Bloggers For Truth and Ethics
If you’re a blogger who writes opinions, you’re a member of the media. What is your obligation?
Good morning, Everlastings! So, okay, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, what with threats of our entire democratic system of governing going down the tubes, and that damned pandemic refusing to slow down and just become a plain old epidemic, or even something like a normal flu season.
It’s been tough. Nasty thoughts in my head so much of the time, caused mainly by other peoples’ stubbornness and stupidity over everything from voting rights to school board meeting ruckuses to, yes, that damned pandemic! But you don’t come here to listen to me wail. We’re here to manage our chosen trade, to inspire and to be inspired, and dammit, that’s what we’re going to do!
But today I’m thinking again about blogger ethics; about our responsibilities to our readers when we take up the calling of opinionating. It’s not all we do as writers, and if your calling is more benign, leaning more toward love and light, I envy you. But multitudes of bloggers have opinions seemingly set in cement, and, while we’ll never agree on everything, we owe it to our readers to do this one simple thing: strive to tell the truth.
So here we go. This is what I think. My opinion, but I’d love to hear yours. The comment section is our salon, our meeting room. It’s where we have a chance to talk to one another.
See you there!
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In the scheme of things, in the world we live in today, is the New York Times more important than the Podunk News? How about the Washington Post? USA Today? Would anybody say anything but ‘yes’? Yet, hard as it might be to believe, there are people in this country who have never seen an issue of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or USA Today, and don’t feel the least bit deprived.
Do those newspapers have a wide reach? Sure. Do they influence people? You bet they do. But so do smaller city and local news outlets. So do internet websites. And so do writers who blog.
We’re all part of the media.
Dictionary.com describes the Media this way:
The means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, that reach or influence people widely: The media are covering the speech tonight.
Opinion bloggers, political opinion bloggers in particular, strive to be communicators, often working tirelessly to build a large enough readership to ultimately make a difference. The one thing we opinion bloggers have in common with the Big Guys is that need to communicate.
We’re living in fraught times. We’re passionate, we’re frantic, and much of the time we’re shouting into the wind.
Do we have the ability? Many of us do, and some of us are lucky enough to have a loyal following, but carrying that mantle, ‘blogger’, often stops us cold. Anyone can blog, so since there is no learning curve, no requirements for ethics or the truth, no ultimate responsibility, and since we’re out there in huge numbers, we’re rarely seen as influencers.
Blogging is, by its nature, opinion. It’s all ours. We choose blogging over traditional publishing for many reasons, but mainly we choose it because it gives us complete control over everything we write. That’s heady. It’s energizing. It’s a total power trip — and in this current climate it’s a golden opportunity.
With the reduction of newsroom editorial staff everywhere, political blogging, if given a chance, could come into its own. We’re the 21st Century Thomas Paines, putting out political pamphlets crafted on our own devices instead of on hand-cranked printing presses.
In the era of fake news everyone wants to have a say, but not everyone gets it right. How to figure out who to trust? Speaking as a nearly anonymous political blogger, hear me now: I submit that in political blogging there should be a learning curve, along with basic requirements for ethics and truth. There should be a built-in sense of obligation and of responsibility. Political blogging should be a category of its own, with its own set of rules and requirements. If it’s not journalism, it should come as close as it can get.
As distasteful as it may sound to those who blog specifically for the freedom, I say we political bloggers need a society of sorts. If we’re to be believed or trusted or depended on to tell the truth as we see it, we have to get past the blogger stigma and move into a more professional approach.
Political blogging is far different from personal blogging. It’s not indulging, it’s informing. Even on the blogs leaning toward snark and satire there’s a need to be honest. To tell the truth.
“Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” Molly Ivins wrote.
The talent comes in presenting the truth in ways that provoke, that entertain, that make the lightbulbs go off. That’s where the best political bloggers shine. They’re good writers, even when they’re not being paid for their work. They deserve recognition, but they’re toiling in a vast sea of bloggers working to be seen, to be appreciated, to be respected. Not everyone who blogs is good at it. The beauty of blogging — that anyone can do it — is also its curse.
So, I’d like to propose a Good Blogging Seal of Approval. A seal bloggers would have to earn and would be awarded by a board made up of proven, respected opinion bloggers.
Here are some suggested requirements:
· Tell the truth.
· Give ’em hell but use journalistic standards.
· If it’s humor/satire, make it clear at the top.
· Attack the powerful, not the powerless. (Which means families of the powerful are off limits unless the families are part of the power bloc.)
· Don’t dox. Don’t shame unless it absolutely fits and the person absolutely deserves it.
· If you mess up, admit it and make it right. Don’t whine.
· Vet your sources. If it sets off your BS meter, check it out. Even if it doesn’t, check it out.
· Don’t use anyone else’s work without attribution.
· Write well.
I propose the organization title, Bloggers for Truth and Ethics. It could be something else, like The Society of Political Bloggers, or The Society of Professional Bloggers, or anything that suggests that blogging is responsible and has an obligation to get it right.
I propose a panel of judges made up of bloggers known for their enduring, ethical blog posts. They would award a Seal of Approval to worthy bloggers who could then highlight it on their blogs or in their bios. Submissions could come from the outside, either by bloggers themselves or admirers of those bloggers.
We’ll need to work out the details, but to start, The Society for Professional Journalists publishes a useful Code of Ethics. I doubt if they’d mind if we bloggers used it, too. With attribution, of course.
Think about it. And if anyone with more clout than I have (that would be everyone) is interested in working to get this started, let me know. I’m serious about this. It’s time. Political bloggers are needed, they have much to offer, yet they’re nearly invisible. We could change that.
(I’ve proposed this before, with no takers. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. But if nothing else happens, if you’re one of those bloggers, at least please think about it. And keep that Code of Ethics handy. We have a role in all of this, but we have to get it right.)