Journalism is Not Publishing

A whole storm of responses came up to my pointing out this article about AOL’s new content strategy and how AOL is hiring up tons of displaced journalists.

The storyline of what most people are saying is, “Yikes. It’s pop culture over hard journalism. Society will collapse. Etc.”

First, let’s be clear: the pursuits of journalism and the pursuits of publishing aren’t the same.

Journalists seek to create compelling information that is helpful and news-worthy.

Publishing seeks to push more product, deliver higher circulation value, and create more value for sponsors/advertisers/money-holders.

Publishers need content creators of some stripe to do what they do. Journalists don’t need publishers, but publishers pay, so that’s a decent place to connect with an audience and be paid.

But never confuse the two.

The move by AOL is both smart for business and helpful for journalists who’ve lost their jobs.

Does this spell the end of news as we know it? Um, no. But news has been broken for a while now. That’s a good chunk of what Jeff Jarvis writes about when he’s not writing about Google. (Oh wait: Google is a publisher/media company, too!)

See how tricky this is? But don’t let your “shame, because we want purist journalism” to get confused in there with the “publishers give people what they want, and what they want is pop content” argument.

It’s harder than that to unravel.

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  • Pingback: Chris Brogan: Journalism is not Publishing

  • markwilliamschaefer

    You missed a huge point here. Journalism is not just about finding what is newsworthy. It also has a battle-tested code of standards and ethics that is an essential part of what the American free press is all about. Other web publishers like bloggers do not adhere to this, or any, code of standards. That is one of the most important story lines in the evolution of the social web.

    I realize there are many “journalistic” hybrids and failures that are easily-criticized, but we need a free and self-sanctioning press in this country. Would Watergate have happened if all we had were bloggers? If the press is an endangered species, our freedom is endangered, too.

  • goldsteinmedia


    You are RIGHT. There are journalists and content producers and then there are publishers. Part of why newspapers continue a downward spiral to extinction is that the PUBLISHERS are still trying to stick to their old models of revenue and not adapting. They are getting rid of the journalists instead of reshaping their business plans.

    Will journalism ever die?

    No. Journalism in some form or another will always be around. Publishing, at least the way we know will be extinct, dead and gone.

  • Heintzelmann

    Soooo true!! Finally :-)

  • Chris Brogan

    I agree with you, Mark. I think the standards are VERY important. My point wasn't really to define journalism as much as to define the split between it and publishing, as those two things don't have the same goals in mind. Do you agree with that part?

  • NickJones82

    Thanks for pointing out that this is nothing new and has been driving the traditional content portals for years. There's a very thin line between true journalism and biased content and many times one is mistaken for the other. It's up to the consumer to decide what content they trust, and not to whine about a system they'll never change (by merely whining at least).

  • Kim

    This is one of the problems of seeing MSM go by the wayside, is a kind of drive by news media that doesn't have quality news…of course MSM was going in that direction also which has been it's problem, but in the redo like what AOL is doing that sort of mentality won't work any better.

    We are getting a recycling of news which is sometimes erroneous w/o the time tested fact checking in place. Fashion is another place where too much news is just that, too much of a good thing amounts to not much of anything.

    Unfortunately, it's just a process we will have to go through until the new cream does rise to the top. Mashable's originally published article on who the new journalist is doesn't help the frenzy with being someone who understands investigative journalism being listed as last as opposed to understanding SEO as being in the first five of what the new journalist needs to know. They did sort of rewrite that with quality journalism being in the top of the list (probably after many complaints), still, it set the precedent for AOL to do what their doing. See what happens when we too quickly determine who our new leaders are?

    On the plus side though, gaining access to people who are leaders in their field and who do have something to say is something we haven't been privvy to while the media mostly had a corner on the market so for John and Jane Q public this is a good thing. It's a way to have every individual heard and not just some other celebrity who hasn't always earned their status.

