From Blog Ethics Part 1
As the word is commonly understood, journalists are those who practice the profession of journalism or who write for newspapers or magazines. But I would propose that bloggers are, going by the broad definition of the term, journalists. A journalist is anyone who “keeps a journal, diary, or other record of daily events”. The majority of blogs are chronicles, in one form or another, of life events which happen in the bloggers’ environment.
But I would guess the vast majority of bloggers would disagree with my proposition. The bloggers of my acquaintance are an intelligent and discerning lot and, for the same reasons, do not like to be pigeonholed or told what to do. They are jealous of their perceived independence and protective of the democratic space they have carved out for themselves. They see traditional media as being tied-down to institutions or beholden to certain interests, and will thus resist being labeled as journalists.
But no one can deny the growing popularity and influence of blogs as a source of information and opinion. The blogosphere is evolving and, inevitably, norms of conduct will develop as part of the evolutionary process. It is therefore never too early to start discussing ethical standards, not as a way stifling the free spirits online, but in order to provide guideposts of conduct and morality in the wild-west landscape of cyberspace.
I am well aware of the freewheeling nature of the blogosphere and that its wide reach and spontaneity will not lend itself to regimentation or even self-regulation. This is how things are and should be. The dynamism of the blog is precisely what makes it so compelling and effective as a new medium. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to regulate it.
But this doesn’t mean that bloggers should eschew the idea of a voluntary code of ethics altogether. Adherence to standards of quality and ethical principles give credibility to blogs. This in turn fosters trust and civility between bloggers and the public in general. If blogging is to be taken seriously, beyond simply being a means of individual self-expression and navel-gazing, there must be constancy to certain ethical norms which would assure readers that the blog is worth their while. Of course, such standards or values may not necessarily be same as that adopted by mainstream media. And it is improbable that a single code would be right for all bloggers under all circumstances. There are no absolutes in the blogosphere.
That said, there have already been many ideas advanced which may form the springboard for healthy debate. For instance, during BlogNashville, the 2005 U.S. bloggers’ convention held in Tennessee, the session on “Respectful Disagreement” (in which an audience of bloggers was urged to respectfully disagree with one another) came up with a set of shared values which may serve as guidelines for that particular blogging community. Here are some of those values and rules of conduct, which may provide us some food for thought and, hopefully, bases for further dialogue:
1. Transparency. You are who you appear to be.
2. Accountability. If you screw up, say so. Bloggers should do their best to rely on accountable sources. If those sources were/are not accurate, admit it.
3. Creativity. Blogging encourages unique content that gathers together niche audiences (communities) and provides a focal point for conversation. Not all blogging, for example, is journalistic reporting about a particular topic. The quality, tone and style of the writing, in addition to the unique authorial self-expression, creates a unique form of communicating different from previous forms.
4. Passion and Personality. A human enthusiasm radiates from a blog.
5. Disagree without being disagreeable, leaving dignity intact. For example, there is a tendency in discussions for the loudest voice to own the floor, rather than the person/expert with the most relevant content. Also, blogging (like law) may be inherently adversarial. Thus, the best bloggers practice and demonstrate politeness and good manners.
6. Link to blogs that respectfully disagree with you. We have a human tendency to seek out “echo chamber” ideas which cut off healthy debate and dialogue in a blog. Blogging can easily be conducive to the creation of one’s own little world, rather than inviting respectfully disagreeing comments that strengthen a discussion.
7. In a mannerly fashion, call unmannerly bloggers on their lack of respect. If flaming and insults are tolerated, they are thus encouraged. Strategies should be used when appropriate to help eliminate such rudeness.
8. Listen when your peers say you are out of line.
9. If it is incendiary, don’t post it. If you wouldn’t say it to that person over a cup of coffee, don’t post it.
10. Skillful moderation. Handling trolls, praising intelligent (and dissenting) posts, balancing a discussion with an appropriate amount of blogger’s and reader’s comments, etc.
11. Forgiveness. We all make mistakes. Learn to forgive, especially if someone apologizes sincerely.