Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Code of Conduct for Bloggers? Better Yet, How About One for the Media?

Every now and then you see a story floated suggesting bloggers should adhere to a code of conduct, and while it makes some sense on the surface, it's impractical and impossible to enforce. The sheer number of blogs and online commentary sites grow daily and monitoring and enforcing any kind of speech codes and standards is virtually impossible.
Nearly half of all internet users would support a voluntary code of conduct for bloggers and online commentators, according to research.

A survey by legal firm DLA Piper said 46% of web users think bloggers should sign up to a code that reflected the laws on defamation, intellectual property and incitement, with 15% ambivalent and 4% strongly opposed.

Around 34% of bloggers opposed the idea but 32% supported it.

Three quarters of web users who have posted comment on blogs and news sites were oblivious to libel law, said the report, even though the person posting the comment, rather than the host site, would be liable for any offence.

The survey highlights the dangers created not only by self-publishing but also by more innocuous user content, such as video, photos and comment posted to media-sharing sites.
Most of the blogs I read on a regular basis are written by those with journalism, other media or legal backgrounds and the writers likely are well-versed in libel law. If not, they're mature enough to know when not to cross the line into personal defamation and keep to the facts.

When in error, they usually post updates and corrections immediately and prominently. That's a self-policing mechanism on the web, where your credibility is as good as your last post. If you run with incorrect material or make things up out of thin air, your reputation will quickly be shot and your readership nonexistent.

This item got me to thinking, however, that maybe it's time to turn this around and recommend to the media that they begin a self-imposed code of conduct. After all, facing dwindling readership and viewers abandoning news programs in droves, isn't it time the media tried to restore a modicum of credibility?

Here are some suggestions, and I welcome feedback on other possible practices the media could take on.

1. The media will rigorously protect national security and will vow never to reveal information that endangers the public.

2. The media will be fair to politicians: For every fawning puff piece on a political candidate (Barack Obama comes to mind), they will devote an equal amount of space and time to their opponent.

3. The media will not rush to the microphone every time racial arsonists hold their daily press conference.

4. The media will publish corrections to stories prominently in the space or time segment where their original erroneous report originated. In other words, the New York Times will have their corrections on Page A1 regularly.

5. The media will stop referring to terrorists as activists, militants, or freedom fighters.

6. The media will stop commissioning slanted polls designed to become news items. They are there to report the news, not create it.

7. The media will immediately cease reporting on programs that immediately precede it. Case in point: I never watch American Idol, nor do I have any desire to. So when I tune in to the news following it, I do not want to see some amateur singing as the top story. Which is why I've stopped watching those news programs.

8. Car chases on Los Angeles-area freeways are no longer newsworthy. Get it?

9. Stories about why nobody listens to liberal talk radio are not news. It's just regurgitating countless stories we've seen for, oh, about 20 years now.

10. Stop insulting your audience, or what's left of it, by printing junk like this that cannot be proven or verified.

So there, a starting point for the media on how they can conduct themselves.

Who knows, maybe if they follow just a few of their suggestions they might begin retaining an audience. Just like the bloggers work diligently to do.

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