Thursday, June 29, 2006

Citizen Jounalism Code of Ethics

I've had a number of incidents happen to me over the past few weeks that brings to light how important it is for citizen journalists in the social media space - for example, bloggers, podcasters - to be guided by a code of ethics.

I recently emailed someone about the comments he left on my blog. It took me a couple of months to respond to him, but I finally did earlier this week. While I was quite apologetic, the tone of his email seemed to suggest to me that I only re-opened a can of worms.

But one thing stuck out from his email. He said that the problem with blogosphere is the amount of misinformation that's circulated. He felt that one of my blog posts was just that - a post filled with inaccuracies.

Another issue popped up with my blog recently where someone I had blogged about asked me to remove the picture I posted of him holding a drink in his hand. While he didn't mind, he was afraid of how that would look to his employer.

Both these incidents got me thinking that as citizen journalists, we are not absolved to reporting accuracy in our blog posts and treating people fairly. While this doesn't mean that we can't be critical of what people are doing, if we want to be taken seriously, citizen journalists need to be guided by a list of principles.

While we could look at the Canadian Journalist Association's (CAJ) code of ethics, it doesn't capture our world in both blogosphere and podosphere. For example, the CAJ code says that there can't be biased while reporting the news. However, bias is what makes blog posts really, really interesting.

So what are citizen journalists to do? Well, craft our own code of ethics. Here are my ideas:


  • Respect the rights of people
  • Research facts
  • Avoid using aliases
  • Clearly identify sources and conflict of interests to our readers and listeners
  • Allow commenters to freely leave their feedback, but place a disclaimer saying these ideas don't belong to the blog or podcast owner.
  • Question anyone who wants to be paid for their information.
  • Do not post pictures or images that show our sources in a compromising position.

  • Where possible, the citizen journalist will confirm the accuracy of his or her story before posting. Document this either using bookmarks, emails, trackbacks, tags or other virtual breadcrumbs.
  • Correct mistakes quickly and clarify, apologize in a public forum.
  • Publish altered images with a caption saying it was altered.

  • Individuals have a right to privacy.
  • If you plan to copy and paste in your blog or quote word-for-word an idea or feedback from an email blog or podcast about an email you received, get the permission of the sender first.
  • Do not stalk, chase or harass individuals to take their photos.
  • Always get permission before taking a photo of someone.

Copyright & Plagarism
  • If you plan to quote a source online, do not post it in its entirety in your blog. Instead, provide a quick summary, credit the originator of that idea, then provide a direct link to the full source.
  • Use photos in your blog only with the permission of the owner of the photo. Post that permission in your blog or mention it in your podcast.
  • Do not re-write an idea and claim them as your own. This is plagarism. Instead, give credit to the originator of the ideas.

I'll finish this up later. I've got a few more to add, but chew on these for now.

Adapted from the Canadian Association of Journalists Ethics Guidelines.

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