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The Elite meet to speak and be heard

<![CDATA[We can watch the webcast of the Blogging Journalism and Credibility conference and hope the IRC channel works (“let’s take a question from the hinterlands”) where some folks with specific axes to grind will meet to prescribe the practice of blogging ethically and credibly. I find it terribly ironic that a.) this conference is physical […]

<![CDATA[We can watch the webcast of the Blogging Journalism and Credibility conference and hope the IRC channel works (“let’s take a question from the hinterlands”) where some folks with specific axes to grind will meet to prescribe the practice of blogging ethically and credibly. I find it terribly ironic that a.) this conference is physical and not virtual and open to all, and b.) that an elite has already emerged to guide us poor saps toward the high road. The debate is useful, but only as an educational resource. Yet we’re seeing a lot of predictions that this event will produce some solid guidelines.
Conference organizer Rebecca McKinnon’s explanation is very down to earth, but the hype around the conference will obscure the lessons that might be learned. Here’s an excerpt of her favorite questions with my comments in brackets:

Q: Are you trying to set ethical standards for all bloggers?

A: No, we definitely are not. However, we are very interested in the ethical questions surrounding the process of blogging. For instance:  How much about yourself do you need to disclose  (personally, financially, and politically) as an independent blogger – or as a journalist who blogs for a news organization – if you are going to be deemed credible by the public over the long run? [It depends on the role you are hoping to play. I disclose pretty much everything, as I have as a journalist who was also participating in the growth of the Internet—I’ve written about dating service sites as a member of the board of directors of Match.com, starting with a blunt statement that I had that conflict and this was an opinion piece about which the reader should exercise extreme skepticism. Alas, I don’t see many of the blogger media company founders attending the conference disclosing the conflicts in their well-honed spiels about the value of their business models.]



Other questions: Is linking different than quoting? 
[Of course it is, it’s equivalent to providing the notes you used to generate a quote. Quoting a site, as I am here, while linking to it is a different issue—if I quote a site to suggest something is a fact, I am liable for repeating a lie if it is, in fact, a lie.]

If a news organization links to an independent blogger who was blogging the tsunami but who then suddenly posts libellous photoshopped pictures of local politicians in the midst of scandalous acts, is that news organization liable? [Of course not. Liability has to do with publication, not pointing to a site, which may have a variety of content. If I point to a libelous posting, then, yes, I have participated in the libel. But if I post to a site that has tsunami postings that later begins posting libels, I did not point to that posting as a fact and am not liable for its content. If the blogger changes a posting I pointed to after the fact so that it includes a libel, I’d better be prepared to prove the libel was not part of the posting when I pointed to it.]

There are questions about whether a community might deem certain online (or offline) information to be “credible” even when it is not, actually true. (Large parts of the world still believe Israel’s Mossad was behind the 9/11 attacks, for example.)  [This is a reality in all media, not a phenomenon of blogging.]



What influences the public’s decisions over what they think is or isn’t credible – from mainstream media or from blogs? 
[Isn’t that up to the individual reader? Don’t readers bear a large responsibility to fact check their reality, too? Recent media debacles and historical examples of mass delusions prove that.]



How much does that have to do with fact? 
[Sourcing has to do with what we present as fact, but facts are relative, because of the selectivity of reporters, editors and bloggers, to name just a few players in the algorithm of fact. Conferences may educate people to ask better questions before posting information as fact, but fact is a bluff in the game of politics, marketing and many one-on-one conversations. We should all be wary of facts.]



Then there’s the question of how you make money while credibly and responsibly informing the public over the long run? 
[At last, a really important question, the one that will turn this from a panicked race for credibility into a solid foundation for earning a living. It would be nice if some of the people trying business models that don’t resemble traditional publishing were invited to the event.]

Alan Mutter, an old friend, colleague and a former editor and reporter himself has a nicely turned take on this whole argument:

Only in recent times has this once-scruffy trade been professionalized to the point that its practitioners actually have college degrees, mortgages and 401(k) plans. Sadly for my esteemed friends and colleagues, their professional sovereignty, though fun while it lasted, was more of a pleasant interlude than a lifelong entitlement. Now that airline pilots, software engineers, printers, physicians, retail clerks, teachers, garment workers and countless others don’t get no respect, what makes you think journalists are to be spared?

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