December 10, 2011

What is a blogger?

I generally don’t mix my “day job” with my posts for this blog. I’m not sure why—maybe because the subject matter is entirely different. Not much crossover between financial institutions and plants.

But lately, the topics of appropriate blogging behavior and the niche bloggers fill in the dissemination of information have come up in both worlds.

By day, I’m on a team of seasoned editors who manage and produce content for an impressive (if I might say so) array of print and online publications. Not a whole lot of hard-hitting investigative journalism. But these very talented editors take journalistic ethics and the role of journalists very seriously.

This week, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that an independent blogger who writes several law-centric blogs and has been involved in a defamation case is not protected by the state’s shield law. To learn more about this case, visit this post on, or this article in Time Magazine, or this one posted through The Wall Street Journal. Similar cases in other states have had similar results.

Many of us, however, aren’t convinced that independent bloggers should give up or that their work should be universally dismissed as unprofessional. There have been columnists and editorial writers as long as there have been journalists—maybe longer. Some are trained writers and journalists, and some aren’t.

Bloggers have evolved to serve many of the same functions as early opinion and advice columnists. There’s a valid niche for blogging, along with tweeting, feature writing, investigative journalism, and other reporting methods.

Through this blog, I convey a much lighter message. But recent discussion among the garden blogging community has introduced similar questions about the ethics and role of garden bloggers, specifically. For background on this debate, check out Colleen Vanderlinden’s post about “Garden Blogging and Free Stuff.”

My personal takeaways from both of these discussions: 
  • It’s OK for me as a professional business writer and a part-time garden writer to blog, within the acceptable standards of my employer and the garden writing community. Those standards are evolving, and it’s my duty to abide by them.
  • Blogging, of any type, can be riskier (in some ways) than feature writing. Independent bloggers are finding they don’t share the same protections as employed journalists. (Should they?) But more than that, blogging involves sharing more personal information and often putting oneself “out there.” When writing an article for the company publication, the story is at the forefront. While this is sometimes true when blogging, most posts are written in the first person “I.” So the blogger is putting his or her opinions, personality, and thoughts at the forefront.
  • Bloggers have choices to make. Those of us who are independent call all the shots. We can accept advertising, sell our content, review products, and partner with other organizations…or not. We can share basic information and experiences, our deepest thoughts, and details about our personal lives…or not. If we choose to do these things, we accept the rewards and responsibilities of those choices.
There are many more takeaways from these discussions—some of which are still forming as the Internet and communication evolve. But my biggest personal goals are to be true to myself, to aim for the highest possible integrity, and to realize that most of my greatest lessons learned are better shared with others than hidden under a bushel.


  1. I look at what we do as a documentary of our lives. This is a great post on the various levels of blogging. It is addicting at times. What I enjoy most about the blogger world is that we all come from different backgrounds and share common goals, can bounce ideas off of each other:), or just write express ourselves through photography/writing.

  2. Well put Beth. As you know mine is a personal blog where I do put myself out there...integrity is very important. My parents always taught me to do no harm so I try to abide by that in my blog...choosing to be positive and not too judgmental. These are good discussions to have as all this unfolds.

  3. Beth I've seen a few posts on this top recently but yours brings a new version. Your blog shows professional writing style and speaks of your integrity. I knew you were a professional writer before I got to know you. It just shows. You were a writer first and then a blogger.

    I was a blogger first...that hasn't changed...and then I've been lucky enough to enter the writing world who accepts that I'm not a writer. Blogging has opened a new field--that of the blogger who gets in to the writing world because we have content rich material which makes our lack of grammar skills overlooked.

    I too will keep my integrity in tack. I'll be true to self first. I learned last week that I can't be sold.

  4. Before I started blogging I knew I was a writer who wasn't writing anymore. I blog to share my passion for gardening with others and to learn from the garden blogging community. Unless I have something positive to say about my career field, I keep my opinions about my school/county out of my blog.

    It does bother me, however, when people assume a blogger is just some nut with too much time on their hands. I take my writing seriously. Considering some of the poorly written pieces I've seen come out of well respected newspapers and magazines, I'm no less a writer than anyone else! Great post!

  5. I am not a writer and very much admire those that weld the pen. You really laid out some food for thought on the value and quality of blogging from the standpoint of it and whether it has the same credence as other writing professions. It seems to reason, if a blogger combines their experience and knowledge from a day job, that some semblance of authority comes along for the ride. I write very rarely on subjects referring directly to what I do for a living, although it very much ties into 'gardening'. Blogging is a creative release, and as you have said, is written often in first person which adds that neighborhood, 'talking over the garden fence' appeal. I do not 'talk' design and architecture with my neighbors is how I look at it, and with that type of conversation comes some colloquialisms. I guess then, I make few apologies for writing style, although as mildly dyslexic writer, often should.

