We’ve discussed how to get the inside scoop as a fashion journalist, how to keep your credibility as a blogger, and how not to be a blogger sell out — but it seems that bloggers are still facing issues solidifying themselves as media outlets with an established ethical compass.
The thing is, while magazines may not admit it, some do plug their sponsors in their articles. However, the general public believes (for the most part) that because there is a large corporation and copious amounts of editors, fact checkers and researchers, they must be a credible source. But sometimes the opposite is true — because these magazines have so many advertisers to answer to, they bend the rules to push a product, especially since print advertisement deals are rapidly going digital.
The New York Times code of ethics has been considered the Bible of journalism ethics, and in general, is quite dense (trust me, I studied it in college).
So we asked George Freeman, an expert on First Amendment law and formerly of the assistant general counsel for the Times for 30 years, to weigh in on the blogging ethics debate. “The Times doesn’t accept gifts or, say, free hotels/travel if working on a travel piece. I gather that is not the standard in the magazine industry, but I do have a hard time believing that getting a free oceanview room or a free bit of clothing won’t influence the writer’s report on that hotel or designer. So while I understand the financial difficulties of small bloggers, I question how objective they can be when being gifted by the person they are reviewing. At the very least, they should disclose the freebie.”
He goes on, “Ethics really should be fairly standard across media, print or on-line, but, of course, different people/firms/media have different ethical standards. The more ethical they are and the more actual factual reporting bloggers do, the more their credibility will be enhanced. I think the key is that bloggers need to do on-the-ground reporting; those that do have strong reputations. Those that just opinionate on others people’s work, or worse, just repackage other journalists’ work will not be considered very legitimate. Mixing ads and content is not illegal, but is not very ethical either. That is, anything which gives the appearance that content is being affected by advertisers will be looked as suspect.”
Here are a few of the ethical standards their reporters hold themselves to that could also apply to bloggers, see them for yourself:
Under: A1. Our Duty to Our Audience
Section: Keeping Our Detachment
24. …staff members, especially those assigned to beats, must be aware that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance. Editors, who normally have a wide range of relationships, must be especially wary of showing partiality. Where friends and neighbors are also newsmakers, journalists must guard against giving them extra access or a more sympathetic ear.
25. Though this topic defies firm rules, it is essential that we preserve professional detachment, free of any hint of bias. Staff members may see sources informally over a meal or drinks, but they must keep in mind the difference between legitimate business and personal friendship. A city editor who enjoys a weekly round of golf with a city council member, for example, risks creating an appearance of coziness.
Section: Paying Our Own Way
30. When we as journalists entertain news sources (including government officials) or travel to cover them, our company pays the expenses. In some business situations and in some cultures, it may be unavoidable to accept a meal or a drink paid for by a news source (for example, at an official’s residence or in a company’s private dining room). Whenever practical, however, we should avoid those circumstances and suggest dining where we can pay our share (or, better, meeting in a setting that does not include a meal).
31. Staff members may not accept free or discounted transportation and lodging except where special circumstances give little or no choice. Such special cases include certain military or scientific expeditions and other trips for which alternative arrangements would be impractical…
Section: Dealing With Competitors
33. We compete zealously but deal with competitors openly and honestly. We do not invent obstacles to hamstring their efforts. When we first use facts originally reported by another news organization, we attribute them.
In a nutshell, be careful that your personal relationships don’t sway your writing, don’t accept gifted items or trips, and don’t use content without attribution.
When we think about the typical way a blog works, we might notice that your average bloggers violates some standard ethics. Maybe you post about your friend’s jewelry line more often than others? Or perhaps accept a free dinner from an advertiser looking to work with you? Or even take a free flight to a Fashion Weeks far and beyond? The problem with fashion bloggers is that we are our own business… and sometimes business mixes with pleasure.
So, the question arises — should we too build a blogger code of ethics? Or, since there is no one “moderating” our content, could it even be enforced if it did exist? How can we build our credibility as a whole community, not just individually?
[Image credit: Shutterstock]