Monday, January 30, 2006

Journalism and Publishing Ethics

I realize that blogging doesn't necessarily equate to Journalism, and that the debate will rage on. However, online journalists and bloggers should at least consider the standards set out in the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Code. I quote from an article by J.D. Lasica in the Online Journalism Review site:

"Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money."

You could make an argument that Journalists should be well paid, so they might be less susceptible to bribes, but for those who would be corrupted there is usually never enough of the green stuff to deter them from taking more. If an organization, or commercial entity said they would be willing to pay for the privilege of posting content to your web site or blog on the condition that they had complete editorial control how would you respond? Would you sign the contract whether or not you agreed with their view point or philosophy? How do you protect a journalist or blogger from threats and extortion, as these actions may be more effective and more widely used than the use of favors or bribes? How many publishers would be willing to admit that they were intimidated into retracting or altering a story? For these reasons we shouldn't pass negative judgement on sites simply because they function under some degree of anonymity unless they are publishing obscene or illegal material. Anonymity can serve the important purpose of whistle blowing when the consequences of exposing an injustice within a corporation or government can be severe. Of course if you prefer anonymity, then you shouldn't abuse the right by posting silly rants and flames simply because you have no fear of repercussion. This raises the question whether anyone is truly anonymous on the web? Judging by the information collected by various search engines, and government attempts to obtain it, the answer would seem to be no unless you use one of the many services that will enable anonymous surfing through proxy servers. Web site publishers would not have similar anonymity, especially if they use registered domains, so they should be willing to stand by their content.

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