Saturday, July 10, 2010

Re-Post: A Blogging Code of Ethics

E.S.'s NOTE: This is being re-posted in full, with an edit at the bottom as the good people at were kind enough to grant me permission to post the text of their Bloggers' Code of Ethics. That text is now included in this blog post. I look forward to your thoughts and feedback!

Nation, I was recently having a conversation via Twitter with Brittney LeBlanc, web editor for iNews880, about the role that us "amateur" bloggers play in the blogosphere now that the mainstream media have jumped on the bandwagon, and filled the internet with blog posts written by actual, trained journalists.

This has resulted in a bit of a disconnect, in that when someone applies for accreditation to an event to cover it as a "blogger", the organizers either have to determine if they're an actual trained journalist, a "citizen blogger", or just someone who posts a lot of notes on Facebook who wants to get into an event for free.

Now, first and foremost, I agree with Brittney that the term "citizen blogger" is unwieldy. If we're going to use a separate term for those who write as a hobby (like myself) rather than for a living, I prefer "citizen journalist". I'm not 100% certain, though, that we need to differentiate - ultimately, the issue as far as organizations trying to decide whether or not to accredit blogs boils down to a few simple questions:

  1. Can we trust this writer to be bound by what is factual?
  2. Do we have a recourse if this writer makes something up or misrepresents us in some way?
  3. Do we have something to gain by giving this writer access to our event?

The third question is the easiest to answer: YES. Media accreditation exists because organizations decided that they wanted their events to be reported on, to the masses - but they wanted attendees to know that the person they were talking with was a member of the media. Whether a blog gets 20 hits a day or 20 hits per minute, blogs are an opportunity to get a message out to the masses - and, as just about anyone can possibly HAVE a blog, having the bloggers identify themselves is a good way to ensure that your attendees are, at the very least, aware that what they're saying to an individual wearing the "Blogger" button could end up in "print".

The second question is stickier, because ultimately the answer is "not really". Self-publishing means, by its definition, that you don't have an editor, or a boss. People who pull a paycheque doing this "blogging" thing are VERY few and far between. So, when a blogger chooses to step outside the lines, you don't really a lot of recourse available to you as an organization. If you accredit a "hobby" blogger who steps outside the bounds of the agreed-to rules and, say, posts an unflattering video taken with their iPhone of an attendee, without permission, you can't take it to the blogger's boss. The best you can hope for, short of legal action, is to issue a press release calling on the blogger in question to stop giving their blogging brethren a bad name, and urging them in future to follow the rules before they "ruin it for everyone" (bloggers are notoriously good at policing their own).

Which brings us to the first question... and the answer is a resounding YES! You can read a blogger's work to determine if s/he is a News blog, an Opinion blog, or both - but ultimately, the way to keep a blogger in-line is to threaten the thing that bloggers value most: Their reputation.

Believe me when I say, I don't write for money. If I did... I would have stopped at post 3 or 4. This is number five-hundred-and-twenty-seven. I write to inform, to entertain, to cover issues that matter to me that I feel are underserved by the mainstream media... and because it feels good to know that there are people who give a flying fig what I have to say. It feels good to have people come up to me and say "I really like what you write, you had some good points"... heck, it even feels good to have people come up to me and say "I think you were way off base with that last post you wrote..." - because at least I know they're READING.

The way to keep me in line - the way to keep MOST bloggers in line, I'd wager - is to get us to agree to a universal Bloggers' Code of Ethics. "This is what I said I'd abide by - and if I don't, you can tell the world I'm full of crap".

So, I scoured the web for such proposed Codes... and, after sorting through several that dealt mainly with how to manage comments and discussion on my blog posts, I finally found one that I think can work for bloggers like me, and for organizations wrestling with whether or not to accredit bloggers. They can print it, leave spaces at the bottom to sign, and hold bloggers granted accreditation to the points contained within.

The Code of Ethics that caught my eye was featured on - and I'm posting it below, with their permission.


Be Honest and Fair
Bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Bloggers should:
• Never plagiarize.
• Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
• Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
• Never distort the content of photos without disclosing what has been changed. Image enhancement is only acceptable for for technical clarity. Label montages and photo illustrations.
• Never publish information they know is inaccurate -- and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it's in doubt.
• Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
• Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Minimize Harm
Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect.
Bloggers should:
• Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by Weblog content. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
• Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
• Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance.
• Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy.
• Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes and criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Be Accountable
Bloggers should:
• Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
• Explain each Weblog's mission and invite dialogue with the public over its content and the bloggers' conduct.
• Disclose conflicts of interest, affiliations, activities and personal agendas.
• Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.
• Be wary of sources offering information for favors. When accepting such information, disclose the favors.
• Expose unethical practices of other bloggers.
• Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

There you have it, Nation. Those are the rules I'm willing to conduct this blog under. What other bloggers among you are willing to post this, and commit the same?

Knowing the quality of my fellow bloggers who read this blog... I suspect ALL of you probably will. :)

Prove me right - and then let's get to work on getting blogs accredited. :)