The Differences Between Music Journalists & Bloggers and Why We All Should Work Together Anyway

I was reading a great interview with Marissa Moss the other day which outlined some thoughts she had on the difference between journalism and music blogging. This got me thinking about some of the wider issues that I have observed since starting my own blog.

When I first started Highway Queens I had dreams of creating a professional level magazine and writing to the same standards as a paid journalist. Soon I realised that not only was this an impossible task for one person, it wasn’t what blogging was for at all. Here’s my thoughts on what those differences are and why we all need to work together anyway.

1. Journalists Report, Bloggers Cheer (and Jeer)

I grew up reading the NME and Melody Maker whose style of music journalism was my ideal. Here the writers said exactly what they thought about an artist and could be as passionate and as critical as they wanted to be when writing features. That time is long dead, along with those print magazines. Now most journalists are freelance and work for newspapers or online publications which allow for much less personality in the writing.

Music journalists must report on news and culture, using their sources and contacts to share important facts and information with the public. They mainly stay out of the story and just report on what they see is important without including their own personal thoughts. Critics evaluate music in the wider context of culture and history, rather than just including their own emotional and personal responses to the art. This perspective is vital but it does make a lot of writing impersonal and detached.

A blogger creates their own voice, offers opinions and personal insight in a way that most journalists don’t. They can be fans and cheer their favourite artists, or do the opposite with no need for balance in their coverage. People seem to enjoy hearing from such individual voices (for better and worse).

2. Social Media Helps Bloggers Connect More With Music Fans

Social media has allowed anyone to have a voice and contribute to the online discussion. Some journalists or bigger publications never reply to tweets, as their main purpose is just to share the article. As a blogger I try to reply to as many tweets as I can and I know that makes a difference. Even the old school music blogs have struggled to engage their huge followings because they don’t have the same personalised touch. Bloggers have created their own communities and audiences in a way that not many journalists have (even those who use social media well) and I think we deserve respect for that.

3. Bloggers Aren’t Professional Writers and Don’t Need To Be

Bloggers are free to write whatever we want, whatever way we want. The only house style and writing standard is the one we create for ourselves. Writing about music can be the means to an end (listen to this song) or something more profound if we want it to be. So it is disappointing when I see journalists calling bloggers ‘bad’ writers or trying to hold us up to the same standards as themselves. Blogging is just inherently a different style of writing and should remain so.

4. Journalists Must Take Every Opportunity They Get, Bloggers Don’t Have To

Journalists must report on whatever music is relevant, writing profiles for artists they don’t necessarily like. You also see some journalists writing about pop music in ways that seem disingenuous – if you read between the lines you can tell they probably don’t really care about the music. What they do care about is contributing to the cultural discussion, getting their byline and paycheck. To me that’s totally necessary part of the job. But it does mean that some fans may not feel sure that they can rely on them for honest recommendations.

While some bloggers do write posts that have been pitched by PR companies and record labels, because there is no money switching hands the chances of having to write positively about something you don’t like is reduced.

5. Bloggers Must Consistently Create Content

As a blogger I can pick and choose what I want to write about but at the same time a blog only succeeds when you constantly create content for your site. The quality of the writing therefore will always be variable and I’ve accepted that.

I try for three posts a week and to cover as many albums as I can. That means that whoever reads my blog gets a sense of what I like and can actually gauge whether they would like what I’m recommending and also they can recommend me something in return. I think the success of many blogs is because they write album reviews when many of the bigger sites have moved more towards features.

Critics can have similar dialogues with readers but few are reviewing more than one album a week. This is a good thing because then their reviews can be more wide ranging and informative. I rely on those type of reviews to already exist so I can go off on whatever tangent I feel like or just describe my own personal feeling about the songs.

6. Journalists Have Credibility, Bloggers Don’t 

By writing for a major publication journalists have proven their credibility, with artists and fans alike. Bloggers have to work for even a tiny fraction of that. It is easier to gain credibility with other music fans, who may read your work and like your recommendations. Artists can be tougher to win over. Many of them just ignore bloggers, even if their record label and PR company have requested the coverage. There’s a lack of trust there which may be the result of some more offensive bloggers or just fear of the unknown. However when some of the biggest artists in the scene happily share your writing while smaller ones ignore you it can be quite depressing. The more artists share reviews from wherever the more chance they have of gaining listeners, so a share is a win-win for everyone.

7. Bloggers Can be Anonymous, Journalists Don’t Have That Luxury

Most bloggers have other careers and lives that mean they have to be somewhat anonymous on the internet. This allows them the freedom to say what they think without worrying too much about the repercussions. Journalists have to sell their name, their personality and even their image now online. It means that when things go nasty they are targets for harassment. The idea of a letter page of old seems quaint. Now readers know your face and can impact your daily life.

This is part of what makes blogging appealing for me – I like the freedom of being involved in the conversation without anyone knowing me. Of course I’m happy to meet up with other fans at shows but the incognito element of blogging is part of the appeal. I feel sorry for journalists in this current climate where they are open targets for trolls, idiots and reply guys.

8. Artists Prefer to Work With Journalists, Bloggers Can Keep Their Distance

Journalists have access to artists for interviews, features, quotes, pictures etc. Bloggers can’t do that work (or it’s much harder for them to do so) and that’s an important distinction. Social media has broken some of these barriers but I am still nervous to have any involvement with meeting artists etc. I know some bloggers do interviews and generally they keep them positive, rather than the feature style of pro journalists. I have noticed though that as celebs and their fans become more wary of press coverage you see less and less of in depth profiles, which I think is a shame – although if journalists write sensational headlines for clicks you can’t blame the artist for getting upset.

