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.