Adam Cohen editorialized in the NYT Bloggers like to demonize the MSM (that's Mainstream Media), but it is increasingly hard to think of the largest news blogs as being outside the mainstream. Bloggers have been showing up at national political conventions, at the World Economic Forum at Davos and on the cover of Business Week. Establishment warhorses like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. are signing on to write for Arianna Huffington's blog collective. And Garrett Graff, of FishbowlDC, broke through the cyberceiling recently and acquired the ultimate inside-the-Beltway media credential: a White House press pass.
Bloggers are not only getting access; they have also been getting results. The Drudge Report, of course, is famous for pushing stories, often with a rightward spin, onto the national media agenda, but it is not alone. Daily Kos did a brilliant job last fall of pressuring Sinclair Broadcasting not to show a hatchet-job documentary about John Kerry. And Joshua Micah Marshall has been rattling Congress with his entertaining and influential listing of where individual members stand on Social Security privatization.
Both left wing blogs.Blogs helped to shape, in some cases in major ways, some of the biggest stories of the last year - the presidential election, tsunami relief, Dan Rather.
The thing about influence is that, as bloggers well know, it is only a matter of time before people start trying to hold you accountable. Bloggers are so used to thinking of themselves as outsiders, and watchdogs of the LSM (that's Lame Stream Media), that many have given little thought to what ethical rules should apply in their online world. Some insist that they do not need journalistic ethics because they are not journalists, but rather activists, or humorists, or something else entirely. But more bloggers, and blog readers, are starting to ask whether at least the most prominent blogs with the highest traffic shouldn't hold themselves to the same high standards to which they hold other media.
Even though the "journalists" and particularly "columnists" and "pundits" don't seem to have any ethical standards.Every mainstream news organization has its own sets of ethics rules,
Which they don't follow, but which gives them a good excuse to fire someone they want to fire for some other reason.but all of them agree broadly on what constitutes ethical journalism. Information should be verified before it is printed, and people who are involved in a story should be given a chance to air their viewpoints, especially if they are under attack. Reporters should avoid conflicts of interest, even significant appearances of conflicts, and disclose any significant ones. Often, a conflict means being disqualified to cover a story or a subject. When errors are discovered or pointed out by internal or external sources, they must be corrected. And there should be a clear wall between editorial content and advertising.
Bloggers often invoke these journalistic standards in criticizing the MSM, and insist on harsh punishment when they are violated. The blogs that demanded Dan Rather's ouster accused him of old-school offenses: not sufficiently checking the facts about President Bush's National Guard service, refusing to admit and correct errors, and having undisclosed political views that shaded the journalism. Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, resigned this year after a blogmob attacked him for a reported statement at the World Economic Forum at Davos that the military had aimed at journalists in Iraq and killed 12 of them. Their complaint was even more basic than in Mr. Rather's case: they were upset that Mr. Jordan said something they believed to be untrue.
But Mr. Rather's and Mr. Jordan's misdeeds would most likely not have landed them in trouble in the world of bloggers, where few rules apply.
Balderdash. A blogger doing something like they did would be subjected to an immediate Blog Storm of criticism on blogs of the other side, just as they now are for posting something about a politician the other side does not like. The same thing happens now with newspapers. It is just that most of them lean to the left, so it is just right wing politicians that get blasted. There are both left wing and right wing blogs, and they attack each other all the time.Many bloggers make little effort to check their information, and think nothing of posting a personal attack without calling the target first - or calling the target at all. They rarely have procedures for running a correction. The wall between their editorial content and advertising is often nonexistent. (Wonkette, a witty and well-read Washington blog, posts a weekly shout-out inside its editorial text to its advertisers, including partisan ones like Democrats.org.) And bloggers rarely disclose whether they are receiving money from the people or causes they write about.
I doubt that very many of them are receiving money from the people or causes they write about, but I would have no problem if there was a requirement to disclose such payments.A few bloggers have begun calling for change. There have even been fledgling attempts to create ethical guidelines, like the ones found at Cyberjournalist.net. Defenders of the status quo argue that ethics rules are not necessary in the blogosphere because truth emerges through "collaboration," and that bias and conflicts of interest are rooted out by "transparency." But "collaboration" is a haphazard way of defending against dishonesty and slander, and blogs are actually not all that transparent. MSM journalists write under their own names. Someone would be likely to notice if a newspaper reporter covering a campaign was also on the campaign's staff. But it is hard to know who many bloggers are, and whether they are paid to take the positions they are espousing.
Richard Hofstadter noted in "The Age of Reform" that American reformers had been prone to an "enormous amount of self-accusation." Throughout history, reform movements have ostentatiously held themselves to higher standards than the institutions they attacked. The political reformers who took on Tammany Hall declared that they would not accept patronage jobs. Members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union took a Temperance Pledge. Many bloggers who criticize the MSM's ethics, however, are in the anomalous position of holding themselves to lower standards, or no standards at all. That may well change.
Is there a columnist pledge, and if so which ones have taken itAna Marie Cox, who edits Wonkette, notes that blogs are still "a very young medium," and that "things have yet to be worked out." Before long, leading blogs could have ethics guidelines and prominently posted corrections policies. Bloggers may need to institutionalize ethics policies to avoid charges of hypocrisy. But the real reason for an ethical upgrade is that it is the right way to do journalism, online or offline. As blogs grow in readers and influence, bloggers should realize that if they want to reform the American media, that is going to have to include reforming themselves.
