Ethical Standards and Credibility in Professional and Non Professional Journalism

The writer of the blog, Oconee County Observations, is Lee Becker, who holds a PhD in Mass Communication, and is a Professor of Journalism and Director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, Grady College, University of Georgia.

In today’s ever evolving media landscape, though Becker does not write specifically for a media house, his training and past experience in the field and his stated commitment to writing a blog that is “accurate, fair and transparent”, embrace the normative standards of professional journalism as detailed in Ward’s Digital Media Ethics (2014).  While this is a blog and not his fulltime job, his approach to his writing is certainly professional.

Becker’s purpose, as stated on his blog, is to record events and discussions that directly impact the quality of life of the people of Oconee County.  He is the eyes and ears of the people at meetings with the County Commissioners, and provides residents insight into discussions and decisions made at these meetings.  He also makes links available that provide a context or easy reference for issues under consideration.

While, Becker further states on his blog “I want to offer a balanced presentation that recognizes different points of view and portrays the people involved with respect”, it is difficult for there not to be some bias because he also makes it clear that what he posts is inspired by his “experiences and aspirations for the county”.  Nevertheless, from the articles I have read on his blog about issues such as the rezone of the RV storage facility, the need for additional funding for GDOT and revisions to the draft alcohol ordinance, I cannot detect any overt bias.  He simply states the facts, the discussions, the arguments for and against and the decisions.  His position on these issues is not obvious.

Therefore, Becker does adhere to SPJ’s Code of Ethics, since he “strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough” (2014).  In his article “Rep. Quick Tells Oconee County Government Leaders She Questions the Need for Additional Funding for GDOT” there is evidence that he takes steps to verify information and report truthfully and accurately.  He quotes verbatim what Rep. Quick says and also provides video to substantiate what he reports.   Additionally, in his articles, he also furnishes hyperlinks to relevant information, documents, or his earlier blogs in which the issue had been previously highlighted.  His articles are very detailed and attempt to provide context, so that issues are seen from the perspective of the bigger picture.

I do not think that it matters whether someone reporting news is labelled a “professional” or not because I believe that everyone should be held to the same ethical standards regardless of their professional classification.  A news report, photograph, video or audio whether it is in print, broadcast , posted or tweeted, should “seek truth and report it, and minimize harm”( SPJ, 2014).  The pen, the camera, the computer, the mobile device are all mightier than the sword. Consequently, journalism regardless of whether it is considered citizen or professional carries with it accountability.

The rise of citizen journalists and bloggers has resulted in access to a wider variety of knowledge very quickly.  People post and tweet, news, pictures and video in real time as it happens, thus empowering us to make more informed decisions about issues and events.  The advantage of these new writers is that they co-produce the news, and no longer just passively accept the news (Lewis, 2011).

Professional journalists are also able to track down eye witnesses for stories through the internet and social media.  Journalist, Paul Lewis, demonstrates this in the two stories that he shared in his TED Talks presentation about the controversial deaths of two men in very different situations.  Skeptical about the official stories of these two events, Lewis posed questions on Twitter that unearthed witnesses, their footage and experiences that exposed the real truth behind the deaths of these two men: Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor walking home in the midst of the G20 protests,  was killed as a result of police brutality, and Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, was placed in a dangerous hold by three security officers while resisting his deportation on a flight back to Angola that led to positional asphyxia (2011). (The latter story is similar to the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner who like Mubenga said that he could not breathe.)  Lewis purports that were it not for Twitter, the true stories behind these men’s deaths would not have been revealed; thus “social media has inserted a new layer of accountability in our world” (2011).

However some of these new writers pose various challenges as they are unwilling to abide by the code of ethics governing professional journalism.  Ward (2014) is concerned about “the culture of online journalism which emphasizes immediacy, transparency, partiality, non-professional journalists and post-publication correction”.   The desire to post first, often results in inaccuracies which can sometimes lead to libellous content and in some instances there is unapologetic bias in what is published.  The culture of these new writers has also impacted traditional media who sometimes take their cues from social media posts and negligently report erroneous information as was evident in the Boston marathon bombings and the shooting of US representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Conversely there are “non-professionals” who show good judgment, assemble information for balanced stories, and build up credibility.  Fashion blogger, Ashley Robinson, identifies the hallmarks of professional bloggers as people who treat their work with respect and care, regard everything that they post and tweet as their digital footprint and [high on my list] hold themselves accountable (2013).  If everyone, who uses social media “to witness, record and share” (Lewis, 2011), employs the same ethos, professionals and non-professionals alike would truly be watchdogs of society and ensure accountability.

References

Becker, L. (2014). Oconee County Observations.  Retrieved from http://oconeecountyobservations.blogspot.com/2014/09/compliance-with-key-provisions-of.html

Lewis, P. Crowdsourcing the news. [Video] April 2011.  Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_lewis_crowdsourcing_the_news

Robinson, A. (2013) 7Signs you may be a professional blogger.  Retrieved from http://heartifb.com/2013/04/15/7-signs-might-be-professional-blogger/

Society for Professional Journalists. (2014, September 6). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Ward, S. (2014).  Digital Media Ethics.  Retrieved from http://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/digital-media-ethics/

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