Sunday, May 08, 2005

Blogging Ethics

Adam Cohen has a piece in the NYTimes today about the emerging question of the role and extent of traditional journalistic ethics in blogging.

"Defenders of the status quo argue that ethics rules are not necessary
in the blogosphere because truth emerges through "collaboration," and that bias
and conflicts of interest are rooted out by "transparency." But "collaboration"
is a haphazard way of defending against dishonesty and slander, and blogs are
actually not all that transparent. MSM journalists write under their own names.
Someone would be likely to notice if a newspaper reporter covering a campaign
was also on the campaign's staff. But it is hard to know who many bloggers are,
and whether they are paid to take the positions they are espousing."

I don't know where I stand on this issue. All semester, as I've been taking a journalism ethics class, I've been trying to figure out if the standards journalists set for themselves are appropriate and if they are the best ways to serve readers and the truth.

I think one of the appeals of blogging is that bloggers are't held to the same standards journalists are. Of course, the problems come in when bloggers start to do the same thing journalists do - namely, original reporting and presenting that reporting as an accurate representation of the facts. If bloggers simply remain in the realm of commentary, I think they should have a lot more freedom. But if they start offering readers information they claim is accurate, they need to prove themselves through meeting the same standards MSM journalists do.

As for bloggers who simply offer commentary, I do think there are two important things they need to disclose. The first is conflicts of interest. Now, most reporters would be pulled from stories that could be a conflict of interest for them. I don't think that should be the case with bloggers, but I do think the only way to be fair and honest with readers is to let them know of any possible biases or conflicts. Then it's up to the readers to sort out if the conflict of interest (or appearance of a conflict of interest) is distorting the truth. The second is the use of anonymity in blogging. I know a lot of of bloggers find this the main appeal of blogging, but I think it presents two problems. First, studies have shown that readers do not trust anonymous sources of information (and most newspapers do in fact have policies against using anonymous sources). Second, it presents a great potential for abuse. I think we're kidding ourselves if we believe the RNC and the DNC don't have people posed as your average Joe bloggers when, in fact, they're party operatives. Now, I have no problem with party operatives blogging. But I sure as hell want to know where their information is coming from and how they got it.