Notes for blogging ethics panel

Amy Gahran
The Blogworld Expo lounge, wifi included.

I’ve been writing a fair amount lately about blogging ethics, and it’s all been in preparation for my panel today. Here’s some food for thought from my panelists:

Toby Bloomberg recently did an excellent podcast exploring Astroturfing: Grassroots Sleaze

Graydancer has written some thoughtful posts on respecting privacy, and on setting a responsible example in public behavior.

Josh Lasser writes: “The biggest ethical issue I have come across happened when I attended a trip to New Orleans which was sponsored by Fox to promote their new show, K-Ville (we were there to interview the creator and attend red carpet/premiere party). One of the other bloggers related a story to the rest of us about writing a negative piece about a show, and getting cut off from getting screeners from that network. The group was split as to whether or not this was acceptable. It certainly wouldn’t have happened if this “blogger” was seen as real press, but because they were not, some of the group felt that it was okay for them to be instantly cut off. I found this to be a true ethical dilemma. What is the duty of the blogger to the people providing them with review material (of any type, not just television shows)? If they can be instantly cut off from material and the life blood of their blog, they cannot succeed. However, if they only provide positive reviews, how valid are they? But, on the other hand, if the person giving the material feels as though they’re not being given a fair chance, ought they have the right to cut off the source”

Charlotte-Anne Lucas has written several posts about ethics, which “That include the back and forth about my being plagiarized by the Buc-ee’s blog. This example involves journalism ethics and shows blogging ethics and how to handle ethical dilemmas in blogs. (you can also get to the post by clicking on the Buc-ee’s tag).

She also notes, “I would also love to discuss corrections and transparency — both huge issues at online news organizations and in blogs. We’ve had lots of conversations about that in my journalism/blogging classes, and it was a major league difference between TheStreet.com and MarketWatch in the startup days. (I was a managing editor at TheStreet.com and we had blogs on the site back in 2000.”

And for me? Recently over on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits I’ve covered a couple of intriguing ethical issues about the clash between journalism and blogging ethics (which led to one Ohio blogger getting fired and the subsequent collapse of a group political blog), and on privacy. And on Contentious, I recently found myself wrangling with a minor ethical issue about how to handle blogging a bad experience with a business.

OK, and now I’m off to Blogworld! I’ll be posting more about the conference later.

Boiling down blogging ethics: What would YOU do?

Rileyroxx, via Flickr (CC license)
Some decisions are harder than others.

Tomorrow I head off to Las Vegas for Blogworld Expo, where on Thursday morning I’m leading a large panel on blogging ethics.

I’ve gotta admit, normally I don’t give panel topics as much thought as I’ve been giving this one. But lately, questions of publishing ethics (in blogging and journalism) have been leaping out of me from almost everywhere. Some kind of cosmic confluence, I guess.

I first tried to sort out the core ethical issues for blogging on Oct. 29 — but not very well, I think.

So, after mulling it over for a while, here’s my second shot — and it’s the framework I’ll use in leading this panel.

Ethics, like blogs, are not one-size-fits-all. Ethics are a personal and sometimes group affair that can vary to suit different types of blogs, bloggers, and communities. The point of ethics is not just to be “right,” but to use consistent criteria for decisionmaking to promote the collective good — a very subjective goal.

Also, ethics are separate from laws and regulations. We’ve all seen cases when the ethical thing to do is to obey the law (such as respecting copyright, refraining from libel, etc.) — as well as cases where laws clash with people’s sense of what’s right.

In practice, ethics usually don’t seem like a big deal. The vast majority of ethical decisions mostly involve mundane, small situations, not extreme crises. However, being conscious of the ethics you choose and applying them to small stuff can help you make better choices and be more confident during blogging crises. Also, ethical considerations sometimes pile up and conflict — so being conscious of your own ethics can help you determine what’s most important.

It seems to me that there are six core areas where bloggers tend to encounter ethical decision points. Below are some questions intended to illuminate your personal blogging ethics in each of these areas.

Where do you stand? What do you expect from yourself and the community around your blog, and from other bloggers and communities? Consider these points…

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My Blogging Ethics Panel Expands

In just under a week, on Nov. 8, I’ll be leading what may be the biggest panel (at least numerically) at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas. The topic is Blogging Ethics. If you’re attending, it’s part of the “Advanced Track” in room S220 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, 10:15-11:45 am.

A couple of days ago I invited Contentious readers to help me brainstorm on this topic. So far, no takers — but really, I could use your help.

