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Blogging ethics news sites should emulate

September 3, 2009

Ryan Blethen penned an editorial the other weekend in which he advised that people be careful when posting on the Internet. At the time, I wondered out loud who he might be lecturing to, figuring this was one of those “dad” (MSM) gives the “kids” (neighborhood bloggers) a talkin’ to about responsibility. Then came the news that The Seattle Times had entered into a partnership with a handful of neighborhood blogs. OK, so maybe he was just addressing irresponsible bloggers. I still think he was somewhat misguided in directing his advice at “bloggers” en masse.

Whatever the target, his advice was good in general (“there is a line where free speech can go too far and real damage is done”). There’s a flip side to his editorial—which advocates that old journalism ethics standards to be upheld by bloggers—however: Blogging ethics can, and should, be applied to old journalism institutions. For example:

  • Link to sources/references and link directly. The point of this is twofold: Credit your source and make it easier for your readers to access that source (no one should have to navigate to some site’s home page a hunt for the information you found).
  • Link in text. We’re not printing books here—no one’s going to scroll to the end of the page to check all your footnotes.
  • Be present in comment threads. Putting up a story and leaving it is like yelling something at a bar and then retreating to the back room, figuring everyone will discuss the point you just made.
  • When you cite another news source’s report, link to it. This gets me more than anything else: A news site starts a sentence off with, “The [competing news source] reports…” and then pastes another site’s text—with no link back to the original page. This, to me, is straight-up stealing, unless you’ve got some kind of business arrangement (in which case, explain that, because it just looks bad)—Mark Glaser would agree. And don’t retell their entire story and then link to them. What incentive is there to click when you’ve already given away all the information? Instead, give a quick summary, link out and promise more information when you get it (at which point, you provide original reporting). (Aside: The fact that news sites break this rule and then accuse Google of “stealing” is mind numbingly stupid and hypocritical.)

One last point, as long as we’re talking about courtesy: Just because it’s a blog doesn’t mean it’s not recognizing all the conventions of traditional journalism—recognize that.

Any other rules news sites should be observing? I know I can’t have thought of everything.

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