Blogology: Quick Hits from the Sorensen Bloggers Summit

A good number of bloggers have already provide ample overviews of the Sorensen affair, thus I will only add some key takeaways that continue to resonate with me. First, Michael Shear made strong arguments for why the vast majority of bloggers are not journalists in the classic sense, and Bob Gibson and others reinforced these points in their comments and in subsequent chats. The significant points of departure revolved around blogging’s lack of self-policing with no widely accepted codes of conduct and ethics – and the dearth of editorial and institutional oversight or structure that is typical of most MSM endeavors. This blog, for one, has proposed some voluntary blogging standards of practice, and in light of what was discussed at Sorensen, I would offer that this idea is worth revisiting.

Reflecting on this, it seems that the real issue at hand is not whether blogging is or is not journalism but whether bloggers who are not reporters can be considered journalists on par with opinion writers and analysts. Seeing as how journalism is a broad field, and given the prevalence of “advocacy journalism” with the likes of The Economist, New Republic, Weekly Standard, and most op/ed pages, the disconnect seems to revolve around the absence of editors. In the end, that’s more of a market innovation issue rather than a fundamental flaw of the blogging medium. In the end, those of us who aspire to raise our craft and produce MSM-quality work should not look to reporters like Mike as our standard, but rather to leading local, state, and federal opinion writers (unless we can play both sides of the fence like Norm’s penpal, Jeff Schapiro). We can also look at local newsweeklies and alternative newspapers which tend to relax traditional notions of objectivity.

Second, Gordon Morse excoriated bloggers for shying away from covering and investigating public policy issues. He correctly noted that most political bloggers prefer the daily soap opera of politicking to discussions of critical issues of importance such as healthcare, public finance, education, and the like. In Virginia, the policy implications of legislative and bureaucratic actions are mostly left off the table of the blogosphere, despite going mostly untouched by the MSM. Waldo’s General Assembly blogging and most of Bacon’s Rebellion are notable exceptions, but for the most part, Morse’s observations hold.

Third, bloggers better mind the store when it comes to campaign finance and election laws. One of the more fascinating tidbits that came out of the session on campaign finance (aside from the notes that my buddy Steven Sisson kept passing me) was that MSM institutions are mostly exempt from these laws due the press exception established by courts and legislatures. So far, the legislative and judicial branches have gradually granted status to bloggers, yet they have not delved as deeply into a universal standard of blogging as a MSM equivalent. However, some groups are pushing that envelope fast at the state and federal levels.

It stands to reason that since blogging is a communication medium, is an outlet for public service, and as bloggers are essentially “embedded citizen journalists” (not my creation), we should take steps to build an infrastructure for our own protection. Whether it is incorporating our blogs as businesses or non-profits, joining relevant associations, or banding together to create our own version of the Virginia Press Association, we would all be wise to pre-empt the courts and the legislatures just to be safe.

It will be interesting to compare and contrast the topics covered at the Sorensen Summit with those being developed for the “Bloggers United in Martinsville for free Speech” confab in August. Two months is practically an eternity in the blogosphere, and we will see if any of the lessons learned in Charlottesville will have any practical application in the interim. As I’m on the agenda as a presenter, I will definitely be paying greater attention not only to what I produce but what others do also.

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2 responses to “Blogology: Quick Hits from the Sorensen Bloggers Summit”

  1. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    The problem with ‘ethics for bloggers’ is that blogging is seldom defined correctly. A weblog is nothing more than a changing (cumulative) webpage; literally a log on the web.

    The analogy to a blog is paper; to blogging is writing. The medium may be a commonality; the content sure isn’t.

    Reporting, opining, analyzing, criticizing, detailing, gossiping, and investigating are all descriptive subsets of writing. Advertising, endorsing, sponsoring, propping up can be writing also, as discouraging, condemning, denigrating, and attacking can be. There’s little these have in common, and nothing in common ethically between them.

    Not every blogger sees their work as ‘an outlet for public service’, some clearly believe it’s about winning at any cost, some see it as a way to produce income. To muddy the waters, there’s the proven success, profit, and acclaim awarded for awarded for unethical practices. Varieties of hate mongering or inciting hysteria (BDS is an example) are not only accepted, but proven wildly popular.

    In politics Anger has become the fashionable political mood …. even outside the United States. It appeals to people’s baser instincts and it’s… well, it’s incredibly easy. In my view, it’s not ethical —though not unethical either, perhaps more ‘unscrupulous’— to use people that way, to appeal to prurient or sordid impulses.

    The concept of third-party standards could have the best results for this blog and others like it. Who, what, how, etc will take some time (and how to subsidize it) but would give credibility and protect from SEC or court action.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Jim Patrick raises a legitimate point. There are many different kinds of bloggers. Most have no pretention to be journalists — they just want a soapbox for venting their spleens. If their audience is 10 readers a day or 100, that’s really not the point. They’re just expressing themselves. No one should expect this kind of blogger to adhere to a code of ethics.

    But there also are serious, dedicated bloggers who invest a lot of time and effort building credibility and readership for their blogs. Some of these want their commentary and analysis to be taken seriously. Part of being taken seriously is behaving in a serious manner — and that entails hewing to a code of ethics that, at a minimum, (1) identifies the blogger’s political affiliations, sources of financial support and other loyalties and/or potential conflicts of interest, (2) places a premium on getting the facts straight, or at least correcting errors, and (3) refrains from engaging in libelous accusations and spreading of unfounded rumors.

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