5 Ways to Establish Credibility

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This post is by Amelia Marshal of Further Ado

Bloggers get a bad rap from the press sometimes. When they’re not calling us biased, they say we don’t know how to check our facts. The main problem, it seems, is that bloggers aren’t journalists, and we don’t have to follow their rules and regulations. That’s part of what makes blogging so special. But do these critics have a point?

Journalists build their credibility by relying on a code of ethics. Bloggers aren’t bound by such rules, but they might be able to learn a little from them.

Regular visitors are a blogger’s lifeblood, and if you want visitors to come back to your site, you’ve got to be a trusted source of information. But how do we gain that trust?

Bloggers and journalists are like sisters to a different mister: they set out to communicate with an audience, they report on events and trends, and they ultimately aim to influence their readers in some way. Most bloggers have no plans to become a journalist – maybe you just want to share you creations, or talk about the things you like – but there are definitely lessons we can learn from them.

Tabloid journalists are the least respected and least ethical of all journalists. They make things up, they vilify people, and when they’ve got to choose between the truth or the scandal, it’s the scandal that wins every time.

You probably don’t want to be a tabloid blogger. So, what sort of ethical principles do the best journalists follow? And what can bloggers learn from them?

Report the facts: strive for accuracy, fairness and truth above all.

This is the number one rule, and it isn’t just about not making things up – it’s about telling the whole story, the good and the bad. If you’re sent a product to review, your readers are counting on you to tell them your honest opinion. And you are accountable to them – not the company that gave you free goodies.

Reporting the truth is not libel.

But reporting hurtful opinions or inaccuracies can be. Model Liskula Cohen sued Rosemary Port over a blog that had posts referring to Cohen as the “skankiest in NYC” and a “psychotic, lying, whoring . . .” The case was eventually dropped, but there’s a lesson for all of us: even if you’re an anonymous blogger, you can’t get away with defamation.

If you think a designer’s work is shoddy, or a knock-off of another person’s designs, be careful to report the facts that have led you to this conclusion. Avoid unnecessarily hurtful words. Accuracy will save you from forking over some big bucks.

Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.

For US-based bloggers, the FTC has already made it clear how important they believe this principle is. But no matter where you come from, it’s important to consider how accepting gifts or payments affects how you come across to your readers. I’m not saying that you can’t take what’s offered, but if you want readers to trust you, it’s how honestly you blog about it that matters.

If you’re blogging about a company you work for, or a friend’s store, your readers probably want to know about any potential bias. A brief disclosure statement at the end of your post will do.

Publish a correction when you make an error

We all make mistakes. If you got someone’s name or age wrong, a simple edit of the post will do; but if it’s something bigger and more harmful, you need to consider your options to make things right. You can add a paragraph at the end of your post that notes your mistakes; issue an apology to the wronged party; or even scrap the post entirely. If you admit you’ve made mistake, your readers will respect your integrity.

Attribute information to its source, but respect their privacy if they wish to remain anonymous.

If you plagiarise someone else’s work without giving them credit, don’t assume they won’t find out. Journalists self-regulate – and bloggers do too. If a reader suspects you’ve ripped someone off, it’s entirely likely that they’ll go to the original source and let them know.

If someone comes to you with information – say, about a secret sample sale, or a store’s closure – then the best thing you can do to make this information seem legitimate on your blog is to name that person as a source. However, if they wish to remain anonymous – so they don’t lose their job, for example – you’ve got to respect their decision.

For more on ethical journalism, take a look at The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) or Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards).

Image by fixe / CC BY 2.0

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25 Responses

  1. Cherie City

    This is a brilliant article! It’s hard to know the boundaries and etiquette when writing a blog and while it can be great having contact with PRs, sometimes they can try to cloud your judgement.
    Thanks for the advice! x

    Reply
  2. Piper

    These are some great reminders for us bloggers. Thanks for the information.

    Along these same lines, have you ever had something sent to you to review that you absolutely ended up hating? And if so–did you do the review? I had a perfume sent to me that gave me a massive headache and made my eyes water. I know scent is subjective–so instead of writing a horrible review—I ended up not writing it at all. I’m curious about what others have done in this situation.

    Thanks and all the best!
    .-= Piper´s last blog ..Glitz & Glam Beauty GIVEAWAY =-.

