Does it really matter?
In short, YES.
The extended version reads: You can get yourself into SERIOUS trouble if you don’t know the difference. Claiming ignorance will not save you from this trouble. Naievely, inadvertently masquerading one as the other is no excuse.
At a minimum, your trouble will deprive you of gaining a great blog following. At worst, you could be sued for libel, misrepresentation, defamation. Now I don’t know about you, but as a writer I don’t have a great slush fund that I can call upon in dire emergencies. Especially not self-created, legally entagling nightmares.
So whether you have stumbled upon this blog thing as personal lark, or whether you are deploying it as a serious SEO and brand building program for your business, you might want to read on.
A case in point
Earlier this year I had a prospect ask for a quote for some copywriting for his soon to be launched website. He wanted both articles and blog posts written. Great. Makes sense to me. Until I started to delve deeper…
…What exactly did he want to say on his blog posts? What points should we be covering with his articles?
One and the same – he felt.
The same message in a different channel – he said.
But here’s the big problem…
.. a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Because writing a blog as if it were an article can really damage its success. And writing an article like a blog could get you in serious trouble (see entry paragraphs).
So what is the difference?
You read the newspaper right? Or magazines? Occassionally at least? OK – if never, then do yourself a favour and flick through one next time you’re waiting in the doctor’s surgery. (If its my obstetrician you should get through at least 4 magazines before the receptionist bothers to tell you he’s running an hour late. This will give you plenty of time to explore the following explanation).
When reading printed media, you will soon discover at least two stylistic approaches.
1) the journalistic article: These are generally written in the third person, in a factual reporting style. They will use references, quotes and sources to support any claims. They seek to appear independent, well-researched and impartial.
2) the opinion piece: These are written in the first person and convey the writer’s personality through jargon, slang and generally more colourful, entertaining language. They often choose to represent just one side of a divisive argument or ignite a powerful debate.
So how does apply to the online world?
Put simply, a blog is an opinion piece. Or at least the good ones are. Successful blogs (defined by huge followings and big fan bases) are written in the ‘voice’ of the author which is generally what constitutes the major difference between ‘blog’ and ‘article’. It’s also what makes them eminently more readable.
What an opinion piece doesn’t do, is save your bacon if you choose to write something defamatory.
Here’s the Rub
Generally a publisher wears the ultimate responsibility of any piece. So if the facts are wrong, if its defamatory or libelous, its the publisher (insert: newspaper, magazine etc) that gets sued. But when you write and publish a blog – who is the publisher? That’s right – YOU!
And the same laws apply to you as to any well-paid, self respecting journalist who triple checks a source before signing their name to work. The only difference is, the journo also has a legal team, a sub-editor and an editor watching their back. Checking and rechecking their facts, questioning their judgement and generally acting a safety net against potentially libelous writings.
Who does this for you?
Make sure someone does, even if its just you. Think twice before you press that hot little ‘publish’ button. It could be a lot hotter than you think.