9. Bloggers Are Independent Voices

Most bloggers are independent, away from ‘big’ media and without the blue tick of professionalism. This allows them to seem more ‘of the people’ which appeals to a certain audience. Journalists always work for someone else, which influences how their writing is composed and consumed. Despite this divide I think we are all part of the media machine so pitting ourselves against each other is a pointless exercise.

10. Journalists Get Paid (Or They Should)

Most bloggers don’t make any money. Ad revenue has fallen through the floor and many blogs, like my own, are ad free by choice. Some have tried Paetron and other forms of funding but that is just pocket change and probably always will be. Blogging is a hobby for most people and I think it should remain so. Journalists who rely on writing for their living have to work a lot harder than us and deserve our endless respect. It’s tough out there. With print almost gone you feel like online journalism will soon be only available as a part time option or for the already wealthy, which I think is really depressing. We all need to keep sharing and supporting the best writing as often as we can.

So these are the main differences I’ve experienced and noticed since starting my blog a couple of years ago. What I know now is that this community is better when we work together. If artists, journalists, bloggers, fans etc share each other’s content and talk to each other then the internet becomes a much more pleasant place to be and good music gets heard by more people.

Blogs aren’t here to replace journalists. We don’t want to do their job. We have our own to do. We can coexist. Writers of all kinds need to support each other. We are all trying to do the same thing – promote and share the music.

If we all work together we can use our power for good and influence in the best sense of the word.

7 thoughts on “The Differences Between Music Journalists & Bloggers and Why We All Should Work Together Anyway

Add yours

  1. There’s a difference between being a journalist and critic. A journalist, at his or her core, is objective – the age-old “who, what, when, where, why and how.”

    The role of the critic is different. It’s essentially advising folks on what to spend their money – and/or time – on. It’s opinion. In today’s age, bloggers fill a void that the music magazines abdicated decades ago. At some point, and I’d peg it to the mid-’80s, reviews (at least in the American music magazines) became much more cut-and-dried – they could just as easily be about model airplanes as they are about music. But songs are not plastic toys that can be snapped and glued together. They’re about an intangible.

    Pre-’80s, the best critiques often sprawled from page to page, and always reflected the writers, who explained the intangibles by connecting the music to themselves – sometimes obliquely, sometimes not, but it was always there, somewhere. They could be self-indulgent and/or high-minded, no question, but that actually helped – you came to know them, their likes and dislikes, etc. (And, too, it made the reviews more fun to read.)

    I think many (though certainly not all) bloggers are keeping that original art form, the review, alive. Yours, for instance, are always thoughtful, informative and entertaining, and would have been at home in the pages of the music magazines of yore.

    One other thought: creditability needs to be earned regardless of whether one if a journalist or a blogger. That comes from consistency – not just of posting on a frequent basis (which I fail to do), but of consistency of voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughts – very interesting! Btw do you think objective journalism is always a good thing? I wonder if a return to somewhere in between might be better for the bigger outlets.

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      1. Objective journalism is never a bad thing, as facts are facts. (We may not always like them, but we should know them.) “New journalism,” which uses novelistic flourishes to color the story, also has its place, though in the wrong hands it can be an excruciating read. “Opinion journalism,” which was once the domain of newspaper columnists, has a role to play, too; the biggest issue is the selective use of facts, which is why columnists were always labeled as such. I think a mix of all three works best for most outlets, and the tack to take depends on the individual story.

        The bigger issue, I think, is editorial leadership – which stories are pursued and which are ignored.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. An interesting read and I agree with most of what you have said. I’ve found that most artists I’ve written about are grateful for any publicity and usually quite warm and friendly if we do meet. And bloggers have certainly occupied the vacuum left when the weekly inklies disappeared, even the major music magazines keep most of their album reviews to less than 200 words these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I forget about the ones who are grateful – it’s hard for me not to focus on the negative! I have felt this year a bit down about how few artists have retweeted things, even after requests. I’m trying not to take it personally.

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  3. Late with my comment, but first of all, this is one of my favorite things you’ve written, for what it’s worth.

    I’m not 100% happy with how I’ve always run my blog, but one of my experiences with journalism last year actually changed my perception. I took a summer job last year writing for a local newspaper, so for me, it was a lot different than writing about music. I had to be objective and couldn’t add my own personality into the mix. It was tough, but it totally changed the way I write.

    I think we need elements of both, and while anyone can make their own blog, I do think everyone should measure up to certain standards before choosing to write.

    For us personally, since we write about music, particularly reviews, I think it’s important to maintain the objectivity of a journalist while also adding the subjective, personal touch of a blogger – in other words, give an opinion, but consider all angles, care about the artist, do research, and never make it a personal vendetta.

    Personally, I miss longer form reviews with dashes of personality thrown in. That’s why I don’t consult Rolling Stone or other “big” publications for reviews often – they’re simply not worth the time or effort. Positive or negative, there’s hardly any thought put into it. Instead, I consult blogs like this, but I think you’re right – we write from a personal experience or an enjoyment scale rather than the “bigger picture” approach that professional critics do. Who’s right? Who knows, but we definitely need both!

    Again, excellent article!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never quite know how to respond to posts like this as someone who straddles the line between blogger and journalist, though I do know that having a place where the only editorial line I need to follow is my own is something I’ll never be willing to give up. I was under the impression that the days of bloggers being seen as having no credibility were coming to an end but now you mention it – it’s amazing the PRs who spam the living daylights out of me only to conveniently not respond (or play hard to get) when I respond with something on the blog.

    Regardless, with so few “professional” outlets left (another one down this week I believe) the need for music blogs is stronger than ever – but that has to come with an understanding that the people creating the content there are rarely making anything from it.

    x

    Liked by 1 person

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