From astroturf to sock puppets: an online news glossary

Last week I met with a graduate student who was seeking advice about her dissertation, which would examine the online news business. One of the first things I told her was to make sure that the people she interviewed meant the same thing as she did when they started talking online jargon.

“Sometime two people can seem to be disagreeing about something when they really don’t,” I told her. “The only disagreement they’re really having is over vocabulary.”

As I mentioned in my top mistakes pice last month, publishers and advertisers can mislead each other by using confusing terminology for measuring a website’s traffic. Newspaper website staff can lose newsroom managers they are trying to build a relationship with when they start dropping terms like “open source” and “sock puppetry” in their conversations. And let’s not even get back into the once-raging debate over the definition of the word “blog.”

So, in an effort to define a common vocabulary for those of us in the news business, I’m taking the advice I gave that student and starting an OJR wiki for an online news glossary.

Here’s the link:

As with all OJR wikis, any registered OJR reader may add to or edit the page. So if there’s a term I’ve missed that you’d like to see added to the glossary, please do it. And if you’ve got a better way of defining some of these terms, go ahead and make the change.

Thanks, in advance, to those who take a few moments to add to the wiki. And, to everyone else reading, I hope that you find this glossary useful in improving your communication with others in the news business.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. Thanks for the glossary of terms. I’m considering using some of the definitions in my master’s project.

  2. Loved it. Really a worthly addition to the OJR.

  3. A great idea, although it seems to be taking some time to be updated with contributions/edits?

  4. Jump in! The water’s fine….