I think the answer is 'yes' and 'no' and 'it doesn't matter whether it is or not', kind of in that order, but first let me explain what all this is about. I noticed a somewhat outraged piece from the Bristol Blogger the other day about comments made on the Bristol NUJ website, and then went on to read the comments beneath it. I don't really want to wade into that, but I can't leave it alone either, because it infuriates me. And I am also a blogger based in Bristol.
First, the NUJ is plain dumb wrong and outdated to imagine that they can only accept members on the basis of what proportion of their income is derived from journalism - claiming it keeps out 'hobbyists' and keeps in 'professionals'. By that staggeringly flawed logic, Melanie Phillips would be welcomed with open arms despite her fact-free rants which often run entirely contrary to the truth - by dint of the fact some massive corporation is happy to pay her to write her drivel - yet some decent, hardworking blogger working with primary sources, doing impeccable research and attempting to tell the truth, rather than spout misleading polemic, is kept out because they haven't taken payment from an anti-union corporation. Do you see how this doesn't quite work?
I'll give you a real example. Look at the front page of today's Daily Express, a national newspaper:
Who knew? Who knew that breakfast was good for you? Why haven't we been told this before? What a startling revelation! I'm surprised that media outlets around the world haven't picked up on this stunning story - eating breakfast is good for you - nay, it's the 'secret' to being healthy. A story which, when you read it, has no research other than large sections of a press release copied and pasted and a quote from a nutritionist, who is delighted to extol the virtues of breakfast cereals. You'll see that the article is rather similar to this one, also published today. So not exactly deep digging from the Express to uncover that, was it?
What of the Express's other source, 'independent nutritonist' Lynne Garton? Well, look at her personal profile and you'll see she is:
Nutrition consultant for the Wholegrain for Health Campaign; responsible for communicating the health benefits of whole grains through consumer media.
Ah. I see. She also puts together content for Nestle's "Whole Grain" website. Now there's nothing wrong with that of course but here's someone who's being billed by the paper as an 'independent nutrionist'. Perhaps not so independent, if a lot of your time is spent promoting wholegrain cereals for huge corporations?
So, the journalist who didn't spot that (or did, and couldn't care less) would be welcomed into the NUJ quite willingly because although they're simply copying big chunks of press releases - they got paid for doing so.
Compare the Express's 'Ooh, aren't cereals good?' story to the blogger Unity, who over at Liberal Conspiracy is doing a stellar series of posts - unpaid - about the truth about immigration, exploding the myths created by those paid journalists, who'd be welcomed into the NUJ, who regularly mislead, tell lies and distort the true picture as regards immigration. Anyone who thinks bloggers shouldn't be called journalists should read it - look at the primary source information, the research, the hard work that's gone into that.
Which one would you prefer to be called a journalist? Someone who C&Vs press releases and rings up rentaquotes to put together tediously banal stories that tell us nothing except 'please buy cereals', but who gets paid; or someone who works hard researching and writing pieces on important issues, because they believe in it, because so many paid journalists have told lie after lie after lie regarding the subject in question?
But then there's another sense in which bloggers aren't journalists. When you're not getting paid, you can write what you like, when you like. There's no need to 'come up with a story' when there isn't one. There's no-one telling you to write something you don't believe in. There's no-one telling you to write something a certain way, because that's how they see the story and they don't care what you think, or what you might uncover. In that sense, bloggers aren't journalists.
My argument, though, is that it doesn't matter how you define a journalist. Anyone is capable of producing good journalism and incisive writing - some may not like it, but that's the truth. Good journalism happens where it happens; it may happen in a corporate environment by paid reporters; it may happen elsewhere, by 'hobbyists' who happen to see the story first, and write about it first, or write about those things that don't float the boat of the mainstream media. Journalism isn't just about research and news, either; it's also about opinion and argument. That has always been the case and it always will, and it's totally disingenuous to imagine otherwise.
And yes, some bloggers have spelling mistakes - God knows I make enough - and some may get things wrong occasionally. What you'll find with bloggers is that on the whole we're happy to engage with our readership, no matter how aggressive they are (up to a point) and happy to correct when things go wrong rather than scuttle under the stone of the self-serving PCC, designed to protect journalists from real scrutiny. That's the nature of the medium and it's important to get it right. And yes, we swear, just like those pros in the beloved Guardian who do it every week. And yes, some of us are anonymous - not just the NightJacks of this world, who had to do it for obvious reasons, but the rest of us who would be accused, wrongly, of wasting work time on our blogs if we wrote under our real names, and just don't fancy the hassle of doing it as ourselves. There's nothing wrong with that - if you want to get rid of pseudonymous authors then you'll strike out some of the master works of literature, let alone we mere mortals.
I think the answer is this: bloggers can be journalists. Journalists can be bloggers. Good journalism can come from all sources, both amateur and professional. In the end, the readers will decide whether we're good or not, not us. I think the NUJ's attitude comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what blogs are, particularly political blogs, and that's disappointing, as someone who reads both the dead-tree press, watches the news, listens to the radio *and* reads blogs. There's a hell of a lot of good writing out there that isn't produced for someone willing to make a profit; it's about time the NUJ woke up to it. And if you don't want us, it doesn't matter, because we're coming anyway, and we can succeed with you or without you.
*update* With regards to the cereal/Express aspect of this post, Tabloid Watch has done some sterling work. Now I'm afraid they haven't been paid so you might want to disregard everything you've done and not regard it as proper fact-checking, but have a look at the site if you like. It's really rather good.