It is not exactly breaking news that many of the country’s newspapers have gone out of business, or are vastly changed. Publications with formerly pristine reputations (the Boston Globe and the New York Times for instance) have been called into question when various journalists have taken shortcuts with their research, plagiarized stories, or even completely fabricated stories.
The reason that those disclosures were so shocking is that there had been a widely accepted code of ethics that journalists were expected to follow. This included, of course, not making up stories unless the column disclosed for instance that the story was a compilation of many different stories, or that the story was pure fiction in order to make a point. There are people employed by newspapers whose entire job is fact-checking. Even still, things fall through the cracks. Deadlines are short, and checking things online can be fraught with error or peril. Some of the journalists gradually traded their ethics bit by bit for fame, Pulitzer prizes, or simple job security.
Regarding media, sensationalism seems to often rule the day. Just having passed the 41st anniversary of the Watergate break-in (which occurred on June 17, 1972) made me think of the halcyon days of the investigative journalist. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were certainly two of the poster boys of investigative journalism. TV news and newspapers really transformed as a result. Eyewitness news, breaking news, and other common phrases sprang up. Woodward and Bernstein were seen as heroes.
Many new journalists aspired to be as important and famous as they were. I don’t mean to imply that they were seen as the first heroic, famous journalists. Far from it. When fame or fans are possible, the temptation to impress people can grow really strong and supersede ethics. For others it is the temptation to teach or inspire through their writing, even if it involves ignoring the ethics.
But really, when you consider journalism, the point (at least from my perspective) was supposed to be to report the truth in as unbiased way as possible. Facts were supposed to be double-checked, the works cited were to be double-checked too. Opinion pieces had different requirements and were not necessarily fact-based, but there were still ethical standards.
Today there are still journalists whose ethics and standards are rock-solid. There are others who fall far short. But all of this is not just a critique of journalists. There certainly is regular debate about the responsibilities of journalists to “get it right”. Instead, I am pondering the overlap of journalistic ethics when it comes to being a blogger.
When I began blogging, I didn’t really think about that at all. I was sharing my views, ideas, ideals, and hopes with anyone who was willing to read my posts. I saw it as a little journal and nothing more. However, I can also see that in the world of blogging, change is afoot. We readily see that bloggers do have a sphere of influence which can spread beyond their own followers as their posts are shared. Some things go viral. Some things fall into an abyss as far as the writer can tell. In my own quest to be a frequent blogger, I often search for quotes or other topics. When I do find a quote that inspires me to write something or share my thoughts and feelings, I am delighted.
However, I must admit that I have not always checked to see if the quote I am using is correctly attributed to the right person, or from the right work. As a matter of fact, it hadn’t occurred to me to be absolutely certain that it is correctly attributed until someone pointed out an error in one of my posts. The post itself went back to October, but the reader just stumbled across it just the other day. It gave me pause.
You see, what we create in our blogs does take on a life of its own. Does that matter? Sure it does. Must we then spend endless hours checking the accuracy of every quote we use? If so, how? If we can find it, for instance, in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, does that suffice? Or must we then check the original source? Should all of this discourage bloggers from using any quotations if they do not have the original work in hand? I am not sure what I think about that.
But here is the thing. The world is at our fingertips through the internet. Facts are there, and errors are there, too. When we were writing research papers in school, any citation had to be accurate, and only certain types of sources were deemed acceptable by our teachers. That is easy to forget, especially if we are not creating a classic news piece, or presenting our post as if it is scientific research.
If my posts were going to be in a newspaper, they certainly would not be news stories. I am not called to that. They would be perhaps features, or opinion pieces, or even articles that draw comparisons between past events and current events or trends. Even still, clarity of purpose, ethics, accuracy and more should be part of how I operate. I have written before that as blog writers we are in a sense journalists (https://believeanyway.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/we-are-the-new-journalists/). What we create could in theory be part of a newspaper or magazine, even if it is a sounding-off letter to the editor. In another sense, though, what we write is a letter or journal that we are sharing with others.
Perhaps the point of discussion then is to be brutally honest with myself and say ~ which set of ethics will I apply to myself? The answer is simple. As always, I must hold myself to the highest standard. Certainly when citing quotes or facts, I should at least do a little bit of checking. If I If I didn’t realize that before, after reaching my milestone of 1,000 posts the other day, I certainly realize it now. https://believeanyway.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/in-an-electronic-age-build-community-and-teach-the-world-to-sing/
What about you, do you think journalistic ethics apply to our blogs? Most of us are very careful to have copyright information on our blogs and to value what we write. Have you thought about your standards when you create? Despite my years in business working on strategies, training employees in company ethics, I really had not considered the ethics of my blog. I find that surprising!
It has made me get out my moral compass once again, and assess the road I am on.