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Hypergene MediaBlog » A citizen's responsibility in media ethics

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Wednesday, 23 Mar 2005

A citizen's responsibility in media ethics

Taran Rampersad has an interesting post called The Role of Ethics In Weblogging on the Media Center’s morph weblog.

"Suddenly there is a simple process to interact with the media, to affect the media and to be a part of the media. Yet being a part of the media is not a responsibility we are used to we are products of a system which created a society that depended on journalistic ethics.

“Like it or not, now we’re all closer to being an active part of the media. We’re ultimately responsible not the individual weblogger. As a society, we’re now being required to clear the cobwebs from our minds and do something extraordinary: Think."

Taran is spot on here. However, many bloggers have ethics as fine as many MSM journalists, despite a lack of “ethics” training. The earliest bloggers and many of the top bloggers today have a code of conduct, an egalitarian spirit and a drive to contribute to the common good. That must be recognized, encouraged and developed by blogosphere and MSM leaders, if we do not want it to be diluted as the blogosphere grows.

In their book, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil talk about the public’s responsibliity and role in keeping journalists (this includes bloggers, not just mainstream gatekeepers), honest in fulfilling their role in keeping a democratic society informed.

”… if the principle that the journalist’s primary allegiance to the citizens is to have meaning. A new relationship between the journalist and the citizen must evolve. Journalists must invite their audience into the process by which they produce the news.”

“The elements of journalism belong to citizens as much as they do to journalists for the simple reason… that theses responsibilities grow out of the function news plays in people’s lives, not out of some professional ethos. In that sense, the elements of journalism are a citizen’s billl of rights as much as they are a journalist’s bill of responsibilities.”

“The citizen has an obligation to approach the news with an open mind and not just a desire that the news reinforce existing opinion,” they write.

from section “Journalists Have a Responsibility to Conscience,” pages 191-193

Professionally and personally, we’ve been in both camps and on both sides of the fence. And in the end, we’re more worried about MSM, because of economic and political interests, than we are about the blogosphere, because of the communal, social, transparent code that is almost built into the system.

What should we do
First, journalists and the media are all too infatuated by the blogosphere. All virtual communities, and the blogosphere is a one, albeit distributed and decentralized, have well-developed methods of establishing trust metrics, ethics and codes of conduct. We should be building on that knowledge, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

Another step toward change would be that books like Elements of Journalism, and the subject of media’s role in a democracy become topics of discussion for Social Studies class in high school or part of a mandatory class in getting a university degree.

Mainstream media journalists should “take pains to make themselves and their work as transparent as they insist on making the people and institutions of power they cover,” say Kovach and Rosenstiel. “This sort of approach is, in effect, the beginning of a new kind of connection between the journalist and the citizen. It is one which individuals in the audience are given a chance to judge the principles by which the journalists do their work.”

This is not happening enough right now. If we expect trickle-down ethics, mainstream media must take the lead. However, it’s more likely that a bottom-up movement such as participatory journalism, devoid of institutional obligation and politics, will lead and force a change in mainstream media ethics.

Also see
When it comes to blogging ethics, several smart folks have already weighed in: Weblog Ethics by Rebecca Blood; and A Bloggers’ Code of Ethics by Jonathan Dube.

In February article for OJR, The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere, J.D. Lasica provides a list of what has evolved as “a loose-knit set of general tenets” in the blogosphere.

Posted on Mar 23, 2005 | 6:13 am EST
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