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March 8, 2009 / Amy Bradney-George

Blogging and journalistic standards

 

Personal or professional?

Has line between personal and professional logged-off?

 

The internet is blurring the lines between professional ethics and personal freedom when it comes to journalists having personal blogs. 

Last time I wrote about blogging I briefly mentioned the rivalry between bloggers and journalists that has taken the media world into a frenzy of fear and scepticism. Journalists and bloggers like Antony Loewenstein (c.f. introduction to The Blogging Revolution) are among those who think that the two forms are different enough that any competition felt is a psychological thing, and frankly I’m inclined to agree.

But what about standards for journalists who keep personal blogs? The Guardian reports here about a recent spat between business journalist Adam Tinworth and representatives of the UK’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The gist of the article is that the NUJ is calling for journalists like Tinworth to follow “basic journalistic standards” when he’s blogging, but also raised questions of whether journalistic standards should apply to a personal blog.

My thoughts are that professional standards are for the professional work of a person and, so long as a personal blog is not infringing on laws, it can and should be what the individual wants it to be. The internet is an open forum for people to discuss what they will and the individual’s professional life should not have to dictate how they express themselves.

In many cases the professional will influence the personal online – teachers may comment on news stories about education, doctors may weigh in with their thoughts on health issues, but that doesn’t mean they would say the same things in a staff meeting or at work. Opinion is opinion and it shouldn’t be subject to the same scrutiny and professional expression.

That doesn’t mean a whole bunch of journalists with personal blogs will throw ethics to the wind and write whatever the hell they want – it simply means it’s at the individual’s discretion to choose when to apply their professional ethics.

If you take a Kantian approach to personal freedom then so long as you do no harm to yourself or others you are free to do what you will. A more modern, entertaining take on freedom of expression online can be seen in quarterlife, which at times raised questions of conflict over the protagonist broadcasting her opinions of people to an online community. How “harm” is interpreted will, of course, affect what different people do, but ultimately the law is there to help prevent harm deemed significant and anything else is painted in shades of grey.

The disctinction between personal and professional blogs has been somewhat diminished by mainstream media adding blogs as part of their sites. As this article from mlive.com indicates businesses can gain a lot from embracing aspects of the online world like Twitter, Facebook and blogging.

I can see the pros to this use of social media, but there are also cons. The idea that the media need to be directly competing with independent and/or personal blogs, for example, I find a little petty. But my main concern is that by utilising things like blogs, professional and personal standards will come into question a lot more.

I think the real question this issue poses is that in such an open medium, where anyone can search for your personal information, how do you separate your work life from your personal life?

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2 Comments

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  1. Broadcast Assassin / Mar 8 2009 1:46 pm

    And then you have the smaller subset of us for whom blogging is journalism, and distinctions between the two are non-existent. On the one hand, because of the format my reporting is presented in, I often deliberately inject a more personal tone to my journalism. At the same time, I do attempt to maintain a level of professionalism and impartiality. Most of the time, anyway. 😉

    • amybradneygeorge / Mar 8 2009 3:44 pm

      Agreed. I try to lean more towards journalistic standards of opinion writing on this blog because I wouldn’t personally want to write it without some level of ethics. If, for example, I was going to quote someone on a topic they’d personally corresponded with me about, I would always ask for their permission first. On the other hand, I link to information without asking for permission, assuming that the links will direct traffic to other sites of interest but maybe that’s a fine line too?

      But, while I might try my best to uphold ethical standards in my personal blog, my tweeting and things I write on other social networking sites, someone else might feel that their honest opinion should have to be looked over by a third-party. I just prefer to be polite about it 🙂

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