Ethical and Stylistic Considerations

Internet | Language/Structure
Having written about forty articles so far, I thought it necessary to disclose some of the ethical and style considerations that I've been making while writing this site.

Ethical Considerations

I am not a professional journalist, but I'd like to live up to the standards that people expect of journalists in my writings. Here are some resources I've reviewed:

Old School Ethics

The SPJ code is a good start, and I'll summarize the basics of what I ascribe to. I will not libel or defame anyone. I will seek the truth and report my sources as I find them. My journalistic integrity depends on my living up to your standards for reporting.

Oddly, there are things missing from the SPJ code which are simple basic ethics in developing stories; I've learned these only from friends who are journalists (and amazingly, got through stints on high school and college publications without learning these at all). One thing that's missing from the list something that journalists learn from experience– identify themselves as journalists. This gives subjects a chance to qualify anything they've said.

Also, I respect people's privacy. I will ask for permission before using someone's last name, unless that person is a public figure– somebody who through their words and actions seek to be in the news. If I participate in an event and decide to write about it, I'll let the subjects know about where the story will go.

I do tarry somewhat with the SPJ code's rather extended to values– the reporter should "refrain free of associations that may compromise integrity" yet also "examine their own values." I tend to more agree with Slate's Jack Shafer, who argues in his columns that its silly to assume that journalists are unbiased. Rather, the careful editor and reader should check to see that those biases don't appear in the writing.

As for the SPJ's request to "Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting," well, this site is mostly advocacy and analysis. The "Stories" pieces are more news than others, but I make no guarantees.

Online Twists

Rebecca Blood's "Weblog Ethics" was published as a part of here Weblog Handbook, and has been widely referenced as a good compact list for writers of blogs and other online articles. In the introduction, Blood explains that the reason for developing the list was that "the very things that make weblogs so valuable as alternative news sources–the lack of gatekeepers and the freedom from all consequences–may compromise their integrity and thus their value."

Generally these follow from the ethics from the SPJ (and it surely would have been nice if Ms. Blood had referenced it). For example: "Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true." "Disclose any conflict of interest." "Note questionable or biased sources." These are all good, though the most news editors, and readers, demand higher standards of truth than mere "belief". As do I. I really want to work on crafting this content.

There are other points which address the online medium in particular:

#2 "If material exists online, link to it when you reference it."
#3 "Publicly correct any misinformation."
#4 "Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.

#2 and #3 are style points which I'll address below. #4, on the other hand, is what singularly defines a blog– the "as it happened" type of reporting. I do agree that it does make sense respect the integrity of the content for the benefit of the readers. On the other hand, I really expect that the practice of constructive media demands that the writer will seek to regularly build stories. I often add postscripts on the bottom (which is, in fact, allowed by #4), but I also may take these postscripts, some comments by users, and churn it into a new version of the article (which is, in fact, enabled by the Drupal software). I may restructure stories at a later point in order to better organize the information.

Style Considerations

I will try to respect the title of the document or site I am linking to, but there are times I will take the liberty of making it sounds like it stands on its own. (e.g., the document There's been a number of good research into tools to provide better context for the user about the link (beyond the URL), but I'm afraid I don't use any.

I generally will use the persons first name if I know them, and the last names if I don't. On occasion I will use a title like Ms. Blood, for the simple reason that the last name looks funny standing my itself.

I will use the Slate model for making corrections– changing the document and writing later. Some grammatical errors I will fix without notice.

I may also add addenda to articles as appropriate, by adding a postscript afterwards.