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Armchair BEA 2013: On Ethics

Armchair BEA 2013: On Ethics post image

Today’s blogger development topic for Armchair BEA is ethics:

We get back into discussions on Friday with the heavy topic of ethics. Do you have recommendations to new bloggers to ensure credit is given to whom/where credit is due? Have you had an experience with plagiarism? How did you deal with it? What are the guidelines as bloggers that we must follow?

Blogging ethics is actually a topic that I care a lot about. I spent a lot of time in grad school learning about journalism ethics, and did some exploring about how online ethics are both different and the same as the codes of ethics that journalists agree to follow.

Last May, I participated in a blog tour with several other bloggers to talk about ethics, practices and politics of book blogging. For the tour, I wrote a post about objectivity and transparency online and how I think those two terms can be confused. There’s this idea that people who write reviews should be “objective,” which I personally don’t think makes sense. Instead, I think it makes more sense for bloggers to be transparent — being open about personal biases or potential conflicts as a way of building a relationship with readers. Basically, it’s just being honest.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m just going to share a section of that post that includes my suggestions for ways to be more transparent in your blogging:

How Can I Be More Transparent?

Being transparent can cover a lot of ground — everything from how you approach reviews to what information you decide to share about yourself to the decisions you make about whether or not to try and make money from your writing. These are some of my personal and collected tips about how to incorporate transparency into your blogging. I welcome more suggestions, and even disagreement, on these ideas!

Link, link, link! (Or, cite your sources). It’s better to over reference your sources than it is to under reference them. Even if you aren’t quoting a source directly, anything that helped inspire or influence your thoughts on a topic needs to be linked to, somewhere (even if it’s just at the end in a “Sources Referenced” section. It seems to me that most recent plagiarism controversies are a result of poorly citing sources.

Share information about yourself on an About Me page. You don’t have to share everything, but a reader should be able to go to an About Me page on your blog and learn a little bit about you and your perspective on the world.

Disclose your relationships. I think its generally become common practice for bloggers to have some sort of disclosure statement on reviews for books they received for review consideration from publishers. If you don’t do that… you should. (It’s a good transparency practice and it’s required by the FTC Guides mentioned above).

Other disclosures are equally important, but I don’t think get as much attention. If you’re friends with an author, you should disclose that if you decide to review their book. If you’ve been paid to mention something (or, if you get a bonus for doing so… a free book, whatever), you should disclose that. This is a pet peeve of mine; I see bloggers involved with giveaways and promotions ALL THE TIME, and there aren’t always notes about what the blogger gets in return. If a post is sponsored or you get a perk for running it, that should be very, very clear.

Basically, disclose anything that others could perceive as influencing your thoughts on a book (or product, or whatever).

Distinguish original content with paid content. This goes hand in hand with previous suggestion — it should be crystal clear what kind of content a reader is coming to when they arrive at a new post.

Be accountable. Admit your mistakes. Don’t give favored treatment to any special interests, and don’t let outsiders impact your content decisions. Disclose any favors you’ve received from outside sources if you write about them or something you’re connected to. And expose unethical practices (without being vicious) when you discover them. (Thanks to Cyberjournalist.net for these ideas).

Make a note when you change something important in a post. If you put up a post and realize you’ve made a significant mistake, or something isn’t worded the way you’d like, make sure the correction is clear. It’s poor practice to edit a post after it’s live without mentioning you’ve made a change. It makes readers feel like they’ve been tricked, and readers commenting won’t know what “version” of the post other readers are referencing. Use strike-throughs or lines that say “EDITED TO ADD” or something to distinguish changes.

When in doubt, admit what you don’t know. If you remember reading an article that sparked an idea for you, but you can’t find it… just admit that. A simple, “This isn’t originally my idea; I found it online but I didn’t save the link… can anyone help?” could save you worlds of trouble. If someone gets you the link, update the post to add it — problem solved!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Charlie May 31, 2013, 7:17 am

    This is great advice, Kim! Transparency can be difficult to get right on the Internet, depending on what you’re saying, but it is important to be honest. I’ve struggled with the relationships part before – not in disclosing it exactly, but in how to disclose it, for example for a review of a book by someone you’ve met.

    • Kim June 2, 2013, 10:36 am

      I struggle with that one too — just meeting someone casually doesn’t feel like a big deal to me, but it also feels strange not to mention it. I don’t review books by people I consider friends or even mention it unless there’s a bit disclosure included.

  • Katie May 31, 2013, 8:49 am

    Awesome. Lots of good, practical, realistic advice.

    • Kim June 2, 2013, 10:37 am

      Thanks! I hope it’s helpful.

  • Sandy @ Somewhere Only We Know May 31, 2013, 6:49 pm

    Great post on tips and tricks. I haven’t really thought about there being a difference in being transparent. I’ve kind of said this one several comments today, but while I do list a “source” on my reviews (i.e. bought this for my personal library, provided by the publisher via NetGalley, or Kindle Freebie)…I don’t understand how not paying for a book would possibly influence me to have a better opinion of it. Maybe that’s just my personality and as I still…I do disclose it, but it doesn’t really make sense to me either.

    • Kim June 2, 2013, 10:39 am

      Yeah, I feel the same way about it. Once a book is in my hands and I’m reading it, where I got it (or what I did or didn’t pay for it) doesn’t really make a difference to me.

      That said, I have felt awkward when I know an author knows I’m reading their book and I’m going to review it (especially if I didn’t like it). I hope that it doesn’t affect how I write my review, but I think realistically it probably does in some small way. I’m still not sure how to handle that situation.

  • Julie S. June 1, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Those are some really great tips. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Kim June 2, 2013, 10:39 am

      Thanks for stopping by!