Friday, January 16, 2009

Online, have rules of journalism ethics changed?

A new post by Robert Miles on OJR.org analyzes the challenges print journalists face as they transition to the web -- specifically with regard to the assumptions they make regarding ethics and procedure.

The practice of journalism is an act of service. But if we are going to be able to continue to serve our audience, we will need to change some of the conventions and assumptions we've brought to our practice if they now stand in the way of our ability to serve. What good are conventions designed a generation ago to protected our public image if following them today leaves us with a shrinking audience and no advertisers to support us?

Miles takes three popular tenets of traditional journalism ethics that he believes journalists must change in order to remain relevant online:

  • Old rule: You can't cover something in which you are personally involved.
  • New rule: Tell your readers how you are involved and how that's shaped your reporting.

  • Old rule: You must present all sides of a story, being fair to each.
  • New rule: Report the truth and debunk the lies.

  • Old rule: There must be a wall between advertising and editorial.
  • New rule: Sell ads into ad space and report news in editorial space. And make sure to show the reader the difference.

It's clear that the op/ed beginnings of the blogosphere have affected journalism, and the debate's out as to whether that's for good or not. But writing standards and news cycles aside, it's clearly forced journalists to reconsider the rigid rules they were taught on the job or in school -- which I applaud. The old adage is, "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." So why do we take journalism's rules on face value?

With consideration to skepticism, why aren't we questioning our very journalism education?

Above, Miles clearly isn't suggesting that journalists change their core beliefs; rather, he's redefining how journalists can best empower readers with valid information. And I think we ought not follow journalism's rules with such religious fervor so much as follow journalism's intentions -- purpose, really -- with that same energy.

2 comments:

Jacqueline said...

Honestly, I don't think our journalism education is adequate. I understand that journalism is like a vocation, requiring more in-the-field experience than coursework, but, is it really necessary to watch Gangs of New York for six class periods straight? That's just one example. I just see that many schools kind of throw communications and journalism to the wayside, like it's a silly degree. And that's sad.

On the Money said...

This is a well-observed post.

On a slightly different tack, I bought and read today's Observer newspaper and found myself "surfing" it like I would a website or blog ... And the self-importance of some columnisgts was breathtaking ... especially when you've read quality stuff online ...