Time for a code of conduct for online journalism?

As journalists increasingly find themselves (whether voluntarily, or down the barrel of a gun) coming into direct contact with their readership online, the question of how they should conduct themselves comes into sharp relief.

Of course all media organizations have strict guidelines about journalistic conduct for the pre-2.0 environment, as indeed do professional associations and unions.

The PCC exists to provide guidance and to correct lapses in journalistic ethics and standards. But there is no mention of The Internet in their code of practice, nor any suggestion that journalists investigating or reporting within the online environment face differing ethical issues to practitioners of the pre-2.0 environment.

Where does privacy begin and end online? Some might argue our vey definition of privacy is undergoing change. I attended a conference earlier in the year where Bill Thompson suggested Facebook et al have brought about a means of re-defining what it actually means to be ourselves – to be human even.

The development of long-lense photography brought about changes to the ways in which we think about public and private space, so what of those technologies which allow friends, family and sometimes strangers, an insight into ‘people’s lives’?

Is there any guidance for journalists encroaching into the new interactive news environment?

Well, the BBC provides separate guides toward informing it’s journalists in the fields of online research, social networking and user-generated content. Shane Richmond also provides some good advice here.

But aside from these, there seems to be a paucity of advice out there toward helping journalists in the world of Facebook, blogs and forums. This is a little worrying given the negative impact on the profession, when journalists rush online gung-ho into sensitive subjects, like the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Perhaps an alternative starting point might be to take on board some of Virginia Shea’s Netiquette, a summary of which can be found here. Of course there are two stand-out problems here.

The first is that this guidance is geared very much toward internet users rather than professional journalists (who have very different ‘user needs’, for want of a better expression). Secondly, this advice was written in 1994, some time before the explosion of social networking we are seeing now.

So is it time for a code of conduct for online journalism?

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2 Responses to “Time for a code of conduct for online journalism?”

  1. digitaldickinson Says:

    Good points Murray.

    Perhaps one element of this is the lack of experience some journalists have of using these services as users, not just seeing them as extensions of the journalistic toolbox.

    You rightly say that they have “very different ‘user needs’” but maybe a lack of empathy as much as the technology breeds a level of contempt that leads to poor conduct.

  2. slewfootsnoop Says:

    Yeah Andy, the lack of empathy is an interesting point (and epitomised rather well by Paxman’s waspish remark, I think).

    Its long been said that the PCC has a very light touch when it comes to regulating, especially the tabloids invasive type of ‘journalism’. It’s a very reactive regulator in the pre web 2.0 environment, so God knows how it will respond in areas where other, more proactive regulators and bodies have feared to tread.

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