Is it a blog? Is it a newspaper?
Is the Second Life Herald a blog? Is it newspaper? Neither? Both?
It doesn’t matter. The core responsibilities of the reporter remain the same regardless of platform or label – informed and truthful observation of current events, insightful and informative commentary, and balanced criticism, bound together by a framework of ethical behavior. “Ethics.” you say, “A slippery fish.” “Well no, not really,” I say, “just a good old dose of common sense when it all boils down.”
But if you don’t like my metric, read on.
The Canadian Association of Journalists has the a code of ethics defined by five principles:
- Freedom of Speech – … A free flow of information sustains and vitalizes democracy because understanding emerges from vigorous discussion, openly reported. …
- Fairness – [R]eporting must be fair, accurate and comprehensive. When we make mistakes we must correct them. We must not ignore or temper the facts in order to curry favour or avoid retribution. We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we set for others.
- Diversity – [S]tories will capture the rich and diverse values, viewpoints and lives of the people in our communities. We need to understand how our own beliefs and biases can interfere with our ability to see and report fairly and courageously.
- The Right to Privacy – The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the public’s right to be informed. Each situation should be judged in the light of common sense, humanity and the public’s rights to know.
- The Public Interest – The right to freedom of expression and of the press must be defended against encroachment from any quarter, public or private, because we serve democracy and the public interest. Journalists must be alert to ensure that the public’s business continues to be conducted in public. Journalists who abuse their power betray the public trust.
Hard to argue with those. But in the The Weblog Handbook, author Rebecca Blood distinguishes blogging from traditional journalism, “Journalistic codes of ethics seek to ensure fairness and accuracy in news reporting. By comparison, each of these [following six] suggestions attempts to bring transparency — one of the weblog’s distinguishing characteristics and greatest strengths — into every aspect of the practice of weblogging. It is unrealistic to expect every weblogger to present an even-handed picture of the world, but it is very reasonable to expect them to be forthcoming about their sources, biases, and behavior.” Ms Blood’s suggestions (read in full here) are :
- Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true. If your statement is speculation, say so.
- If material exists online, link to it when you reference it. Linking to referenced material allows readers to judge for themselves the accuracy and insightfulness of your statements.
- Publicly correct any misinformation.
- Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.
- Disclose any conflict of interest.
- Note questionable and biased sources.
Although Ms. Blood indicates that her six points diverge somewhat from traditional (non-blog) journalism, the root components are really the same. Traditional journalists say “reporting must be fair, accurate and comprehensive. When we make mistakes we must correct them.” (Canadian Association of Journalists) and Ms. Blood says “Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true. If your statement is speculation, say so.” And “[p]ublicly correct any misinformation.” Semantics aside, these tenets are pretty much the same.
And again, in the Handbook of Independant Journalism, published by the US Department of State, it is advocated that the journalist should:
- Seek truth and report it. – Journalists should be honest, fair, and courageous in gathering, reporting, and interpreting information.
- Minimize harm. – Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
- Act independently. – Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.
- Be accountable. – Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers, and each other.
Even the other guys – The Metaverse Messenger, “A Real Newspaper for a Virtual World” – advise new reporters (as I was a one point not too long ago) to not quote from the forums unless there is absolutely no way of getting in touch with the person who posted the entry, and that stories must contain two sources.
So the question to ask is not “What is the Second Life Herald, a blog or a newspaper?” but “Does the reporting in the Second Life Herald strive to meet the widely held paradigms of ethical reporting?”
It is not mine to answer this question, but I will do what others seem to overlook. Trust you – the reader – to decide.
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