  6. A very though provoking post! There are so many different blogs in terms of content and also integrity, opinions, etc. I often struggle with how much personal information I want to share on my blog. Not only, from a privacy perspective but also from a content/interest perspective for my readers. I write my blog to share my gardening experiences, photos and passion. I am thrilled people are interested and I love when they express their opinions in the comments. However, I prefer positive posts and blogs with integrity.

  7. You touch upon a topic that many bloggers have not touched upon-that of bloggers sharing themselves. I find this to be the most rewarding part of blogging and accept that not everyone is interested in what I do or what I think but then I find many more people feel the same way as I do. And that is priceless because it lets me as a blogger and person know that I'm not the only one who thinks or acts a certain way. It sometimes provides a feeling of acceptance in the blogging world but you have to be thick skinned and take the good with the bad. I do put a disclaimer on my blog that says just because something works a certain way for me does not mean it will work the same way for others. This, I hope, allows readers to understand that my opinion and experiences are just that. They are all tempered by many different factors that may or not be duplicated by the reader, however, if a seed is planted in someone that can use my experiences then that is a good feeling for me. I believe readers are savvy in what they read and all bloggers must be true to themselves and blog for their very own special reasons. It sounds as if you do that and you do a good job too.

  8. Well said Beth!! I believe blogging is another creative tool, and can be used in as many ways as any other. Blogging is eveolving and develoving into dfferent paths, and each one uses as pleased, included bloggers who get pay to say and promote whatever.
    In my case my blogs,( I have three) can be a display for my profession, a repository for my research or a fantastic window open to meet colleagues sometimes living so far away, that it would impossible to "meet" if not thanks to internet.
    But, in any case I believe in integrity in whatever I do in life and I stick to that, I know there are millions in the same page, but it is true that sometimes it is needed to stand up remember so.
    Thnak you for the post and give us the opportunity to express or point of view.

  9. @Rohrerbot: I agree. And I enjoy the fact that we can be flexible, depending on the topic or what happens to be going on in our lives and our gardens.

    @Donna: Thanks. I truly appreciate your honesty and courage in sharing your personal stories! Every time I visit your blog it helps me to examine my life choices and experiences. And I always learn something about gardening, too!

    @Anna: Thank you. It's funny that some of these themes have been brewing at work and in the garden blogging community at the same time. I felt it was a good time to talk about how it all comes down to choices (on both sides of the conversation), and the risks, rewards, and responsibilities of those choices.

  10. @TS: I can tell we have similar outlooks on life (including our senses of humor). I try not to take myself or my blog too seriously, and I try to keep it light. But integrity and quality are also important to me. There are times when I'm tempted to pull a blog post because I feel later it was of low quality. But the good and the bad posts are all part of the bigger picture of documenting the gardener's life.

    @Donna: You are a great writer (and photographer and designer and blogger)! Honestly, I don't notice typos and grammatical errors much when I visit garden blogs. And I know I slip up a lot myself! The bigger goal is to learn things from each other and to support each other--especially for those of us stuck in the frozen north all winter. ;-)

    @Karin: I agree. It's hard for me to get too personal in my blog. A little bit, but I know my boundaries. But disclosing more is fine for people who are comfortable sharing more. I, too, prefer the positive posts, or the ones that help me to see life and gardens in a different way. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  11. @Tina: You are very wise. In my case, sometimes I feel funny offering gardening advice since I don't have a degree in horticulture and I'm not a master gardener (yet!). But then I think about all the things I've learned--some through trial and error and most from other gardeners--and I realize it's useful info. And if I share it, other people will share more gardening wisdom with me. :)

    @Lula: You bring up a point (others mentioned it, too) that sits at the heart of the most amazing thing to come out of this blog for me--learning from gardeners around the world. What a kick it has been to make gardening friends like you in Europe, and others in Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America. That is priceless!

  12. I definitely agree with you and Colleen, the first quality of a blogger should be intellectual honesty. Here in Italy there are too often bloggers, especially those who write about food, who are slaves of the companies that offer their stuff. I carefully avoid them because I find them not credible at all, and everyone should do the same.

