Honor Among Bloggers

A Soap Box.
Image by MonsieurLui via Flickr

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.  The post was dressed up like a “tech” review, but in reality served as a “hot poker” to get readers to hit it and come back repeatedly to check the comments for more outrageousness. The blog author kept the craziness going by answering challenges in the comments with additional “facts” he failed to mention in the original post.

This post reminded me of a similar post that I read last fall – another in which the writing was clearly designed to encourage readers to enter the fray and even post comments in outrage because of the over-the-top nature of the post and its equally poor writing.

I am not going to link to the post here, because I am not interested in encouraging more “hits” on it and in rewarding the writer for a job poorly done. One reason that bloggers engage in such tactics is to inflate hits and statistics, measures which affect revenues for a blog that relies on hits and clicks to increase its income.

I surely don’t begrudge anyone their income opportunities, as long as they are not hurting anyone in the process. Are these manipulaters hurting anyone here? Umm, yes!  Whether they choose to be or not, bloggers populate the new wave of journalism. The advent of blogging has dramatically changed the way in which people receive their “news.” Blogging has changed the face of traditional news outlets. More and more readers have shifted reliance on traditional news outlets to bloggers for cutting-edge information, particularly on cutting-edge topics.When readers believe they are receiving quality and are instead fed drivel, it breaches reasonable expectations of validity, bringing our profession down in the process.

Journalists adhere to a code of ethics, through the Society of Professional Journalists. I thought I might quote some of it here:

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

*   *   *

— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations 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.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

There are reasons for ethical codes. When people perceive that a practice has the power to harm, they rightly craft a set of “rules” to ensure protection of those who could be subject to the foul play that misuse of power can wreak. Lawyers have a code of ethics. Journalists have a code of ethics. Cyber Journalist has proposed a blogger code of ethics as well. The admonitions make sense. Here is the proposed Code in its entireity:

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.

Legal bloggers may already be sensitive to many of these concerns. Their reasons for blogging differ from those bloggers who make their money from hits and click-throughs. Legal bloggers undertake blogging to showcase their expertise, make connections and earn trust and respect from peers and clients. I would imagine  (and hope) that the incidence of “sensational” headlines and outrageous assertions would be either zero or none on law blogs. I only wish that such irresponsible conduct could be limited to blogs that pander to the National Enquirer crowd – far away from blogs that profess to provide valid news and reviews on tech matters or other professional subjects.

Reserve wild assertions and crazy opinions for the cocktail party or Twitter, Friendfeed or any of the social media outlets where they clearly will be viewed as opinion. Remember your footprint when you blog and, hopefully, your content will add to the blogosphere, rather than detract from it.

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5 comments on “Honor Among Bloggers

  1. Great analysis Martha. While there is always room for opinion, mere inflammatory writing for the purpose of drawing fire seems out of bounds. However, thus is the price of free speech and I don’t want to curtail it (I know that is not where this is going, I, as an attorney, felt the need to get a “disclaimer” in here)

  2. I completely agree, Chris. I wouldn’t dream of slapping any more regulation on blogging speech than we already do in other contexts. I simply don’t appreciate the shoddy work and intentionally inflammatory tactics I occasionally see on blogs that hold themselves out as being “authorities.” As one of the people I follow so eleoquently put it today on Twitter: save that sort of drivel for the tabloids!



  3. Pingback: Five Blogs Under the Radar: May 2009 Edition | Guilda Blog

  4. Pingback: Journalism and Ethical Blogging :: in propria persona

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