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Arment Dietrich

Redefining Journalism Ethics to Incorporate Social Media

By: Arment Dietrich | April 9, 2008 | 
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Blog written by Liz Pope

While social media becomes more prevalent among traditional newspaper reporters, a code of journalism ethics needs to be redefined to include bloggers.

As proof of this increasing trend from traditional to social media, PRWeek/PR Newswire recently released the following statistics in their 2008 Media Survey:

·         Nearly half of traditional journalists blog on their own personal blog or for their publication.

·         Nearly two-thirds of journalists surveyed anticipate print circulation declines and an increase in Web focus at their publications during the next three years.

·         More than 40 percent of journalists expect a shift in staffing from print to online.

Journalists no longer just include those working in traditional media, such as the newspaper reporters and editors, television news broadcasters, and journalist-photographers. They now include a new and unique sub-group: bloggers.

Arguably, because bloggers fall under the category of journalists, they should be held to the same ethical standards as journalists. In public relations, we follow a code of ethics that denotes transparency in everything we do, which means fighting destructive spin. Journalists have their own ethical code advocating objectivity and the avoidance of any kind of slander or libel.

As journalists, bloggers should not have the option to post anonymously. Anonymous speech often indicates libel. In order to identify as a credible source, bloggers must post their name and take social responsibility for everything they write. Very rarely, and only under extreme circumstances, will you see an anonymous byline or an anonymous source in major publications. In fact, the New York Times was burned several years ago for reporter Judith Miller’s usage of anonymous sources. Miller was jailed for refusing to testify in front of a federal grand jury regarding a leak naming Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent by Miller’s anonymous source I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. This example, as well as many others, has led to the rejection of anonymous sources in journalism.

Here are several examples taken from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that should apply to both bloggers and journalists alike:

·         Test information for accuracy from all sources. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

·         Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to all allegations of wrongdoing.

·         Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.

·         Make certain that headlines, news teases, and promotional material do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

·         Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

·         Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

·         Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

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