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The responsibilities of the “fifth estate”

Ethics. Morals. Principles. Call them what you will, but in the world of journalism, they all pretty much boil down to act the same way: as a guide we journalists follow to help us make decisions about what to write or not to write as well as how we want our work to be perceived. So, as is the case with the majority of my blogs so far here on WordPress, we now have to come full circle and examine how this issue may or may not affect the world of blogging.

In class we discussed whether or not news and political bloggers should adopt a code of ethics similar to the SPJ code of ethics or the PRSA code of ethics and after much debate, I arrived at the position that news and political bloggers should adopt some sort of code of ethics. If you’re going to be informing us about the world or giving us commentary on the current political situation, I don’t think that it’s at all unreasonable for readers to assume and expect that you’re doing so in an ethical manner. In other words, you’re not trying to pass somebody else’s work as your own or fiction as fact and you’re not writing things to intentionally libel a person. I think that it’s only fair that if you expect your audience to respect you and take you seriously, then you should repay them in kind.

First of all, let me be clear when I say that I’m strictly talking about news and political blogs. For the sake of my argument, personal blogs will be excluded from discussion. I think that this distinction right there makes a very big difference when it comes to talking about ethics. In a personal blog what you say is just that, personal. In a society where people are turning to news and political blogs for their daily news intake, bloggers have a responsibility to their audience to act in an ethical manner. If they want to be taken seriously, then they have to take themselves seriously. Adhering to a code of ethics not only shows that you take your work seriously, it also gives you credibility for readers to trust you and what you’re writing about. According to my classmate KC, in her blog,

“by the summer of 2004, it was clear that government officials viewed blogs as both credible and influential when political bloggers were given press credentials to attend both the Republican and Democratic political conventions.”

KC also mentions how it was bloggers who broke the story about the Clinton/Lewinsky sex scandal as well as Dan Rather falsely reporting George W. Bush’s military records. With having such an obvious impact on the news sphere, bloggers should have some sort of code of ethics to follow.

Blogs are starting to be considered the “fifth estate” on the “fourth estate” (journalism). They’re acting as a watchdog on the government’s watchdog. So it’s only logical that if blogs are calling out journalists when we’re not being ethical that they’re ethical as well. If you’re going to hold us accountable for our actions, you damn well better be accountable for yours. As I’ve mentioned so many times this quarter, blogging seems to be the direction that journalism is heading and so to be a credible source of news, it’s not too much to ask that bloggers adopt a code of ethics.

I’m not saying that they need to form some sort of organization like the SPJ or PRSA. I’m just saying that there should be some form of ethical code to guide news and political bloggers in their writing. Now many people would argue that this would infringe on bloggers’ first amendment rights and I can see where this argument would come in–after going to school for four years to get a degree in journalism, I honestly can. I’m not saying that bloggers need to censor themselves or hold back their opinions. Because that’s one of the beauties about blogs: You don’t always have to work to be objective and can insert your opinion whenever you like. All I’m saying is that bloggers should be fair and honest in their work and be aware of copyright infringement and libel laws. And if adopting some sort of universal code of ethics for bloggers doesn’t seem to be logistically feasible, then news and political bloggers should take it upon themselves to adopt a personal code of ethics.

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3 comments on “The responsibilities of the “fifth estate”

  1. Hi, Sammi! Formal informality … nicely done. You’ve taken the formal structure but made the writing approachable, conversation, which conforms with the informality that is online publishing.

    A point about the First Amendment, though, since if I held the opposite view, this argument would not have convinced me. The First Amendment applies only only to the government: the government shall make no law … Voluntary codes of ethics created by a professional group have nothing to do with the 1st Amendment!

  2. […] follow to help us make decisions about what to write or not to write as well as how we wanhttps://paks2008.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/the-responsibilities-of-the-fifth-estate/Colleges take variety of approaches in overseeing student media Freedom Forum OnlineWhen the editor […]

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