Martha Sperry of the Advocate’s Studio writes:
Yesterday, I read something that riled me up. A tech blog post with an inflammatory title designed to ensure click-through and “opinionated” content marginally “based” on “facts” with an equally inflammatory bent. On a well-respected and highly viewed tech blog.
She goes on to note that this kind of pandering to increase clicks is not without harm:
I surely don’t begrudge anyone their income opportunities, as long as they are not hurting anyone in the process. Are these manipulators hurting anyone here? Umm, yes! Whether they choose to be or not, bloggers populate the new wave of journalism.
She goes on to point out that professional journalists adhere to a code of ethics, which includes ideas like: be honest, avoid misrepresentation, distinguish news from analysis and commentary, and keep advertising distinct from news. This last certainly raises questions about paid reviews in blogs and other similar ventures.
I understand her point that as traditional news sources fade in importance, alternative sources of news and analysis – like bloggers – have a greater ethical responsibility to take their place. But bloggers are far more varied that journalists, so perhaps it is unfair to expect all bloggers to adhere to such a standard?
Personally, I feel the current newspaper troubles are temporary, although what will emerge out of it may be nothing like current newspapers. Situational, economic and technological changes often cause extensive disruption to entrenched industry, but eventually new business models emerge, even if old players are replaced by new ones. I believe this is what will occur with journalism, but it may take time.
Meanwhile, bloggers who maintain high standards of ethics have the potential to contribute for the benefit of us all. How can one translate the traditional code of journalist ethics into blogging terms? Cyber Journalist has a proposal that makes sense, and I recommend you read and consider it.
But how can we tell which bloggers uphold high standards of ethics? In the traditional world of journalism, newspapers had a reputation to maintain such that failing their readers could bankrupt them. Of course, an alternative business model is to specialize in not honestly seeking to inform readers – but most such “news” sources are well known for this. (Very unfortunately, even as obvious as these may be to informed individuals, some members of the public are nonetheless easily confused.) But nevertheless, there are a limited number of such sources, and over time it becomes possible to sort them out and keep track of reputations.
In blogging, sources come and go quickly. Anyone can set up a blog. Anyone can write and be read. Potentially, this rapidity better allows for quick market decisions that separate the “good” from the “bad” sources – so perhaps ethical bloggers will simply rise to the top.
The market (and the public) often needs help with this sifting, though, so hopefully reputation-ranking and publication services of some kind – ”hopefully based on more than simply number of readers (as many crowdsourcing approaches currently do) – ”will emerge to assist.
Sperry has more about how this might apply to legal bloggers specifically (who she suggests likely already adhere to higher standard, due to the greater importance of their reputations to their businesses). She also suggests you leave the “wild assertions and crazy opinions” for social media (like Twitter) or cocktail parties. I might go just a bit farther, given the permanence of online speech, and suggest you stick to the cocktail parties, but otherwise, I second her advice.
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