On-Line Writers: Journalists or Columnists?

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The Role of the Writer

For the majority of us the advent of the Internet has challenged much of what we consider tradition. Writing is certainly one of the areas most impacted. If you witness an earthquake, hurricane, a plane crash, a murder, or a robbery at your local drug store there is no need to wait for the reporters to tell the story to. You can simply start telling the world from your own mobile phone. We can clearly see that the role of the writer has changed over the last ten years. This was recently discussed in an associated article.

Yet it is necessary to ask whether we are playing the role of journalist or columnist, or perhaps both? Arguably anyone can be a writer, reporter, and publisher.

This is an interesting question and if you look on twitter at the hash-tags #Earthquakes#tsunamis you will find a large number of reports from those affected by the recent devastation in Japan.

The On-line Journalist

For the on-line writer they take on the role of journalist when they report on events which they witness first hand. One of the aspects here if being topical, up-to the minute, and being seen as close to the action. But not one of the instigators, a simple bystander caught up in the flow. You would be precisely the person a camera crew would be looking to find to give the facts as they happened.

Having known many journalists during the course of my life they do have responsibilities beyond the simple reporting of what is seen. If you have attended any journalism classes then you will know that impartiality plays an important factor for them with respect to writing any story. Yet every person tells a story about an event from the perspective from which they saw actions unfold; they cannot help it, this is a part of what makes us human and it is doubted there is any such thing and an impartial human being.

No self proclaimed internet journalist will be impartial, they will have been affected by the things they see in accordance with where they witnessed the event from. What is occurring is they are writing the news as it impacts them. They may also bring with them their own innate knowledge and experience, which can introduce a conclusion that may not be relevant to the events that are unfolding in front of them. Yet this lack of impartiality can be OK because there can be dozens of people telling the same story from their own perspective. looking at all the different witness statements it will be possible for the reader to gleam what happened.

One aspect which can limit a journalist from a newspaper (or even a TV station) is telling a story that is not approved by the sponsor, or even one that opposes that sponsors interests. We know that pressure will be applied to kill the story. Yet on-line reporting does not suffer the same limitation. Anyone can post a blog about any topic they wish it is a part of the great debate that can happen in cyberspace today.

The On-Line Columnist

A columnist differs from a writer in that they are distant from events and tend to offer a more critical perspective. They may perhaps offer a way forward or simply a reminder to get back to the basics of a situation and start over again. They can comment from a different perspective because they seek to cause us to think and assess any situation. This is as true for the Japanese earthquake as it is for the Middle East crisis.

One thing a columnist does is add their own perspective. They may also add the perspective of learned academics, business leaders etc. The result of the column can be a call to action or a suggestion for moving in a new direction. Whether the advice is heeded is one thing that a columnist can do little about, except perhaps continue to write on the subject in the future.

Critique is a crucial tool for the Internet based writer, they need to be prepared to challenge the status-quo is some way.

What are You?

If you are simply reading this article out of interest then I applaud you. But I do encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and write something of interest to you or your specialist area of interest. I promise you that you will enjoy it in the long run.

If you are an Internet based writer then I will ask whether you are a journalist or columnist, or perhaps both? In this modern world there is important room for both. This writer’s background is in developing corporate strategy and as such have tended to find it much easier to write from a columnists perspective, particularly with the importance of challenging how people think and looking for alternative approaches, different solutions, a new path. Not everything we do now we should continue. Listen to people and find that when they complain about something they may have valid issues that need to be addressed; this offers an alternative perspective that needs to be understood; even if at the end of the day you decide not to pursue that path it should be considered.

This is how we grow. So will this writer continue to challenge? Of course – because without responding to challenge we do not move forward. How will you grow?

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