Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On Bloggers as Journalists and the Dilemma of Disclosure

The following was written in response to this post on RoughType concerning an incident at the recent Online Journalism Association conference and a matter of disclosure (for the best blow-by-blow of the OJA session, read Staci @ PaidContent)

Arrington excoriating Jarvis...isn't that kind of like Jimmy Olsen taking Perry White to task for allowing Clark and Lois to work together??

But seriously, I always have to wonder how, and why, Arrington's now on so many panels from journalism cons to Bloggercon to Office 2.0, and speaking with such authority on so much, when he's really just a lawyer who wrote up a good business plan for a blog and has a very nice and congenial writing style...(disclosure for this blog: yes, I read TechCrunch on occasion, and actually like it--and I've never met M.A. f2f)

Okay, now let me get serious: yes, this is definitely about disclosure, and the need to disclose--I also see conversation, and the personnas we bring to blogging vs. the personnas left out of print.

As a conversation medium, blogging doesn't necessarily demand that we disclose everything, even about business deals. Blogging can be like a fan-dance--it reveals as much as it conceals. That is, unless we plan to use our blogging as an entree into journalism--and desire to be as credible as the profession is assumed to be. If that is the case, then it is upon us as bloggers to gain credibility by following some of the basic ethical rules of journalism--disclose sources (something the Edelman Wal-mart bloggers didn't do) *and* disclose possible conflicts of interest.

In speaking about the imprisonment of videoblogger Josh Wolfe in Online Journalism Review, Christine Tatum, President of SPJ, said she supported him, but was troubled by his statments of being an "advocate" while wanting to claim free speech protection as a journalist. "I think that it's very important for online journalists to begin to understand.. that it's very, very important that you do maintain some sort of objectivity and distance" she said.

So, bloggers who decide to turn what they are doing into online journalism (slightly different than citizen journalism) walk a balance between the conventions of conversation (some, which are particular to the blogosphere) and conventions of the profession of journalism. As we do this, we also wrestle with personna. If we are too journalistic, will those who read us assume we can't converse directly with them? If we too "bloggy" will journalists think we're somehow less than?

Bloggers who aspire to online journalism can indeed learn a lot from journalists--but journalists can learn some things from bloggers too--like how we convey information *and* carry on conversation without getting bugged by it (and retaliating a'la Hiltzik and Siegle.) But I'm not sure Arrington's the right blogger to be quaterbacking all the time.

(btw, I wrote on journalists and conversation for OJR--now used as reading in some journo ethics classes. thought I'd disclose...)

And speaking of disclosure: a freelance journalist who works for the Washington Post was fired because he did not disclose the small fact that a pro-Wal-Mart special interest group was paying for the RV (and then some) he was using for the WaPo assignment. He was also blogging about it Why is it that folks who are pro-Wal-Mart often like to leave out of whatever they are into that this is their position? In this case, as a freelanger being paid by Big Media, he did indeed have a right to disclose. In my ethical world, if I'm being paid by someone to do a job, then the job comes before my blog, which, even if I had ads, wouldn't give me enough to live off of for any length of time. More importantly, I can't act like a double-agent and sleep with Jams Bond while sleeping with Goldfinger. (And you know what happened in that movie....the same thing happened to the freelancer. More or less.)

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