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?


  1. Phil says

    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).

    • says

      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. says

    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. says

    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. says

    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

    • says

      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. says

    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.
    Marie´s last blog post ..The Psychology behind Branding: Pick Your Startup Colors Wisely

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