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Bloggers Need to R-E-S-P-E-C-T Real Writers

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Guest blogger Kimberly Seals Allers: As a real journalist (yeah, I said it!) who has both an undergraduate (NYU) and masters (Columbia) degree in journalism, someone who has spent over a decade studying and applying herself to the craft of writing and someone who is a (not self-) published author, I'm starting to get a little peeved at all the bloggers and wannabe writers who have no respect for the real McCoys and the writing art form.

woman using computer
I mean, some of these bloggers think "The Elements of Style" is fashion-makeover show! I don't walk into a hospital and presume that, because I love body parts and I love cutting and have been doing it virtually online for years, I should be called a surgeon. It's insulting. 

Recently, I was working as an editor on a project that was paying writers (i.e., real journalists with writing experience who could research and report on a topic) one rate, and bloggers a lesser one (to share their opinions in brief posts). Well, one high-on-her-horse blogger was highly offended that she couldn't get paid the "real journalism" rate for her blog. The debate went on for days, and her chagrin and outrage went on, too.

Seriously, there's a difference between a blog and real journalism. Please learn it.
 Truth is, there are a lot of people (OK, bloggers and social-media folks) who wake up one day and fancy themselves writers -- or even (double gasp!) journalists. I'm sorry, but there's a difference between writing down your personal opinions in a 400-word post and knowing how to build a compelling narrative arc or how to compileresearch and interviews into a solid book chapter.

Let's face it: Most bloggers are good at marketing, building community and relationships, speaking to their crowd and self-aggrandizing promotion. But they're not good at writing. I'm sorry, but it just needs to be said. I always tell people that I'm a journalist and author who happens to blog -- not the other way around. Please don't get it twisted. As Erykah Badu said (not while she was famously tweeting during childbirth, but in one of her soulful songs), "I'm an artist and I'm sensitive about my sh*t." And right now, I'm feeling real sensitive about mine.

Really, it's not the bloggers' fault. And I'm not trying to bite one of the hands that feeds me. Actually, I blame the Internet. Somewhere between the immediacy of the World Wide Web, citizen journalism and the blogosphere, the lines between real news and blogspeak got blurred. The lines between real journalists (who do crazy things like fact check and interview other people) and opinionated talking heads (whose real skill is driving Web traffic) got blurred.

Last year, I wrote a damn good (if I may say so myself) tribute post to Michael Jackson that spoke to my hopes and dreams for all black boys, including my own son, Michael. At the end of the post, I quoted a line from a Maya Angelou poem -- quote marks, em dash and all. But some overzealous blogger who didn't know an em dash from an M&M started circulating the whole post, saying it was the latest Maya Angelou poem!
 The post spread over the Internet, landed on several urban-legend websites and got me e-mails from as far away as New Zealand, all asking if I or Maya Angelou was the author of the post.

Now, it's an honor (let's face it -- a writer's dream) to be confused with Maya Angelou on any day, but some overzealous blogger who doesn't know punctuation and moved too quickly didn't know how to recognize attribution. 
Even more tragic is what happened to Shirley Sherrod, the former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture, who was prematurely fired after a blogger took pieces of her speech totally out of context. The blogger -- who was mistaken, and yet was viewed like a real journalist trained in newsgathering (big mistake!) -- couldn't be bothered to listen to or present Sherrod's entire speech.

This is dangerous territory, and what makes me really miss real journalism. Meanwhile, we need to stop presenting blogs as legitimate news sites, and some bloggers need to recognize that blogging does not necessarily a writer make. In the meantime, I'm shouting out just a few of my favorite real-mom writers and real journalists and authors who also happen to blog:

The truth is, journalists, writers, bloggers, vloggers, tweeters and cheaters can all coexist. The Internet is big enough, and it's open all night. But we have to respect each other's sh*t.

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