When Is a Blog No Longer a Blog?

Like a lot of journalists, ClickZ’s editors have been pondering the role blogs are coming to play, both online and in society at large. We’re wondering what the changes mean for more formally organized online publishers. Sometimes, the discussion gets passionate, sometimes it’s subdued, but it’s always extremely interesting.

No, it’s not that we feel threatened by blogs. We’ve long been big public advocates of blogging and bloggers, having written and edited a wide variety of pieces about the phenomenon and having hosted the first-ever business blogging powwow in June 2003. Heck, a couple of us have blogs ourselves.

For the most part, we look at blog publishers as we look at any other publisher. Each one establishes its own track record; each, through its entries, establishes its motives and agenda.

This week’s discussion was especially heated because of a particular incident. Like most in the news business, we’re voracious readers. The morning routine (indeed, the routine throughout the day) consists of scouring Business Wire, PR Newswire, other publications, and an incredible array of blogs.

Recently, I saw an entry on paidContent.org, Rafat Ali’s publication. Ali wrote that wireless content firms Vindigo and Zingy had been acquired by a Japanese company. I made a mental note to check into the story. I needed to see if it was true and try to get more details. I made some inquiries. Nearly a week later, we ran a few sentences about the acquisitions in our weekly Wireless Watch feature, having confirmed every detail we published by contacting the two companies.

Ali wasn’t pleased with us. We didn’t mention his publication, and we violated one of blogging’s highest mandates: link love. We ended up honoring his request to add a citation to the brief item, but not a link. (We link profusely in ClickZ Experts, but not in our News section.)

Interestingly, we’ve never been asked by another news organization to provide such a citation, nor have we ever requested one ourselves, though we often break news that’s picked up elsewhere.

The issue is complex. Yesterday, for example, it looked like CBS MarketWatch was the first to report news of Google’s debut on Nasdaq. Moments later, other news organizations piled on. Did they credit CBS MarketWatch for having the news first?

Of course not.

Naturally, like any reputable publication, we have editorial policies in place and cite sources all the time. But our policies differ from those of the blogosphere.

What’s at stake here? Money, for one thing, whether its ad dollars or more indirect rewards: new jobs, client wins, consulting gigs, and so on. With citations and links come more credibility, more traffic, and better search engine rankings (which in turn lead to more credibility and traffic).

Many are asking if blogging’s advent is changing the rules for more established publishers, online and off-. Some think so. We talked about it in our discussion. When are blogs blogs, and when do they become full-fledged publications? Is it when they start soliciting advertising, rather than passively allowing contextual ads to run in their sidebars? When they publish a daily ad-supported newsletter in addition to the now de rigueur RSS feed? Is it when the feed itself displays ads? When the blogger starts making enough money from advertising to blog full-time? Do a blogger’s motives — whether he’s doing it for money, glory, or marketing — matter?

The collegial nod to the news story’s originator is a gesture of courtesy many well-known newspapers employ on occasion. But when is it appropriate? We looked to The New York Times’s ethics standards for guidance. Nothing. So we looked at its practices. This week, the Gray Lady cited rival New York Post, giving it credit for breaking a story about Whole Foods Market’s alleged liquor law violation.

OK, makes sense. But wait. A check of Google News reveals another publication, Crain’s New York Business, published the story the day before the Post did. Who really deserves the credit?

It turns out bloggers aren’t so up-and-up about the practice themselves, despite the ethos of link love. Wired News reported a Hewlett-Packard Labs study found when an idea spreads to at least 10 blogs, 70 percent of bloggers don’t link back to another blog that previously mentioned the idea.

Blogger Om Malik proposed a potential technical solution (seconded by John Battelle), whereby story originators would ping a central repository to verify they’d gotten there first. Interesting idea, but who really believes it would work?

It’s worth mentioning that Ali, Malik, and Battelle share something beyond blogging; all have worked at A-list print/Internet publications, including Silicon Alley Reporter, Wired, and Business 2.0.

In the same entry, Battelle expresses my sentiments pretty darned well: “I rather enjoy the quiet knowledge that our memes are getting out there into the world, and figure credit comes as credit will come… with time.”

That’s the way it is in the Internet age. News and ideas travel fast. Citations or no, recognition (and dollars) will eventually flow to the people who get the scoops, have groundbreaking ideas, and provide thoughtful analysis. Perhaps that’s a hopelessly utopian view.

But isn’t shameless optimism what the Internet is all about?

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