Ethics meet ethics

Ethics meet ethics

: Some of us have been looking at this ethics question the wrong way: The starting point is not to impose a code of ethics on a medium but instead to understand the ethic of the medium — and its community — as it exists: What are bloggers already telling us about their ethic?

I sat down last night and started trying to list what I think is the ethic of blogging and the ethic of journalism. It was a lot easier to come up with the list for blogging. And, no, that’s not a snarky straight line; it probably just means that the ethic of blogging is newer and still clear, less muddied by time and mistakes and seminars … or that I feel greater affinity to this new medium; my transformation from mediaman to blogboy is complete.

Note very importantly that I believe old media has more to learn about these ethics than new media has to learn from old.

Let’s start with the bloggers’ ethic. This is repetitive in places; if I were writing a mission statement, I’d consolidate points. But instead, I’m trying to capture a catalogue. And please join in with comments, additions, deletions and tell me whether I’m on the right track here:

: The ethic of transparency: We believe that our public deserves to know about us and our perspective to better judge what we say.

: The ethic of conversation: We do not believe in one-sided lectures. We believe conversation leads to better understanding.

: The ethic of humanity: We believe this medium lives at a human level while old media lives at an institutional level.

: The ethic of the link: We believe one of our key jobs is to link our public to other voices and to source material so they may judge themselves.

: The ethic of correction: We believe it is vital to correct errors quickly and openly.

: The ethic of immediacy: We believe that the fast spread of information is will yield better information.

Now turn to the ethics of journalism. Dan Gillmor has a good list:





I think that’s a good list. But it’s a different list. Note importantly that Dan did not include Objectivity; he says it’s time to give up on that pipe dream and I think he’s right so long as the other ethics are followed. In an email exchange with Dan, Bill Mitchell, a participant in tomorrow’s confab, adds one more:


: Ernie Miller in the comments says correctly that it is all about the ethic of honesty.

: Also in the comments, Andrew Tyndall adds service and accountability to the list for journalism.

  • Although there is overlap with some of the principles already noted, I do think that, for both journalism and blogging, honesty/personal integrity should be core values. Yes, we need transparency, but transparency in the service of honesty.

  • praktike

    Two questions, in light of this list:
    a) Who is correct on the facts about Iraqi history, Cole or Ali?
    b) Why didn’t you link to Kos’ response when you posted Suellentrop’s allegations?

  • /pd

    I use this as my code of ethics for blogging..
    * I will tell the truth.
    * I will write deliberately and with accuracy.
    * I will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.
    * I will preserve the original post, using notations to show where I have made changes so as to maintain the integrity of my publishing.
    * I will never delete a post.
    * I will not delete comments unless they are spam or off-topic.
    * I will reply to emails and comments when appropriate, and do so promptly.
    * I will strive for high quality with every post

  • I think the issue is generally overblown, particularly regarding bloggers. Some bloggers do want a bully pulpit, rather than a conversation – and that’s not necessarily wrong.
    At the risk of sounding like a libertarian, I truly believe the market witll make it’s decicisions without any formal codes. Because blogging is a medium explicitly built on trust (whereas MSM is only peripherally engaged in trust – otherwise they wouldn’t need to claim “x is the most trusted newscaster”) trusted blogs will get more hits.
    While it might be fun and nice to create a “trust index” or series of them, it’s less about external validation than the one reader/one writer dynamic.

  • The ethic of journalism also includes elements of Service and Accountability.
    Journalists put the interests of their audience first. They work in the Service of their audience and are held Accountable for their product by them.
    All journalistic decisions are made, at root, by asking the question “What is it good for my audience to find out about?”
    Following from this core question come journalistic duties such as accuracy, clarity, inquiry, well-roundedness, proportion, context and so on. These virtues derive naturally from this first requirement–always consulting the interests of one’s audience first.
    Bloggers can write journalistically if they choose but they have no duty to do so.
    Bloggers may decide to put their own interests before those of their readers–in which case we end up reading a diarist or a propagandist or a novelist.
    But not a journalist.

  • Praktike: You’re absolutely right that I should link to Kos’ reply; I did not see it; thanks for pushing me to find it. Link is now up on that post.

  • praktike


  • Michael Zimmer

    What about the ethic of including a privacy policy for a blog: Does one’s blog collect IP addresses? Are commentors’ e-mails harvested? Sold? Does it utilize cookies? Third-party cookies?

  • Praktike: You’re absolutely right that I should link to Kos’ reply; I did not see it; thanks for pushing me to find it. Link is now up on that post.
    Jeff, did you look at the date on the Sullentrop piece?
    by the time you linked to it, it had already been extensively discussed (and effectively rebutted) all over the place.
    Sullentrop did a thoroughly crappy job of reporting—he didn’t even try to contact Kos—and extrapolated from Teachout’s comments about “other clients” to say that Kos took money from clients that he endorsed on his website.
    (not that I blame him for inferring that from Teachout’s post—it was clearly her intent to imply what Sullentrop inferred. But a real reporter fact checks these kinds of things….and a good blogger keeps up with these kinds of issues, and doesn’t spread bad reporting days after it has happened and been rebutted.)

  • First a quibble that a lot of what’s been outlined here so far isn’t really about ethics. With respect to immediacy, for example: It isn’t unethical to be slow, unless you are deliberately slow in an effort to stop the spread of unwelcome facts. Sounds more like standards and practices rather than ethics under discussion here.
    Now a serious point, with respect to the ethic of linking: What responsibility do bloggers have for the links they make? Reporters are expected to make at least some effort to check the bona fides and accuracy of people they quote. Do bloggers have a similar obligation to check out people they link to?

  • david…
    this is not original with me (atrios is the source), but the general rule is that if you link to it, you “own” it (unless you disown it as you link to it.) There is also a corrallary–your ownership “stake” is in inverse proportion to the publicly assumed credibility of the source. In other words, if you link to the New York Times as the source of your facts, you aren’t held responsible if the Times article is wrong. If you link to a site that no one has ever heard of as the source of your facts, you are responsible (to your readers) for making sure that those “facts” are facts.

  • Angus Jung

    “atrios is the source”

  • Paul, thanks. That’s helpful.