  13. I guess I come at garden blogging from a different direction because there is no separation between my day job as nursery owner and grower and garden writing/blogging. I was also a writer in my former career and as a nursery owner before I started blogging. I view my blog as a way to transfer interesting and accurate horticultural information to my subscribers and other garden bloggers. But many important benefits have come back to me including being part of the wonderful and supportive garden blogging community.

  14. Interesting topic. I started my blog to improve my writing & photography skills since I am an expert in neither. It often still surprises me that people are reading! I can say I've learned so much from other garden bloggers and it's been so wonderful to connect with other people passionate about the same thing.

  15. @Dona: It's a good discussion. Blogging for a company seems fine if it's clear that it's a company blog, in my humble opinion. But then again it comes back to choices and awareness of the purpose of the blog.

    @Carolyn: You are very fortunate, and we are fortunate to have access to your wisdom and expertise. It's obvious when visiting your blog to see its purpose and that the posts are heartfelt from you. Thanks.

    @Kathleen: When does a person become an expert? I'd say you are an expert in both. Sometimes the best training is hands-on, or learned directly from others. I agree--learning from other bloggers is so helpful!

  16. There's too much hegemony in the media world these days so blogging offers a counter voice - a bit like pamphleteering and the secret printing press used to. Was taught to steer away from discussing sex, politics and religion as these are most likely to cause controversy - and not that suitable for a garden/london life blog anyway ;) Blogging is an outlet for writing and a social medium for connecting with others whom I'd like to meet if only the world was smaller - so here's a virtual Hello Beth - pleased to meet you. :)

  17. @Laura: I agree with you completely. Yes, wouldn't it be nice if we could regularly visit each other's gardens? But then I guess we do--that is the joy of this virtual community!

  18. This is a very timely post, very well said too. Intellectual honesty maybe depends on who the real person really is, but i think everybody should strive to have it. There's already a lot of dishonesty and insincerity around us, so we have to start with ourselves. I love the way you said the last paragraph!

  19. I am with Patiopatch's definition. For me blogging is a light whimsy, a conversation or thought dropped in on line. .... PSR avoidance in the main. Thank you for raising the subject.

  20. @Andrea: Thanks. It's so hard to get the right tone on this type of post, so I appreciate your kind comments. I much prefer writing objective posts about plants. ;-)

    @Anonymous: I like your mention of a conversation. That seems like a good description of a blog, with openness to comments and discussion. Thanks.

  21. I wonder if you read Victoria's post?

  22. Interesting post! I like blogging because it allows me communicate with others about what's important to me. I, too, struggle with how many personal details to share. I used to be a journalist and one of the things I appreciate about blogs is the authenticity (at least of the ones I gravitate to), rather than the often forced he-said, she-said things. I also like that garden blogging seems to be mostly about appreciation and sharing what we love with others. So much writing and journalism today amplifies conflict. It's a relief to find spaces where people are sharing with enthusiasm and supporting each other.

  23. Here in the UK I am finding the discussion of blogging and particularly garden blogging in the US fascinating. I am sure that many of the discussion and arguments are relevant here as well.

    I agree with you and I try to keep my blog true to me and I am very open about any reviews I do

  24. @Diana: Thanks for the link. I checked it out, and I'll check in with Victoria. Very perceptive post.

    @Sheila: I couldn't agree with you more. Gardeners are so hopeful. It's certainly refreshing!

    @Helen: Yes, I guess it's good to air the thoughts. Personally, I'm thrilled that the Internet allows us to easily compare notes across the miles.

  25. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post, Beth! I started my blog with the intention of interacting with other gardeners and getting new ideas and information. Occasionally, I write about other topics--like books I've enjoyed--but I'm very hesitant to include too much personal information that might come back to haunt me later. My blog has evolved into pretty much a journal of my garden, a useful tool for me, but maybe not for anyone else. I love getting comments and the interaction with other garden bloggers, but I've never been concerned with how many "hits" I fact, I don't even know how to find that information:) I delete any emails from companies that want me to promote them or link with them; to me, that would change the whole purpose of my blog.

    I've never even thought about the journalistic ethics concerning garden bloggers, but I can see the problem with other types of blogs. There are too many readers out there who think anything they read on the internet must be true! There is so much information being disseminated in so many ways these days that people need to be more discerning and think about the bias of the writer and the source of that information. Most of the garden bloggers I read are like me, I think--I certainly don't claim to be an expert on gardening!

  26. @Rose: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I always enjoy your down-to-earth posts about your farming and gardening experiences. You seem to have a strong identity and purpose to your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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