn’t mean they have all the facts. There are just so many facts! And it’s so easy to explain away facts that don’t support our opinions.

    So given what our news media has become, I could argue that I would trust a blogger who fact checks more than a news outlet that needs to make ratings and keep people happy. I think most of us have jobs outside of blogging so our livelihood isn’t based on how much attention our blogs get (though I’m sure the attention is enough of a motivator for most of us). But I would also argue that it’s a lot easier, as a blogger, to slap a post up there without fact checking when you are in charge of your own content and have no one to answer to.

    I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had from this whole ordeal is that 1) don’t believe everything you read is true regardless of where it comes from 2) don’t discount a blogger because they have a strong opinion (since many back those opinions up with facts) and 3) don’t trust a strong opinion coming from anywhere just because it’s strong and gets you all in a tither. Basically- do your own research, recognize when your opinion is being pulled one way or another by your feelings rather than the facts, and when posting a post where you express a strong opinion, make sure that you did your best to understand both sides as best as possible.

    And knowing that our posts can go viral and get a lot of attention means that we inadvertently take on more responsibility as bloggers.

  9. Well said, Lauren.
    I was just thinking yesterday about something similar–the difference between writing as a creative expression v. blogging. To blog the “right” way, you are supposed to say everything in the first paragraph and have all the right links and use different subheadings. I like blogging, and the features/journalistic pieces I’ve done for other outlets are okay (but more stressful to write–getting all the facts straight), but I really enjoy just plain old writing–with no thought of SEO, no concerns over getting “just the facts,” just expressing, emoting, sharing, retelling. I have ideas for “whistleblower” types of blog posts in my brain (like how an international level rider who was indicted for insurance fraud/horse killing about 20 years ago is now a poster child for a particular discipline–how do we let that happen?). I just don’t “go there.” I applaud other bloggers who have the confidence, tenacity, and well-researched facts to bring to light issues that mainstream media will shy away from. I think there’s a role for all types of writers, bloggers, journalists. I’ve stayed out of the blood-on-the-event-horse discussion because I wasn’t there, I don’t know the facts.

  10. This is a very interesting post and the points you make are definitely something to keep in mind. It really is a murky area that can get dangerous. Thanks for posting this!

  11. Great post and very well written. This whole topic is interesting to me on a couple different levels – first of all bc my opinion is still evolving so every thing I read (like tho post!) is refining my thoughts.

    Ultimately I agree that anyone putting anything on the internet has a degree of responsibility to stand behind that. But I also believe that readers can not and should not believe everything they read on the internet. Everything is open to misinterpretation anyway – regardless of how well researched etc. and the author can’t really control that.

    I’m also not sure I agree about the need for pure objectivity in reporting. Esp in private sources, like a blog. Public opinion is a very fickle thing, and frequently seems to swing on the idea of “So what, why should I care?” Dry evidence will rarely answer those questions.

    If you are trying to start a conversation, inspire change, or draw attention to something you personally feel is a big deal, then you need to reach your audience on a more visceral level. There needs to be a *reaction*. This same idea came into play with recent blogger posts on body shaming in horse sports, tho that coversation carefully avoided naming any names. It was hardly objective tho. And that’s probably a good thing. Outrage is sometimes merited ya know?

    There are many different ways to start a conversation tho and I agree that the comments section of the original post devolved a bit and lost focus, but the author can only control their own voice. And frankly I think it was a conversation that needed to be started. We will see what happens tho.

    In any case tho – your points are also very well taken and as a blogger myself I see incredible importance in choosing my words with care.

  12. Good post Lauren. I actually really like the original hot topic post, but avoided ever going back to read the comments as I suspected they would quickly digress. As always I’m amazed by the ability of people to witch hunt vs deal with the actual issue (blood in mouth), thank you for a calm look into some of the pros and cons of the media world we live in.