    We then as consumers of news have to weed through everything to get to the type of content that we can trust. So this is gonna go through another cycle I would predict and probably all kinds of paywalls will get erected again to make sure we are receiving trusted information. I guess the good news is that we will tire of the it pretty quickly.

    You can look at it like television which at one point was not churning out very quality programming. That has changed over the past few years and television along with cable is as good as going to the movies, mostly, depending upon the movie, better. But for a long time we had no other real options than to read quality material, go to concerts, conferences, or excellent (not mass audience) movies or documentaries and watch public television.

    The levels of quality will soon begin to be obvious. Lists or curated content may or may not prove to be the way…I think they have to earn their stripes too only through time.

    Hopefully our schools can being to actually be places that you become better at managing what you want to do in life instead of just being a very high priced place to send your kids to learn how to have sex out loud, drink, and avoid studying.

    Could be I am having a bad day, or this is all beginning to get to me.

    Thanks for the post.

  • newmediajim

    Chris, interesting distinctions. Here's one more. Journalism is an act of truth-seeking that often leads to NOTHING being published at all. Sometimes journalism leads down dead ends and rabbit holes. That's confounding to publishers. Still, it's work, important work at that. Less and less of that being done these days.

  • superdumb

    This is definitely part of the evolution of both journalism and publishing, like it or not. News has become so entertainment-oriented anyway that it's kind of refreshing to know up front that it's revenue-driven.

  • markwilliamschaefer

    That's a really interesting question, Chris. As traditional media declines, in many cases blogging is stepping up to fill the void. In the AOL example you mention, even in a formal way. Certainly journalism is now aware of managing community as an important way to attract and retain readers at least to their online version. Do they have the same goals? Yes, increasingly they do. Bloggers are becoming journalists without codified standards and newspapers are becoming communities without engagement.

  • deceth

    This scheme appears to be un-un-ravelable. Brilliant.

  • deceth

    I disagree. I find myself publish nothing at all more and more these days ;)

  • deceth

    Your general statement of truth has left me perplexed and stranded in an endless state of suspense. You seem quite happy about something finally being so true, and now I will wonder what, what is soooo true, possibly, for eternity. Yes, a long time.


  • Jackson Wightman

    Interesting definition of journalists vs publishers. Not sure i agree with it though. Mark's pt is a good one.

    What, pray tell, is a newspaper if not an entity that “push more product, deliver higher circulation value, and create more value for sponsors/advertisers/money-holders”?

    I know you've seen the Sunday NYT recently Chris….while there's some attempt at “helpful news-worthy info” there's a lot of the other shit too.

    Tks for the post.

  • Chris Brogan

    That's my point. Newspapers, the publishers of such, are there for increasing circulation. Journalists, suppliers of content, have completely different goals.

    Was I unclear in that?

  • Chris Brogan

    But my point isn't that blogging is replacing journalism OR media. My point is that there are two different powers at work here and we have to consider them. : )

  • Shava Nerad

    AOL will have the same issues that any publisher has. They want content generated that will connect with an audience, and sell (ads, click-throughs,…) — this is to say, they will still have to generate revenue to pay those journalists.

    The difference is that they won't be trying to kill as many trees and soybeans to do it. It will be interesting to see if they can make this work, as the revenue from online advertising still doesn't meet the revenue from offline advertising on a per-unit basis. Online also needs a better business model.

    @ markwilliamschaefer Something to remember is that (a) a lot of bloggers *do* adhere to journalistic ethics — they just aren't supervised by editors; (b) a lot of journalists recently apparently haven't been adequately supervised by editors either. I have seen really sub-par journo work from suburban weeklies with no journalistic mission really, and excellent (often crowdsourced, but investigative and verified) journalism from placebloggers. Please re-think your broad brush before you spread that tar! :)

  • MarshaS

    I'm new to this forum, but I have to weigh in on this one. As a former journalist for 20 years, I have point out that traditional newspapers and news-gathering organizations were the only businesses in this country with any form of constitutional protection under the protections of a free press.

    That's where the code of standards comes from, not just what has been historically followed by the news media. As a practicing journalist I traded some of my free speech rights as a citizen for the protections of a free press.

