21st Century Media.
Monday, October 23, 2006
  Online ethics (fun fun!)
So the rest of the world may think this is completely boring, but Poynter just had a conference about online ethics. Since the online realm is where I think I'm headed careerwise, this is pretty relevant to me. They broke it down into 3 categories:

Linking. Rick Edmonds asks:
But if accuracy, transparency (about where the information is coming from) and taste are ethical values of an organization -- and part of what the "brand" stands for -- how should those values inform decisions about links? Isn't linking to below-standard material just another way of publishing it?

I understand the worry about bringing in unreliable sources, but isn't linking a new way to prove credibility? Rather than keeping readers and sources in entirely different realms, linking provides the reader with an ability to actual see where things are coming from - and I can see nothing wrong with that. The only concern I would have is taste - a small story about a new celebrity sex tape may be discreetly revealed by a respectable news source, but a link to a night-vision trailer for Another Night in Paris might be fairly damaging, even for Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa. (Low-blow, I know.)

Revenue and content. Edmonds says:
A complicating factor is that the newness of the Web and frequent site redesigns have created publishing formats without the physical and visual boundaries that are fairly obvious in a printed edition. In other words, it may not be clear, just by looking, what is editorial, what is advertising and what is some sort of hybrid.

This is probably what terrifies me the most. Advertorials. Infomercials of the print world. The last thing we need is someone hawking Orange Glo and disguising it as a well-developed piece of editorial writing.

This is one of those things that I think will not affect the serious news organizations, despite the pressure they're under. The bonds between the business departments and newsrooms will really need to be cemented, however, to make sure that profit is considered, but not before news. Who knows, it could mean massive steps in the right direction, so long as everyone who works for a news organization actually cares about their institution.

And finally, user-generated content. Again from Edmonds:
On the one hand, user-generated content is integral to a broadened mission of developing community as well as reporting the news. It positions a newspaper or broadcast outlet as getting attuned to multi-directional conversation in which the audience becomes a valued contributor.

But, boy, are there landmines.

You got that right. This is an issue of people who are seriously interested in contributing their knowledge and opinions to a news-based community versus bored morons at work who think its funny to insert the f-word six times into a two-sentence comment. For this reason, I don't think anonymity should be allowed. If you are contributing your point of view, you should take responsibility for your words and be unashamed to stand by them, if you really believe in what you're saying. They don't allow anonymous letters to the editor, so why should they allow some jerk with a computer and no life ruin an opportunity for intelligent Web discussion?
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