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).