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  3. WendyB

    Just last week, I noticed someone’s guest blogger shoot her mouth off about some designers (not me) without seeking comment from them. When confronted, she retracted everything and groveled so much I was embarrassed for her. Either attempt to interview people BEFORE you criticize their hard work from the safety of your Cheeto-covered couch OR stick to your guns and defend your opinion when confronted. This person (who is mostly famous for commenting on the NY Times fashion blog, not even for having one of her own) has no credibility with me at all now and she never will. If she starts her own blog, I will be on her like white on rice, pointing out every stupid thing she does.

    I always assume that what I write could be read by the person I’m writing about and I’m prepared to stick to whatever I say unless there’s a correctable error. And, no, Heather Mills, saying you’re a batshit-crazy gold digger is NOT an error.
    .-= WendyB´s last blog ..Outfit Photo by Bill Cunningham of the New York Times =-.

    Reply
  4. Amelia M

    Cherie city – It seems that for many PR reps, their job is all about clouding your judgement! Learning to see past that is a good asset.

    Piper – Journalists often approach reviews of products they don’t necessarily like by describing its qualities and saying who would like it – e.g. people who prefer floral scents. But that’s a tough situation, especially if you want to protect your relationship with the company, but at the same time want to be honest with your readers.

    Wendy B – You bring up a really great point here. Giving people their right to reply is really important if you want to be seen as having a balanced perspective. Bloggers aren’t immune to prosecution but on a more realistic level, they definitely aren’t immune to having their names dragged through the mud, too. Let’s face it, people are very much in the habit of googling themselves and their companies!
    .-= Amelia M´s last blog ..Role Model of the Week: Steph D =-.

    Reply
  5. Grace

    Very good insight in this post. It really is so important that the readers feel they can trust the blog’s author. I’ve studied a little bit of journalism as well, and it all translates to the blogging world.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

    Love Grace.
    .-= Grace´s last blog ..As If… =-.

    Reply
  6. lisa

    Great post; you’ve done a terrific job of articulating ethical principles that bloggers should follow here.

    As for bloggers getting lambasted at times for being biased and/or inaccurate, I really resent such generalizations in mainstream media. I’m honest about where I’ve received products if they were freebies or samples; I try to write balanced reviews and will only rave about something if I truly love it; I double-check facts, spellings, typos–even the meaning of a word on Dictionary.com if I’m not sure of it! Although I don’t have a journalism background, I’ve been told by publications I write for that I’m more reliable than some contributing writers, who are themselves journalism students. Mainstream media outlets often exhibit their own biases–it’s like the pot calling the kettle black to hold bloggers to a sterling standard they might not follow themselves. As you pointed out so perfectly in your article, it’s up to us to self-regulate.
    .-= lisa´s last blog ..A Haute Mess Award =-.

    Reply
  7. eyeliah

    Amelia – great thoughts here. Since I tend to follow the ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it a all’ adage, I don’t tend to write much negative points of view on my blog. Part of the reason is that I don’t want to be liable for anything.
    The proper credit point is very important, I have had people find things on my blog nd not give the credit and it hurts, I would never want to do that to another blogger, it may have happened before when I forget the source but I always try my best to get it right!

    Piper – when I haven’t liked anything about a product I will email the company and let them know my concerns and will refrain from writing the negative review. But atleast then the company gets my feedback and knows I didn’t forget to write the review!
    .-= eyeliah´s last blog ..It Takes Two To Make It Outta Sight =-.

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  8. Steff

    Great article. Beginning bloggers like myself need to know about the defamation thing in particular. An anonymous commenter indirectly threatened to sue me for defamation, even though my post said nothing mean, nasty, or untrue, and it didn’t even name the label who had ripped me off. I was heartbroken for a couple of days that I would have to stop blogging altogether over a pair of $120 pants that I should’ve received a refund for. Now I know my rights, and their name has forever been stricken from my blog and my list of labels I recommend.
    .-= Steff´s last blog ..Wardrobe as History =-.

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  9. f.

    Amelia! it is a very good topic that you’ve picked up, good work!

    we should be communicating more about this to raise awareness about this fine line between fiction and an honest opinion.

    just because noone looks over your shoulder while you write a post, or
    just because you comment anonymously (btw, nothing stays really anonymous on the internet), or
    just because you are not a journalist,

    it doesn’t mean it is ok to tell lies or state fiction as the biggest truth of all.

    there are many truths, to each it’s own, just don’t forget to mention it.
    .-= f.´s last blog ..: The Thing About Coffee With Milk =-.

