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Basic ethics for bloggers

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Basic ethics for bloggers

ICFJ Anywhere | August 13, 2012

Blogs, including “news” blogs, may or may not have the same standards as traditional media outlets.

Bloggers may print speculation or unconfirmed information that would not be published or broadcast at a traditional news outlet. Some journalist/bloggers defend that practice, however, saying readers understand there’s a different standard at a blog site.

Gina Chen, a veteran journalist, has a list of 10 'journalism rules' you can break on your blog. Some bloggers have adopted their own code of ethics, like this group of blogging food critics, who cite standards on accountability and independence, among other things.

Some traditional news organizations have modified their ethics guidelines or established new policies for staffers who blog, officially or unofficially. The Washington Post blog policy, for example, prohibits "personal opinions...that would not be acceptable in the newspaper." Researcher Martin Kuhn has drawn up a simple blogger code of ethics that's worth having a look at. Meanwhile, here are some other issues to think about when blogging:

Accountability: Blogs have helped news organizations be more transparent. The editor of the Sacramento Bee, for example, often uses her blog to discuss what goes on behind the scenes at the paper and how decisions are made. She includes comments from readers, giving the public a way to hold the news organization accountable for its actions.

Accuracy: Because they are so easy to update, blogs allow for immediate corrections. And the greater interactivity between reporters and readers can mean that mistakes are caught sooner.

Independence: Reporters have to be careful about revealing personal information or expressing opinions on a blog, even a personal site; that could raise questions about their independence. During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, CNN fired a senior producer for expressing views about one of the candidates on a blog that did not identify him as a CNN employee. While Gina Chen says “readers appreciate knowing that journalists have feelings, opinions, lives that shape how they view the world,” she draws the line at opinions on stories she's covering.

Tone: Blogs are typically less formal than news stories, and are often written in first person. Journalists who let their personalities come through on blogs may get a better response from readers, who begin to see them as "real people." But it can be difficult to show a human side while maintaining enough detachment to avoid charges of bias, and too much blog "attitude" may alienate some readers of the core news product.

Image: Morguefile.

This post was originally part of an online course by ICFJ Anywhere, which supports journalists worldwide with free training on a range of topics. Courses are offered in a variety of languages including English, Arabic, Persian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish and French. For the latest ICFJ Anywhere course offerings, click here.

Comments

Legal Rules

I love that you're covering ethical guidelines but there are also legal guidelines for bloggers that most do not know about. For example, in Oct 2009, the FTC revised its guide on testimonials and endorsements to clarify that those rules do indeed apply to bloggers. So for example, if you're writing about a product and you're receiving any kind of material remuneration (sometimes even just free products), bloggers must disclose the material connection and be careful not to make false or unsubstantiated claims. I run a PR agency (Proletariat PR) but I'm also a litigator (previously with WSGR) and I know Lydia Parnes at WSGR knows a lot on this topic if you want more information. -Marina, Proletariat PR