    Bloggers have no such protections and can't possibly step up to fill any voids created by the failures of the traditional press to adapt to new business and content delivery models.

    Please do not confuse “publishing,” “content” and “news.” Yes, traditional news media is a business that had a monopoly on the news while newspapers bought ink by the barrel. That model, as everyone has noted, has changed dramatically. All news is content, but not all content is news.

    So, I agree with Chris that the goals of publishing and journalism are different by nature. And in my book, should always be different. Go ahead, call me a purist. :-)

  • Chris Brogan

    Purist is good, Marsha, and I'm glad you joined in. Yep, I'm not writing blogger-vs-journalist nor am I writing blogger-vs-publisher. I'm writing journalist vs publisher. Journalists have all kinds of standards and goals and other ideas that aren't always the goals of publishers. That's the thrust of my point.

  • Chris Brogan

    That oath is hardcore. Awesome stuff, Shava.

  • MarshaS

    What's interesting, Chris, is that journalist vs. publisher has ALWAYS been the tension in legitimate news organizations. Publishers are business people, and journalists and newsrooms have never been revenue-producing departments. There has always been friction between what's good for advertisers, circulation and revenue and what's news worth covering. In my view, it worked to keep journalists more honest and focused. Funny, how some things newer change, eh?

  • thinklynsen

    This offered me a much-needed perspective shift on the whole issue, Chris. I've had trouble articulating my point of view, especially with my husband, who understandably takes it rather personally since he is a journalist. My frustration is that publishers failed to adapt when the first warning signs were showing in the 90s, then they failed to adapt again when the end was blatantly nigh this past decade, and then they wondered why everything went to hell in a handbasket. I'm not saying I have the answers, but the distinction between journalist and publisher, I think, is critical to the debate. So…well said!

  • PHil Bowyer


    You seem to a bit hard on Bloggers. I know many bloggers who have standards, and write about what they know. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any REAL journalists out there. It seems like every news article I read is written by the AP, who tends to get most of it's facts wrong, or tends to mislead readers with biased writing.

    I agree about your Watergate comment, but that was a long time ago. Things have changed, and media has yet to adapt.

  • Dave Atkins

    Both publishing and journalism are irrelevant to the unstated and presumed idyll that would result from writers with “purer” motives. These concepts are grounded in an authority-based, individual and linear world of news and information.

    Increasingly, people consume news to feel a sense of connection, not for the content. With the overwhelming influence of television, it is an inherently passive connection. Hyperlocal news, mass-produced and sprayed across the suburbs in minute, mind-numbingly boring doses of local arcanity might be able to sustain a bit longer since that type of news will not face competition on the 10 o'clock news…

    But I believe people do crave local news…they crave something more than journalism/publishing can provide. The story is not nearly as simple or interesting as can be synthesized and reported by a legion of correspondents. What people find really interesting is the conversation that is possible through blogs, facebook, and twitter–if their neighbors have the guts to actually post things. That kind of material is not news or journalism…it is mostly opinion and it can be messy. But the passionate opinions of people…and more importantly the back and forth between them–is the true secret sauce that can drive both publishing revenue–by generating readership, and serve a public good by elevating controversy, frustration, and injustice to a public forum.

  • VanessaFreeThinking

    Agreed. It's harder than that to unravel. Journalism takes education and training. Take the WSJ. In my opinion, it's the tightest writing around. Yes we want pop culture information. Maybe with AOL's new move hiring journalists, we can have both.

  • Judy Helfand

    Well, it is getting late. I read this post earlier today, but I just got back to it. I guess I really don't know what everyone is up in arms about here. I don't even know why people are confusing these two professions.”Publishing is to issue (printed or otherwise reproduced textual or graphic material, computer software, etc.) for sale or distribution to the public.” “Journalism: the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organizationas a business.” In a perfect world these two professions enjoy a symbiotic relationship (I really mean this in a positive way). In today's world it would seem that it is more likely that while all journalists can be publishers, most publisher cannot be journalists.
    I think this is why with on-line communications the command “button” says “post” or “publish”…not to many say “journal”. Journaling is HARD!
    Here is “post” I wrote about a year ago, but it is really timeless as it is a historical “journal” of my family and Mt. Washington.

