Professional Bloggers What Makes Bloggers Different from Journalists

Bloggers at the re:publica 2013 in Berlin
Bloggers at the re:publica 2013 in Berlin | Photo (detail): © re:publica / flickr.com (cc by-sa 2.0)

In Germany traditional journalism and web logs have become more and more similar. Many bloggers work as journalists and for many journalists and news portals blogging has become a matter of course. Nevertheless there are still a few differences.

Thomas Wiegold is a thoroughbred journalist with classic training. Back in the 1980s he did a traineeship at the German news agency, dpa. In 1993, for the Associated Press news agency, he travelled to Somalia, where he reported on the first mission of German UN peacekeeping troops. It was that job that introduced him to the subject he still likes to write most about today - Thomas Wiegold is a specialist in defence and security policy and is considered to be one of Germany’s eminent authorities in the field. Until 2010 he worked as a regular correspondent for the German news magazine, Focus, in Berlin. Today he works as a freelance journalist – and blogger.

When, in 2010, his employer cut a huge number of jobs, Thomas Wiegold decided to take the redundancy pay and try his luck on the Internet. It was quite clear to him that he still wanted to work as journalist, but how does one remain visible on the Internet? He had already started to write a blog while still working for Focus (Augengeradeaus.de) and in the years that followed he worked on expanding it. Today he writes about the German army’s mission to Afghanistan or about the grave mistakes made by the German Ministry of Defence when it tried to acquire the Euro Hawk reconnaissance drone. “I wanted to do something in which I have the final journalistic say.”

Despite the fact that his blog is focused on a niche topic, it has in the meantime become very well known. Nevertheless he still cannot live from blogging alone. Every month he receives a mere 650 euros from his readers in the form of voluntary contributions. He makes the rest of his income as a free-lance author for newspapers and news magazines. His blog has been of great help for this kind of work, “I would not be so well known, if I did not have the blog.”

The dividing line between journalists and bloggers is becoming less and less important

Thomas Wiegold is not the only one to take the plunge and run a blog. Many newspaper and television journalists, as well as renowned newspapers like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or the Süddeutsche Zeitung have also started running their own blogs on the side. “I am much closer to the reader,” explains journalist, Karsten Lohmeyer (Lousypennies.de). He considers the dividing line between journalists and bloggers to be an artificial one that is being perpetuated by ‘old school’ journalists. In reality this dividing line is becoming less and less important.

When in 2013 the German version of the Internet newspaper, The Huffington Post, went into operation, it triggered a lot of discussion about what these collections of blog entries, mostly written by unpaid authors, have to do with journalism. Karsten Lohmeyer countered, “Take a look at any railway station kiosk. There you will see rows and rows of magazines about all kinds of topics, for example, computer games and angling - that, too, is journalism.” The image of investigative journalism with all its in-depth research applies at the most to only five per cent of all journalistic products.

In addition there is also the fact that many bloggers have been fulfilling journalistic tasks for quite some time now. A good example of this would be the blog, Netzpolitik.org. This is where Markus Beckedahl and his team report regularly on data protection and other politically related Internet issues. Markus Beckedahl’s skills and competence are held in great esteem. On several occasions he has also been asked by the German parliament to take part in an advisory commission on the challenges Germany is faced with due to digital change.

German bloggers are becoming more professional

Abgeordnetenwatch.de (MP Watch) is another blog – a watch blog – that has become very popular. People can use it to ask their MPs critical questions. Then there are quite a lot of other watch blogs that critically observe the changes taking place in the German media landscape. The number of local blogs is also on the increase. The most popular blog at the moment in Germany is the political satire magazine, Der Postillion. Although blogs in Germany by far still do not have as many readers as the well known news portals, their number is however rising.  According to a study of the ways people use the Internet it is nevertheless 16 per cent of Germans who occasionally read what bloggers write on the Net.

There are of course still a few differences, says journalist and blogger (Medialdigital.de), Ulrike Langer. They are however to be found when other institutions come into play, like public authorities. “Bloggers, for example, cannot get a journalist’s visa.” Welfare provision in the form of health and pension insurance is also not as easy for bloggers as it is for journalists. At the same time, however, bloggers in Germany are becoming more and more professional. There are now more and more multi-author blogs. Successful bloggers are now thinking about employing their own personnel to sell advertising space. “The number of commonalities between bloggers and journalists is becoming greater,” says Langer.

Thomas Wiegold also sees it like this, despite the fact he would like to see more journalistic reliability on the part of the bloggers. “I only ever post something when I have at least two sources that are independent of each other, says Wiegold. He has never regretted his decision to go online. “The only thing I really miss is getting a regular pay check.”