James Taranto on Blogging and Journalism

Blogger-journalist James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal is spending a two week vacation in Europe. Before visiting Bruges, London and Stockholm, he was in Brussels last weekend, where I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his job. The paper version of The Wall Street Journal has a daily circulation in the US of 1.8 million copies. The web version WSJ.com has 700,000 paying subscribers. The paper has a separate website for columns and op-eds, called OpinionJournal.com. Besides contributions from guest writers, OpinionJournal has a daily summary of remarkable news on the web, called Best Of The Web Today. It is written by James Taranto, the editor of OpinionJournal. Because of the huge number of links and quotes and the dense humor, Best Of The Web Today strongly resembles a blog. On the web, it has some 120,000 daily visitors, but it is also available as an e-mail newsletter.

James Taranto
James Taranto, vacationing in a Brussels backyard

The Brussels Journal: James Taranto from Best of the Web Today, do you consider yourself to be a blogger, or a journalist, or both?
James Taranto: Well I am a journalist, I work for The Wall Street Journal which is a major newspaper, and I happen to write a column called Best of The Web. I call it a column in blog format. It's not a proper blog, because I publish once a day rather than at will. I don't think there's necessarily a dichotomy between blogging and journalism. A lot of people say: is blogging journalism? It's really a misleading question. One might ask: is The New Yorker magazine journalism? Well, most of the New Yorker magazine is journalism, but they run fiction stories: that's not journalism, that's fiction. They run cartoons that don't really have anything to do with politics, you can't really call that journalism. So blogging is just a medium. Whether it's journalism or not depends on what it is that the blogger is publishing.

The Brussels Journal: Do you consider "journalist" to be a professional title? Is an amateur blogger a journalist or not?
James Taranto: Again, it depends on what kind of material he's producing. There are a lot of freelance jouralists in America. You know, America has freedom of expression and freedom of the press embedded in its First Amendment. So, implicit in this is the idea that this is a freedom that belongs to everybody. You can't really have government licensing journalists.

The Brussels Journal: What do you think about high profile political bloggers in the United States like the guys from PowerLineBlog.com or like Glenn Reynolds. Is what they're doing a form of journalism, or is it something else?
James Taranto: Oh, I think it's a form of journalism, broadly defined to include commentary. If what Paul Krugman does is journalism, which is writing pieces with a lot of opinion and very little fact that appear on the pages of a major newspaper... if he's doing journalism, then certainly these guys are.

The Brussels Journal: Some people call you the Rush Limbaugh of the blogosphere or of the web. What do you think about that?
James Taranto: Well, I admire Rush. I don't listen to shock radio that often because living in New York, I don't have a car. But every now and then I tune in, and he's an entertaining and interesting guy. I note that he gets a lot of his stuff from me, and often does credit me, which is something that not all talk show hosts have the class to do. You know, one might argue that Rush Limbaugh is the James Taranto of radio.

The Brussels Journal: How do you find what is interesting on the web? Do you use an RSS reader, or bookmarks in your browser?
James Taranto: Well, I would say three ways in ascending order of importance. The first is, there are sites like The Drudge Report and Lucianne.com that just bring together a lot of stories. The second, more important is, I do have some bookmarks to sites that I look at regularly, certain major newspapers, magazines, blogs I like and so forth. And most important of all for Best Of The Web is reader email. I get 300 to 400 email tips a day from readers. This enables me to cast a much wider net than I would be able to if I had to rely on my own surfing. Sometimes I'll have a joke that combines elements of the jokes that were suggested by three different people. So it's really a great aggregation of many minds helping out. I don't know exactly how an RSS reader works, believe it or not, I'm a little technically behind the times.

"You can't really have government licensing journalists", James said. Well ... in Belgium, the government is licensing journalists. The law of 30 December 1963 regulates the officially protected title of "journalist". Official press cards for professional journalists have the signature of the Minister of the Interior. In 2002, there were some 4,800 officially recognized journalists in Belgium.

Read more about James Taranto:
Personal homepage with a selection of articles
NewYorkMetro.com: James Taranto's Best of Web Today Column Holds Political Influence
A longer interview with James Taranto by Bernard Chapin

Best Of The Web Today:
RSS feed of OpinionJournal.com
Most recent article
Taranto on blogging politicians: "They can run, but can they blog?"

taranto-lvb.mp33.35 MB

Registered Journalists

Surely there are rogue unregistered journalists, nobody has to sign up for one of those autographed cards, do they?


Eliab: at certain official occasions, only officially registered professional journalists have access to the event. This was the case recently at the inaugurations of the new dock in the Antwerp harbour.