Writer? Journalist? Is there a difference?

On my web site and in bios everywhere I tend write “freelance writer/journalist.” Sometimes I alternate – freelance writer for one publication, freelance journalist for another. I feel compelled to highlight the difference, but I have to wonder does it matter, if so to whom? I also wonder if there is really a difference.

A person writing for a magazine or newspaper has to follow journalistic guidelines, except in first person narratives, so does that make them a journalist? When a journalist blogs like I do for a non-news blog are they a writer only? I tend to attach journalist to my profile because I have a degree from The Ohio State University School of Journalism (now Communication) that I am still paying for so I like to make that bit of effort known!

When I attach journalist to my profile, I seem to earn a bit more respect from sources (and other writers) and it clearly defines what I do for a living. On the other hand I also have corporate clients and attaching journalist sometimes scares off potential clients because they think I may a “down in the trenches, war-zone reporter,” not a flexible freelancer who may report about breastfeeding and local politics one minute and produce press releases for a business leadership trainer and surgical camera company the next moment.

If I say I’m a writer people ask about books, and while I’m working on one I haven’t been published yet so I am hardly an expert. If I say I’m a journalist, people ask on what channel I appear.  It’s pretty sad people forget about newspapers these days! In my brain there’s a difference, what do you think?

The comment section here at Article Writing for Freelance Writing Jobs has been a bit quiet lately so I’d like to hear from everyone, including those lurkers – what do you call yourself? Is there a difference between the two?


7 responses
  1. Phil Avatar

    Big Ten is in the house! I’m a Purdue grad.

    I define myself as a business owner first, journalist to “traditional” publications, and writer to PR firms, etc. Unfortunately, if you define yourself too narrowly, you can get pigeonholed. I was a sportswriter for seven years, and people thought I couldn’t do anything else (as college sports editor, watched Ohio State kill us, 46-0, then Woody Hayes not take time to talk to the press because he was talking to recruits).

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      Whoot Big Ten! Why am I not surprised Woody did that? The stories here border between revered god-like human and tales of horror :). I agree that definition is a something to tread carefully into because flexibility is often a writer’s best friend.

  2. Gina-Marie Cheeseman Avatar

    Graduate of a California State J-school (Fresno State) here. I do the same thing. I write writer/journalist on everything from my website to email signature. I use the two titles because I have a journalism degree and, more importantly, I want to be flexible. There’s a third reason: when I’m not writing in 3rd person, I tend to use the traditional inverted pyramid style.

    I do think that journalism is much BROADER than we were taught in J-school. I for one am sick of the disdain print media has for online media.
    .-= Gina-Marie Cheeseman´s last blog ..Don’t Let Your Kitty Get Fat =-.

  3. Angie Papple Johnston Avatar

    I tend to use both, but on separate lines – two separate titles; I was a combat journalist for the Army until last month, but under the Army’s label a journalist takes pictures, writes press and story releases and produces web content, internal documents and acts like a secretary. I haven’t found that using ‘journalist’ scares off web content clients, but maybe I haven’t been freelancing full-time long enough.
    .-= Angie Papple Johnston´s last blog ..PageRank: Does Google Think your Page is Hot? =-.

  4. Roberta Mattimore Avatar

    This is my first time in here and have found a lot of interesting topics. But this one really struck my fancy. Because I have wonder to myself about both of them. Do I want to be a freelance writer or do I want to be a journalist? I kept on going back and forth with it. To me in my opinion, but I could be wrong, writing is either true or not as to where journalist is true and realistic. That is where I crossed my mind. I want to do both but not really sure. Either way, I want to write and write well. Given to me about any topic. I can do the research on it and write well or make up a story in my head and be myself and write what is on mind.
    Roberta Mattimore

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      Hi Roberta!

      Glad you could wonder on over here to FWJ, I’m also glad you liked the article. It’s a question many writers are asking themselves, especially because of the rise of citizen journalism. There is a distinct difference between journalists and freelance writers, and one can be both. However I think because of the strict ethical guidelines for journalists, writers are delving into the difference so they can better shape their career…

  5. Marie Avatar

    I suppose I am the opposite. Focusing on an industry specific writing/journalism career has generated more success for me, in terms of saving time and gaining credibility.

    Hence I am both journalist that writes, more so a journalist that types and when I can not type I use voice dictation. I stick to my given industry. Building a name for yourself is the hardest part, once your name is built, no one cares rather you are a journalist or a writer; you have a following.

    When it is all said and done, treat your writing career like a business, get into the mind of your editor.

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