    Reply
  10. Amelia M

    Grace – Thanks! Journalism stuff definitely translates, if only bloggers got the same crash courses in media law!

    Lisa – Good on you for trying to kill that stereotype! I think the media finds bloggers difficult to understand because they’re so used to thinking like journalists that they can’t handle people trying to do things differently, and a lot of them are scared about what blogging means for the future of the media.

    Eyeliah – Proper credit is so important, not just because it’s the polite thing to do, but also because of copyright. It really sucks that people have ripped you off in that way!

    Steff – Ouch! What a horrible situation! I’m glad it didn’t stop you. If what you said was accurate, you aren’t liable, thank goodness. But if you’re ever in that situation again, there is actually an organisation that does pro bono legal work for bloggers and the like – http://www.omln.org/

    Rosie Unknown – Thanks!

    F – The legal stuff can be really tough for bloggers, because for most people, when they start a blog, they have no idea about the laws that relate to online media – laws that can be pretty wishy-washy to start with. Luckily IFB has some great articles on copyright, fair use and the like to help us out!
    .-= Amelia M´s last blog ..Role Model of the Week: Steph D =-.

    Reply
  11. Alice

    I follow the rule “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” as well. I appreciate honest and objective negative reviews as well, but personally I try to stay away from them, they just make me feel bad. When something is not up my street I rarely I usually just say that it doesn’t fit my editorial content.
    .-= Alice´s last blog ..Getting to Know the Designer – A New Fashion Trend =-.

    Reply
  12. Jen

    This is a great post. I’ve faced discrimination because people assume that since I run a fashion blog, I must be uneducated and unreliable. Just the other day, I had my favorite fabric store tell me I can’t write about them anymore because it’s a personal blog. Since I’m just about done with law school, I know they can’t legally force me to stop mentioning their store on my blog, but it hurts my feelings that they devalue my site (which receives more traffic than theirs btw!) simply because it is a blog.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..5 Things Not to Get Your Girlfriend =-.

    Reply
  13. Thom

    Agree with everything here, and the comments. I would add one other difference between bloggers and journalists – most journalists have received some form of formal training and, more importantly, have worked their way up through various placements. I’m not saying journalists are better than bloggers at covering fashion – but I am saying they have gone through a different process. Or any process at all.

    People don’t “respect” bloggers for many reasons, but the one that hasn’t changed is the fact that anyone, 12-102, can get on here and start a blog. And that leads to a perception problem that will not easily change.

    Finally there is this quote, which I sort of agree with. “Citizen journalists are about as effective as citizen dentists.” Perhaps someday that won’t ring so true, but right now it kind of does.

    Reply
  14. Laura Dahl

    I just came across your site for the first time and it’s fantastic! Particularly this article as I’ve been engaged in the very same discussion on many an occasion. Thanks for keeping things smart and interesting.

    Reply
  15. Anna Jane

    I think I find this post rather difficult to relate to as my posts tend to depict my views on trends, rather thanon the designers themselves. Therefore, I rarely feel the need to back up my views with reliable sources and facts and other stuffs. However, I think this article serves as a decent reminder that it is very easy to get into trouble by not providing reliable information to the reader. And for this, I thank you 🙂
    .-= Anna Jane´s last blog ..Fashion isn’t fun when it’s cold. =-.

    Reply
  16. Modeblog

    I’d say it’s best to stick to the facts and add a little flavour with your personal opinion. That’s fine as long as you don’t offend anyone.. works for me!
    .-= Modeblog´s last blog ..Einen guten Rutsch… =-.

    Reply
  17. Ann

    I’ve been online since the early 90s, so have been through my share of online issues and drama. But just as I started my own blog, I was libeled on someone else’s blog. I’m still not certain what to do about it all, but no matter how trivial the matter might seem to the outside world, when ugly things are written (not really about me), it’s a horrible experience.

    Reply
  18. Delia

    I so appreciate this site as well as all the comments. I am a newbie and can use all the help I can get. Please check out my blog and let me know how I can better improve. Thanks again and keep the tips coming.

    Reply