  • Judy Helfand

    I just re-read my comments. I would like to now be an “editor” and fix my typos, but als my posed comment was already put to bed! As I said in the beginning, it is getting late! Thanks for listening.

  • Judy Helfand

    One more time: I just re-read my comments. I would like to now be an “editor” and fix my typos, but alas my posted comment was already put to bed! As I said in the beginning, it is getting late! Thanks for listening.

  • jhonywillsh

    “Radiohead journalism” is not really accurate or a very good way of thinking about this particular experiment. Radiohead had a variety of other income streams, and from the very beginning, the band admitted that the “name your own price” offering for digital files was part of a way to get more attention for the fancy “discbox” tangible version of the album. In other words, Radiohead always had an additional reason to buy, which Williams didn't really have. Her model was more of a “give it away and pray” for donations, which can work in some cases, but isn't really sustainable.

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  • Warren Whitlock

    Really? In the circles you travel, I'd expect much more acceptance.. Yikes!

  • rossella

    I agree with you that the pursuits of journalism and of publishing aren’t the same.
    And that the ethics of journallism and publishing aren't the same.
    These are two interconnected activities with different objectives. Journalist should report (after search for) news, publisher allows news to reach us as readers.
    Reader could choose what to read and could choose differents topics according to the media that he/she use.
    I can talk only for the Italian reality, I use Internet to find news I can't find on paper. So the type of information that I want to find on web based magazines is in great part different from what I find and look on paper based ones.
    So a selection already is operated at the level of the web.
    And I think that a sort of selection is always present.

  • Luke James

    I think Dave's nailed it. Good stuff.

    Best wishes, Luke James

  • acecard

    Many people in the news business seem to have a vested interest in separating journalism as it has traditionally been practiced, by employees of news organizations that controlled monopoly distribution channels.

  • kevinmacgowan

    Not so sure I agree with this. The decline of journalism is driven, as we see, by the demise of the print-media in general and the gradual disappearance of the newspaper in particular from the news-stand which looks to obsolete within the next ten-to-twenty years. I have been reading newspapers for more than 30yrs now and the decline in journalistic standards has never been more dramatic since the internet has begun to fundamentally change the dissemination of news and in consequence, its consumption. I lived in America when USAToday was first published and I remember distinctly how far more mainstream and fast-paced the journalistic standards were in that daily, which constituted in many a revolution of the media landscape of the time. This was before the internet and before CNN had become the global media and news resource it has become. Just think back: When was the last time you had the time and leisure (indeed) to read an entire newspaper, cover-to-cover. The medium is just not contemporary anymore in so far as the content production continuously overrides demand and the attention span of the modern consumer. Hence, my theory, that journalism is increasingly driven by the exigencies of on-demand publishing and whats more consumer participation in the news journalistic process through the possibilities of web 2.0 etc. The natural order of things 'publishing and journalism' has become completely fluid and I would not be surprised to see journalism, as the central function in the production of editorial content, make way to the lowest common denominator which is more specific to the web.

  • Mark O'Toole

    There is a generational shift at play here. News for news' sake and as a watchdog vehicle is what the 40+ generation knows. News as entertainment with some of the above thrown in is what the younger generations have experienced.

    As content and “news” have grown closer in tone, and search leads people to either form, is there a difference anymore — at least in the eyes of the web surfer?

    I'm not so sure. We've become information seekers not news consumers. As a former TV news employee and lifelong newspaper subscriber I'd love to see true journalism find its way. We need it.

    But defining the line between news and publishing is getting more blurry to these older eyes.

  • J. Paul Duplantis

    Publishers are middlemen (middlewomen?) The more reputable the publisher, the more you are supposed to trust the journalist. Of course without the publisher what do we base the trust on. How do we trust you Chris?

