Monday, August 15, 2011

New ethics for local journalism?

The new "Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism" from J-Lab is somehow reminiscent of the supposed exchange when non-violent anti-imperialist Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization.

"It would be a good idea," he said.

However, J-Lab's Jan Schaffer and others apparently think hyperlocal, online news sites are developing faster than common sense, so something is needed.

"These 'Rules of the Road' are very much a work in progress," Schaffer writes, "shaped by a news landscape in which:
*The threshold for news is lower. Misdemeanors, not just felonies, constitute news,
*Stories unravel in real time. Editors post updates as they come in rather than wait for a fully baked story,
*'Google juice' makes micro news have a macro afterlife,
*Ethical decisions are as open to community feedback as the stories themselves, and
*Attachment to the community is valued more than dispassionate detachment."

Still, one wonders whether new sources for journalism would do well to abide by the tried-and-true code of ethics the Society of Professional Journalists has, broadly summarizing four main points:
*Seek truth and report it fully,
*Act independently
*Minimize harm, and
*Be accountable.

For details or a free copy of the 52-page booklet, go to and click on "Get the pdf."