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The Sunday Salon: Some Scholars on Blogging/Journalism Ethics

The Sunday Salon.comI didn’t get much reading done this week, which is too bad because I got two books from inter-library loan (The Magicians by Lev Grossman and Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt) that I only have 14 days to read! Gah!

Instead of reading, I’ve been working on a mid-term paper about the ethics of objectivity and transparency for bloggers. It’s a short-ish paper, but it’s leading to a much longer paper that’s going to look at these issues for book bloggers in context of the FTC disclosure guidelines. Don’t worry, I’ll be sharing a lot more about that soon.

During all my reading and research, I came across a number of quotes about the relationship between bloggers and journalists that I thought I could share and see what you all think. This first one is from page 133 of  Cecelia Friend and Jane B. Singer’s 2007 book Online Journalism Ethics:

So are bloggers journalists, and are their ethics interchangeable? No, they are different – but complementary rather than contradictory. Indeed, the relationship can best be described as symbiotic. Interconnected blogs and their readers form a community that discusses, dissects, and extends the stories created y mainstream media, as well as producing its own commentary, fact-checking, and grassroots reporting. The mainstream media in turn feed upon this material, developing it as a pool of tips, sources, and story ideas – not to mention bringing blogs and the issues raised by bloggers to the public’s attention by covering it as newsworthy.

I really like that summary of the relationship between bloggers and mainstream journalism, but that might just be because it’s complimentary to both groups and I consider myself to be part of both groups. What do you think of it?

Another study I read (“Interactivity and Prioritizing the Human: A Code of Blogging Ethics” by Martin Kuhn) surveyed 30 mainstream political bloggers to see how they felt about ethics and issues of transparency and accountability. The study asked who bloggers considered to be the stakeholders in their blogging, and found:

When bloggers considered their own blog, they did not discuss effects outside of their immediate social circles. However, when discussing blogs in the aggregate, bloggers framed blogs as vehicles for social change, a challenge to our mainstream media, and tools that can be leveraged for political and social gain. Thus, the primary stakeholder in a functioning blogosphere, one that fosters authentic human communication, group formation, and community building, is no less than society itself. Viewed from this perspective, bloggers have a duty to be socially responsible, similar to that of communicators in the traditional media, which can be operationalized by honoring a duty to prioritize the human and interactivity in blogging.

Basically, all that’s arguing is that bloggers can’t get away with thinking of their blogs as a singular entity, not tied to any other groups or communities or without consequences. If blogs as a whole are impacting mainstream journalism and society at large, then I think this quote suggests there needs to be some sort of larger ethic or set of ethics at work as bloggers join the conversation.

But there are many, many logistical and philosophical questions that go into the idea of creating a blogging code of ethics. Is it needed? Does a code go against how blogging works and is designed? Who is responsible for creating and/or enforcing a code of ethics? And would a blogging code of ethics look the same or different from the codes of ethics already in place for mainstream journalists?

I’ve really no idea, but since I’m writing a paper (or, at this moment avoiding a paper) on some of those issues I suppose I should come up with something 🙂

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michelle March 7, 2010, 6:59 pm

    Wow. Ethics and blogging. I have been accused of being naive more than once in my life, but I am inclined to believe that because a blog is intensely personal and filled with opinions from the blogger no code of ethics is required. A person reading a blog should never consider the information contained on it to be the gospel truth because it would be like quoting personal diaries as fact. Similarly, bloggers should not be confined to a set of rules because that, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of blogging. Again, it would be like restricting what a person can or cannot say in their personal diaries.

    I personally feel that while blogging has gained attention and popularity, to consider it a mainstream form of information may be giving it more power than it deserves. Yes, it is nice to be taken seriously by publishers and publicists, but at the same rate, why are they coming to us? It is not because we are awesome writers ourselves, but because we can generate buzz. Therein, our power lies in our voice, not necessarily in what we say. A code of ethics would hamper that voice, silencing a community in such a way that prevents them from doing exactly what made them popular/powerful in the first place.

    Anyway, these are my initial thoughts. Have you had a chance to think it over yet and formulate your own opinions? What do you think?

    • Kim March 9, 2010, 1:18 pm

      Michelle: That’s definitely one school of thought on blogging ethics — that blog ethics are personal for each person and blog. The issue, I think, is that as blogs become more mainstream people do take what’s posted on blogs as fact. Not necessarily book blogs, but news blogs or politics blogs, certainly. But because there’s no sort of institutional ethics, blogs sort of do whatever.

      But I agree — a blogs power comes from the voice and personality of the author, and unnecessarily restricting that threatens what is so great about blogs in the first place. That’s why it’s so tricky!

  • Gwen March 7, 2010, 7:45 pm

    I think that problems arise because there are so many levels to blogs and bloggers. There are those that do it as part of a business, those that do it as a mini business for hobby income, and then those that do it simply for personal reasons. (That is simplifying the levels a lot) There almost needs to be a different set of ethics for each level.

    • Kim March 9, 2010, 1:20 pm

      Gwen: I tend to agree with that. Blogs serve different purposes and have different goals, so any sets of ethics would have to acknowledge those goals. A few people who have tried to write blogging codes of ethics just basically took journalism ethics and applied them to blogs. That doesn’t work because it assumes all blogs have the same goals as news organizations (which simply isn’t true!). So you’re right — however you divide up blogs (levels, goals, purpose), there have to be different ways to think about ethics.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 7, 2010, 8:28 pm

    I really like the first quote, too, and I do agree with what it says. Good luck with your paper!

    • Kim March 9, 2010, 1:21 pm

      bermudaonion: It’s fun to run across scholars who get that there are good things from bloggers and journalists, and that there are connected relationships for both.

  • Jenny March 7, 2010, 8:42 pm

    Interlibrary-borrowed books always stress me out. I always think I want them so much, and then when I get them, I have to rush myself to get them read by the due date.

    • Kim March 9, 2010, 1:21 pm

      Jenny: I finished The Magicians yesterday, so I just have the much shorter book to finish by Tuesday. I hope I can do it!

  • Valerie March 8, 2010, 4:44 pm

    Who knew that there is research on bloggers! I guess blogging is bigger than I realized (if that makes sense). However, there is a wide range of blogs — from those who blog about politics (and may have a large audience) to those who blog about their kids (and may have a small audience). I look forward to what you share from your findings.

    • Kim March 9, 2010, 1:22 pm

      Valerie: It is funny to read research on blogs because I am a blogger, so I come at it with a different perspective than some other people. But you’re right — the huge range of blogs and types of bloggers makes it hard to make any generalizations about it.

  • Mel u March 13, 2010, 10:45 pm

    Blogging is about freedom-the freedom to express your thoughts-if you have a hidden motive-so be it-I do not see any committee of book bloggers as qualified to formulate a code of ethics-as to the FTC issue-of course that only effects USA book bloggers not Asian based bloggers like myself-if you read a blog and you feel the bloggers is somehow not acting in accord with your notion of ethics just ignore him-

    • Kim March 15, 2010, 3:42 pm

      Mel u: That’s definitely one school of thought on the issue, and one I tend to agree with. The beauty of blogging is the variety of views, which lots of regulations might squish.