Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Got Ethics?

Several weeks ago I read that the university was sponsoring a free workshop on the ethics of blogging. Thinking that  it sounded interesting, I called and registered, assuming it would be some sort of small local affair. It was to be held at the newly renovated Franklin Hall, an old classroom building on the front campus, which had originated as the university training school back when this was a normal school. It is now the headquarters for the journalism department and I was anxious to see what it looks like. Years ago I had taught a class there in the Experimental College.

When I entered the building there were a number of young, fashionably dressed young women who directed me to the third floor. When I got there I realized that this was not going to be some small event. There was the typical registration desk with name tags and binders for the participants, plus a table full of Danish rolls, bagels and choice of beverage. We were ushered into this huge, new, high tech auditorium, with computer connections built into the tables and three enormous screens up front. Quite a few participants were already twittering away on their laptops. There were people there from all the major newspapers, both local and national. A young woman sitting next to me was from the Chicago Tribune, where she runs a blog on racial issues. 

The opening panel consisted of heads of journalism departments from various universities around the country and journalists and editors and a couple of heavy hitting bloggers not connected with newspapers or universities. I wondered what I was doing there, but decided to stay anyway. I mean, there was a free lunch.

The focus of the workshop was to explore the impact of blogging on the print media and to examine what kinds of ethical considerations might or should be adopted in what is basically a form of citizen journalism, a really "free" press. Journalists do have restrictions in the form of codes of what is acceptable or ethical, e.g., conflict of interest in coverage,  neutrality, transparency, and accountability, etc. in "straight" reporting of news. (They did not discuss editorial content in relation to this code.) Journalists are also required to back up their stories with reliable sources.One panelist, Jay Rosen from NYU, said that the advent of the internet and blogging has caused a real revolution in that the means of production have now changed hands. He quoted A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."  Rosen also said that press "tools" are now in the hands of the people through video, audio and the computer. High tech note: when he came to a certain spot in his presentation, he also appeared simultaneously on one of the big screens in a pre-recored image speaking at the same time to emphasize what he was saying. It was a very "Wizard of Oz" moment. He also quoted Roland Barth: "One writes to be loved." I like that.

The newspapers represented also have bloggers on their staffs and there were a few of them discussing what they did and how they combined their blogging ethics with their professional journalist's codes. I did question one guy's use of Shirley McClain as a reliable source when he used, as an example of blogging's advantage of immediacy, to brag about being the first to break the story of Dennis Kucinich having told McClain that he had seen UFOs. I liked Jay Rosen's definition of ethics: "Rules of practice that lead to trust." I'm not sure I trust Shirley McClain.

All in all, it was an interesting day, especially now when the print medium is in a state of such flux. Both the local daily papers that  I read are making some pretty drastic cuts right now, dropping staff, minimizing sections, cutting features. Most cities now have only one newspaper,  and they are using their own blogs to "scoop" themselves, with the risk of making mistakes, which happened recently to one of the area newspapers when their blog reported the death of a well known resident who was gravely ill but still alive. Because the internet is so vast, the report went out nationally, causing dismay to those who knew the person and embarrassment to the paper. It used to be that people believed something to be true if it was in the paper and now the same holds true if it's on the internet. Retraction is possible, or course, but doesn't always work. How many people still believe that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet? Even one of the panelists at the this conference made an joking reference when discussing the internet. Everyone needs ethics in print or in person, I guess.

1 comment:

Luckybear said...

I just wanted to let you know that I stop in now again to read your blog, but haven't left a comment. I really enjoy reading your entries - they are a breath of fresh air and always interesting.

BTW - I found my way here via your quilting friend near Philly, although I don't know her either!