    Your trust is fueled by your popularity since the more followers you have, the more those who are following you trust what you say is true. (Or at least you have to admit it is at least easier)

    To some degree your publisher is the aggregate of the tools that allow people to learn about you. But does this this loose network of tools wield as much influence over your opinions than an AOL would.

    I don't believe so, thereby allowing you to speak more directly to the needs of an audience vs. the whims. But there still is the trust factor that can never truly be overcome because whether we work for ourselves or a large corporation we are all human.

    This is why the consumer needs to be more selective on who they trust. Social Media offers an incredible feedback loop inspiring transparency and accountability that did not exist before. Probably another reason why you do so well Chris.

    But I can't fault AOL for giving journalist opportunities to make a living. We all need to make a living.

  • Chris Brogan

    There are lots of pieces to the puzzle, aren't there? I think there are many more people I'm not thinking of, and even that will make this analogy tricky. And yet, it's all here in front of us.

  • Chris Brogan

    Just met with the guy from . He has some ideas on it.

  • Chris Brogan

    Interesting. So it's the medium driving the shift? I can almost see it from this perspective, Kevin. Thank you for this.

  • Chris Brogan

    What didn't I accept?

  • Jeremy Hilton

    Journalism is not publishing.

    However, I don't think the AOL story is about journalism. Let's be clear, AOL is diving headfirst into the business of “content farming”, not journalism.

    There are a couple of red flags that lead me to believe this:

    The first is their reported use of algorithms to determine story subjects. I'm guessing that these algorithms are heavily reliant on Google Trends data; an OLD black hat technique leveraged by spammers for years.

    The second red flag, is their recent unsuccessful bid to purchase Associated Content, which IS, at it's core, a content farm or as they call euphemistically “a super content distributor.”

  • tojosan

    Marsha, you're spot on about publishers vs content. In this day in age where bloggers run amok they are both publisher and content provider. That skews the viewpoint towards conventional publishers.

    Being a blogger, I consider myself content creator who happens to self publish, however I also write for Dadomatic and guest post on other blogs, in which case I'm not the publisher. Easy to confuse the relationships these days.

    Thoughtful piece here again. This caused me to take a step back and consider how I reference things in my head and in my communications to others.

    Todd 'tojosan' Jordan

  • tojosan

    Marsha, you're spot on about publishers vs content. In this day in age where bloggers run amok they are both publisher and content provider. That skews the viewpoint towards conventional publishers.

    Being a blogger, I consider myself content creator who happens to self publish, however I also write for Dadomatic and guest post on other blogs, in which case I'm not the publisher. Easy to confuse the relationships these days.

    Thoughtful piece here again. This caused me to take a step back and consider how I reference things in my head and in my communications to others.

    Todd 'tojosan' Jordan

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  • BetterBizIdeas

    Chris, I wholeheartedly agree with your take and how the two styles/forms are unique unto themselves.

    I do think that we will see a decline in PAID journalism, in the short-term. When I say paid I am talking about the overall $$$ going to professional journalists. Over the long-term, as these journalists independently find ways to monetize their content, I think the trend will reverse course. Newspapers went bust because people wanted niches. I liked the front page and business sections but didn't read most of the paper but I had to pay for it all. Today, that fragmentation via online blogs/content is tearing down the papers.

    AOL is smart. I like the strategy. Lets just see if they can get enough eyeballs for their content and then somehow convert that into paying customers via selling their own “value-add” services or somebody elses :)

    My primary concern is the loss of investigative journalism that takes time, diligence and a patient editor willing to stick their neck out on the line for hopes of breaking a huge story. I think the difference between old/new is that, when the newspaper goes to syndicate their content online today they simply don't get the $$$ returns they once did in print.

    Dan Ross

  • Warren Whitlock

    Should have been “find more acceptance” .. not you. :)

    Does that just confuse it further? If so.. change it to “good post dude.. rock on”

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