Originally the panel was to include four brilliant people and myself. I’ve been fortunate to add two more luminaries to the lineup: Lynne d Johnson (senior editor, FastCompany.com) and Josh Lasser (TV section editor, Blogcritics Magazine).

I tried to check the BlogWorld Expo speakers page to make sure all my panelists are listed, but that page isn’t displaying for me. This might just be a glitch with my browser. But in case it’s not, here are the photos and bios of everyone who will be on this panel…

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Blogging Ethics: What are the issues?

Graydancer Toby Bloomberg
Charlotte-Anne Lucas Christopher Calicott
My Blogging Ethics panelists. Clockwise from top left: Graydancer, Toby Bloomberg, Christopher Calicott, and Charlotte-Anne Lucas.

As I’m preparing for my Nov. 8 BlogWorld Expo panel on Blogging Ethics, I’m trying to map out the territory. Specifically, what are the main ethical issues that bloggers encounter?

Based on my initial research, it seems that these issues fall into two main camps: issues of form (since blogs generally have certain commonalities of presentation and delivery, regardless of content) and issues of function (the purpose of your blog, the kind of content you’re trying to deliver through that blog, and which communities you’re trying to connect with).

It seems to me (and please comment below if you disagree) that, as with most communication media, blogging ethics aren’t absolute. That’s because blogs are a tool with myriad uses.

…That said, it seems like the issues of form might be closer to absolute across the blogosphere than issues of function.

I’m trying to map out the key root-level aspects of blogging that entail ethical issues. Here’s where I’m at so far. I’d appreciate your help with designing this list…

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Blogging Ethics: WSBD? (What Should Bloggers Do?)

Timothy Lloyd, via Flickr (CC license)
There are lots of ways to make ethical decisions. This probably isn’t the best one.

I’ve pulled together an interesting panel session for Blogworld Expo. It’s called Blogging Ethics: Making Tough Decisions, and it’ll be held Thursday Nov. 8, 10:15-11:45 am at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

(Right now they still have my session listed as “citizen journalism,” but they should have the info updated soon.)

Frankly, I’ve found most media ethics discussions to be dreadfully stodgy and dull. I definitely don’t want this session to be boring. So I’ve invited some bloggers who represent diverse approaches and goals:

  • Christopher, a Vegas resident who blogs (sans last name) at While Las Vegas Sleeps: “Real stories from the most unreal city on earth.” I chose him to explore the ethical issues of personal blogging — especially from a place where the long-standing local communication ethic has been “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
  • Toby Bloomberg of Diva Marketing, who’s great at articulating the business, marketing, and PR approach to blogging.
  • Graydancer, a leading blogger and podcaster for the rope bondage, performing arts, and BDSM/kink communities. Talk about people with unique considerations around communication, privacy, and freedom of expression!
  • ADDED OCT. 24: Charlotte-Anne Lucas, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She teaches online journalism, web publishing and design, and digital storytelling. She was an early blogger at TheStreet.com and at MySanAntonio.com, where she instituted ethical guidelines, along with strict corrections policies on blogs and online writing in general. She also requires her journalism students to blog.

Here’s what I have in mind for this session…

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Fixing Old News: How About a Corrections Wiki?

NYtimes.com
Any news org should be able to do more with corrections than this…
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
Or this… What? You can’t see the corrections on that page?
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
…Look way down here in the corner

Even the best journalists and editors sometimes make mistakes. Or sometimes new information surfaces that proves old stories — even very old stories — wrong, or at least casts them in a vastly different light. What’s a responsible news organization to do, especially when those old stories become more findable online?

On Aug. 28, Salon.com co-founder Scott Rosenberg posted a thoughtful response to a Aug. 26 column by New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt: When Bad News Follows You.

In a nutshell, the Times recently implemented a search optimization strategy that increased traffic to its site — especially to its voluminous archives. This meant that stories from decades past suddenly appeared quite prominently in current search-engine results. The Times charges non-subscribers to access archived stories.

Hoyt wrote: “People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.”

“…Most people who complain want the articles removed from the archive. Until recently, The Times’s response has always been the same: There’s nothing we can do. Removing anything from the historical record would be, in the words of Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor in charge of maintaining Times standards, ‘like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture.'”

Hoyt’s column offered no options for redress. He didn’t suggest that the Times might start researching more disputed stories or posting more follow-up stories. Nor did he suggest that the Times might directly link archived stories to follow-ups.

Rosenberg asserts that the Times has an obligation to offer redress. Personally, I agree. Plus, I’ve got an idea of how they (or any news org) could do it — and maybe even make some money in the process…

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