  13. I agree with Amanda, that things like this NEED to be pointed out. Otherwise it is swept under the rug, kept hush-hush and continues on. Unless there is attention drawn to it, it won’t ever change. Those who knew me back in the day on Fugly or FHoTD, know I can be quite outspoken. I don’t take things lightly and when it is something that we are all so passionate about, emotions can get stirred up and it gets heated rather quickly. As much as people liked or hated Cathy, she did have a very valid point when she said, “When you call yourself a ‘Professional’, you are automatically held to a higher standard.” To carry that a bit further? When you call yourself a ‘Professional’, YOU should be holding YOURSELF to a higher standard.

    What I seen in the comments on Amanda’s blog was A LOT OF PEOPLE who are concerned for their sport, concerned for the ‘black eye’ this may give it and ULTIMATELY CONCERNED FOR NOT ONLY THEIR OWN HORSES, BUT CONCERNED FOR ALL OF THE HORSES ON THE FIELD. It didn’t give me the feeling of a witch hunt as some called it, but rather that everyone had the chance to speak their mind and be heard. (Caps for emphasis only, not shouting)

    As pointed out several times by several people, if a person does the same thing at a couple of events, different times, different venues, with different horses, obviously there’s a pattern and they need to be called out on their shit. I am all for calling people out on their shit. If anyone doesn’t believe me, just ask my now ex-husband about that…. lol! For this to have happened at least twice to the same person within a short time, the rider should be first and foremost trying to find out a) what happened and b) how to prevent it from happening again. The feeling I got from ML’s statement was that she got caught but was doing her best at damage control. Let’s face it, most of us would do the same thing if we were in her position. But therein lies the difference. Many of us would NEVER be in her position because we wouldn’t be using the contraptions, tack and bit choices she does.

    I don’t know if this whole thing escalated to the point of anyone getting death threats or at the very least nasty emails, but it certainly let Ms. Little know that people are watching , people seen it and people know. It also opened the door for a whole bunch of healthy discussion. Discussion is how things like this gets resolved. Thru discussion we can dissect the problem and offer or ask for some ideas for solutions. The resulting solutions may not work for everyone, but it is a step in the right direction and an attempt to fix the problem rather than ignore it and allow it to continue.

    1. C-N-J, *I* certainly remember you from the long-lost Fugly days (maybe you remember me?)! I still miss that blog, darn it. It sure opened my eyes to a WHOLE LOT of stuff that I never knew about in the horse world, and I still appreciate the knowledge. I didn’t always agree with Cathy but I learned a heck of a lot. That continues today with blogs I read.

      I agree with you that yes, while some people were perfectly happy to wave pitchforks in the direction of a certain rider due to The Blood Incident, I appreciate that many people chose to focus on the future health and welfare of ALL eventing horses. I’m all for sensible rule changes and clearing up ambiguity. OTTH, I also think that ML’s statement was a lot more CYA than “I’m sorry” and I was significantly less than impressed.

      Lauren, I hadn’t seen anybody else with quite this angle on things and it’s really interesting. I was a Communications major and took a number of classes in the J-school. Never had the slightest interest in working in the news world, though – would never want to be under that kind of pressure to write. And like you, even in the articles I was required to produce in school were tough because I have a heck of a time not inserting my own thoughts and opinions! Blog posts for me, for sure.

  14. For better or worse – the internet is here to stay.

    YAY when it’s used to facilitate revolting against dictatorships or keeping governments and large media organizations (more) honest. BOO when creeps can figure out where you live / how to steal from you, or bullies gang up from behind keyboards anonymously.

    As far as fact checking and journalistic integrity goes, I wish there were more personal responsibility. ( I just wish that in the most general sense actually)

    Don’t hit submit / publish etc if you can’t stand behind what you wrote. Other side of the coin – when consuming media – caveat emptor.

    Common sense – so rare it should be a super power.

  15. I realize that while you are trying to be broad in the spectrum of this post, it is important to remember why this post was initially even brought about – the entire COTH/900fbpony debacle that has been storming the interwebs. I think that Amanda did a fantastic job bringing all her points to light – not once did she belittle the rider or say anything rude in that regard.

    She did, however, bring up some KEY points that we need to be aware of. The stewards and organizers of these events are NOT taking a stand and something needs to be done. IMO, Amanda didn’t need the other side of the story to make a blog post about it.

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