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Wednesday, April 09, 2003  
Filter filets ethics issue

The Agonist brouhaha (actually more brou than ha ha for us bloggers) is la plate du jour in the Washington Post's Filter column today. Filter editor Cynthia Webb has concentrated on the issue: Should the ethics of journalism apply to blogging?

She cites responses from readers and bloggers, and asks a couple experts in communications and law what they think. Journalism professor Larry Pryor of the University of Southern California believes bloggers are part of the media, whether they like it or not.

"If they are going to be taken seriously, they have to follow [ethical] rules." Those rules include providing attribution and avoiding plagiarism, he said.

His colleague Paul Grabowitz of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism is willing to cut blogger's some slack.

"I don't think they need to be held to the same standards [as journalists]," he said. "I would rephrase it as expectations. If you are gong to be running a blog and you want people to listen to you, then it seems to me that you have some sort of internal standards. . .or else who is going to pay attention."

Webb's opinion is closer to Pryor's.

Many bloggers say they want to be accepted by the mainstream media as another facet of public discourse, but this seems to be a hard goal to achieve if plagiarism, a cardinal sin in the world of journalism, is brushed off as a minor offense (or no offense at all). Just because blogs are a "free medium" doesn't mean that rules of playing fair need not apply. That's my two cents.

What does a blogger schooled in both journalism and law think about the ethics issue? I consider avoiding plagiarism and always attributing sources (or explaining why an attribution is not possible) as threshold ethical behavior for anyone practicing a form of journalism, whether the focus is news or opinion. I consider blogging about currrent events, including hard and soft news, to be journalism. (Cat bloggers get a break.)

I am willing to go easy on bloggers in some ways. Since most of us don't have the resources of a big city newspaper or even a small television network affiliate, I expect to see less citing of primary sources in Bloggersville. I also realize bloggers come from a variety of backgrounds and that most are generalists or specialists in a specific area. I don't expect my blog buddy composer Richard Einhorn of Tristero to be an expert on ICBMs. If Kevin Drum, whose expertise lies elsewhere, fills us in on the latest in psychopharmocology, I will be truly taken aback. But, when a blogger holds himself out as knowing more about a topic than most reasonably literate people, he should be telling the truth and be able to offer sources proving he is.

If you find time, I recommend reading the whole WaPo Filter column.

12:57 PM