Roger Ailes blogged Here's my procedure, in full: "Like many aggressive bloggers, particularly bloggers who deal with contentious subjects, I have sometimes stepped on toes, but that is hardly grounds for rebuke. That was my assessment of myself when I worked with myself before, and nothing I have published on this blog since I became executive editor has caused me to think less of myself. It's a little galling to watch myself being pursued by some of these armchair media ethicists who have never written a blog or earned the right to carry my laptop, if I owned a laptop. So piss off." Forgive me, Adam, but I haven't found Miller's 1099s -- or yours -- on the NYT website. E-mail me copies and I'll send you mine by return e-post.
Mindles H. Dreck: blogged When will editorial observers of blogs realize we are just independent citizens organizing spontaneously? How on earth would we "reform ourselves"? The millions of bloggers commenting at any time run the gamut from much "more hypocritical than Mr. Cohen's media to much less. There is no institution to create or enforce rules or judge hypocrisy, and if there were a 'Bloggers Guild' millions of blogs would exist outside it, wax and wane in popularity and still occasionally create an enormous public outcry about certain public figures. Popularity and credibility will continue to be determined by individual market-type forces unless Mr. Cohen contemplates complete State or corporate control of our medium.
Ann Althouse blogged Adam Cohen has a long-winded, flat-footed piece on the NYT editorial page about bloggers and ethics. He wants more rules -- a code -- to bind bloggers to the same ethical standards that bind journalists. Eason Jordan and Dan Rather got into a lot of trouble when they violated the journalistic code of ethics, but their "misdeeds would most likely not have landed them in trouble in the world of bloggers, where few rules apply." Please. The journalistic code didn't keep Jordan and Rather in line. It was the bloggers, invoking their own standards -- not a code but an evolving culture -- that called them to account. Any bloggers with any kind of high profile will be similarly called to account if they violate the blogosphere's cultural norms. And Jordan and Rather can take up blogging any minute they want. Our practice is open to anyone who wants to join.
The difference is, there's no pedestal to jump right on top of and have an instant readership as there is when you're hired on by mainstream media. We only have the readership we can attract with the strength of our own writing. We have to build that readership and keep it with constant writing. No one would ever be in a position to invoke a rule and fire us. It's all a matter of whether the readers stay or go. In a sense, we're constantly getting hired and fired in tiny increments as individuals decide whether or not to click to our sites one more time. We're living on the edge. Mainstream journalists can whine and look on with jealousy over the things that bind them and not us, but they've got their pedestal and their paycheck, and we don't. We deserve to be different. And the great value of the blogosphere is that, in this difference, we are constantly engaged in creating something new. Is that hard for MSM to adapt to, to get a grip on? Good!
CitizenZ blogged No, the rumbling is within the mainstream media and this article is a too-clever attempt to project their concerns onto bloggers and, worse, report it as a trend. I say this because in 969 words Adam Cohen fails to cite anyone but himself calling for a blogger code of ethics. Nor does he point out any examples where the lack of such a code has caused problems for bloggers or their readers. Instead we're spoon-fed MSM generalities.
Glenn Reynolds blogged I should note that all the chin-pulling about journalistic ethics didn't really start until newspapers became monopoly enterprises. Where monopolies are concerned, we tend to look to regulation, because we can't trust the market to do the job. But although newspapers -- and, to a substantial degree, broadcast news operations -- are monopolies or near-monopolies, blogs certainly aren't.
Greyhawk blogged He's trying to create the impression of blogs as being akin to The National Enquirer, of course. And I'll note that I didn't call Mr. Cohen before writing this. You see, I have his commentary before me now - he's on the record. That's what blogs do when dealing with media outrages, respond. I suppose I could contact him for clarification on this point: is he really clueless about the blogosphere, and therefore wrong in his accusations, or does he assume his readers are clueless, and is willing to deceive them? There's no other explanation for what follows.
The blogosphere thrives because the mainstream media has failed to police itself. The blogosphere is self-policing and has been since day one - the endless variety of perspective, opinions, and voices ensures it. Cohen's effort to disparage those who are replacing him, to maintain some control of a dwindling readership and a diminishing importance is unsurprising but feeble. He's shouting against a rising tide; the days of the New York Times' ability to shape the news are fading fast.
Tim blogged I cannot speak for the other 7,999,999 bloggers I am told there are out there but I have no particular desire to reform the American media. I’d like those who go into it to have at least a nodding acquaintance with basic economic thought but that’s not a reason to storm the barricades, more the lack of it being an occasion for gentle head shaking over their ignorance. What I would want to make sure people understand is that we are aiming for truth in the end, the blogosphere being a method of attempting to reach that that works at the system level, one that has its own inbuilt ethical checks and balances, that it is a system that only works if we do not have ethical policies at the individual level, for if we do, how can we process all of the data?
Superhawk blogged I think Mr. Cohen is right. Someone should track down his home telephone number so that we can all call him for his response to the 10,000 blog posts that are going to fisk this idiot’s lights out. Do you think he’ll get it then?
Cori Dauber blogged The central argument here is that as the blogosphere grows and develops, standards and practices, particularly ethical ones, will have to grow and develop as well. Good point. But what really seems to bother the writer is that, after all, traditional media outlets have corrections policies. That's almost laugh out loud funny.
Do newspaper columnists have a published Code of Ethics, and if so where do I go to file a complaint?