I've been blogging for over 11 years now, and I've taken on the role of The World's Oldest Journalism Undergraduate to make a late life transition from IT into journalism. I've also set up the infrastructure for an online news publication called the Atlanta Tortoise ("Slow News is the Best News") that will be launched in the spring of 2015. At the rate of two courses per semester I'll graduate with a BA in journalism, with a concentration in print journalism, in slightly under two years. So according to plan, by the time I get my degree I will have had roughly 12 years of experience blogging, and one year running a news site.
The reason I wrote the description above is to give you an idea of my own relationship to both blogging and journalism. Both are important to me. Blogging democratized the crafts of writing and publishing, and opened up the public arena for new and diverse voices. Professional journalism and a free press is necessary for public engagement, democracy, and progress. Those may seem like boilerplate feelgood platitudes, but they are true. We need both a means of hearing the voice of the general public, even if it's a rude cacophony, and a full time professional press, with the resources and mission to "Seek Truth and Report it".
One of the unfortunate aspects of the economically painful transition from traditional forms of print journalism, to online journalism, is that the borders between blogging and reporting, and between opinion and hard or investigative news, have been blurred. Many of the most popular newsites are really expanded blogs, and the difference in standards that should be applied to this new type of media has been unclear. This is not a question of "bias", or even of "balance". It's a matter of developing reasonable standards for making the difference between hard news and opinion clear to the reader, and for giving the public a roadmap for determining which publications to trust. This is not an easy task, and written and enforced guidelines are crucial.
Which brings me to the point of this article. I strongly believe that the established ethical principles should apply to any article presented as hard news or investigative reporting. That includes both the standards for gathering the news, and the standards for the finished product. The most straightforward starting point is to make the Society of Professional Journalism's Code of Ethics the minimal acceptable standard. I would be thrilled if the public read that relatively short document, and held their news providers, both hardcopy and online publications, to that standard.
Blogging is a bit different. Even when blogs cover events in the news, they are clearly written from the viewpoint of the writer. The cost of entry for blogging is very low, so the standards for verification and fact checking, and for truth and fairness, have often been low also.
To some extent the casual and loosely fact-checked nature of blogging has infected the culture of online journalism across the board. At least one of the recent plagiarism scandals arose in part from the lack of emphasis on attribution and originality in the culture of publishing on the web. Cutting and pasting is native to the online form.
I believe that anyone writing anything for public presentation needs to operate with a deliberate and written code of ethics. This doesn't mean that bloggers can't be opinionated, satirical, expansive, sarcastic, creative, clearly biased, and activist. It means that their writing should be grounded in the basic decency and responsibility that comes from having an ethical code.
In that spirit, I've decided to adopt, for this blog, the short version of the Code of Ethics for Bloggers and Social Media and Content Creators, developed at mor10.com. I'll be studying the longer version of the document, and considering whether I want to adopt it in toto, or whether I need to develop a customized document.
The picture gets even more complicated when social media is added into the mix. What does it mean to be ethical on Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other dozens of types of new media? How should bloggers and professional journalists use social media, and how should they behave? I don't yet have a clear opinion on the subtleties of interaction on those newer, faster moving media. But when I do, the readers here will be the first to know.