Karen Schneider of Free Range Librarian has written a thought-provoking piece about blogging ethics. She says that librarian bloggers need a code of ethics because “too many of us want to be considered serious citizen-journalists, when it suits us, but fall back on ‘hey, it’s only a blog’ when we’d rather post first and fact-check later, present commentary as “news,” or otherwise fall short of the guidelines of the real profession of journalism.” She provided links to several postings on the subject of blogging ethics, including Rebecca Blood’s Weblog Ethics. Basically, Rebecca’s code of ethics state that bloggers should publish things we believe are true, link to the things we reference (if they’re online), correct anything we find to be untrue, never rewrite an article after publishing it, disclose conflicts of interest, and tell the readers about a source they are linking to that is biased. This all doesn’t sound too terribly unreasonable (other than rewriting, which should be left up to the person who wrote it – this isn’t a newspaper!). I never write anything I know to be untrue, I provide links, I never rewrite articles (sometimes I fix a link if it’s dead or incorrect), and I think my biases are pretty clear to anyone who reads my blog. I think all of those are reasonable standards to live by.
But do we need standards at all? Are we journalists? Gosh, I hope not. Most of the bloggers whose blogs I read do not purport to be journalists in the traditional sense of the word. Some detail what goes on in their life and work, some provide their opinions on current events, and some simply link to things they find interesting. Rochelle Mazar had some insightful comments about Karen’s piece (both on Karen’s blog and on her own blog, Diary of an Aspiring Librarian, which is a great read, by the way):
Keeping a blog does not by definition cross into journalism. I understand why people feel that it does; many blogs have a newsy feel to them, and since blogs are serial, I can see the connection. Vaguely. But a blogger is not journalist. A blog is a format. It’s just a personal webpage that’s easy to update, and is generally updated often. It’s really important that we not get so wrapped up in linking blogs with journalism that we start imagining that we have some kind of higher calling to “report” with accuracy. As if we’re some kind of playback device. As if this is the point of the profession.
I think blogs like Steven Cohen’s upcoming PLA blog at the Midwinter Conference will come the closest to being journalism as the bloggers will be reporting on news for an organization. That’s different. Writing for an organization implies a whole new set of responsibilities as you are representing that organization with everything you write. Most of the blogs I read are written by one or a few people who are representing only themselves. As they are representing themselves, anyone with some sense would assume that what they write is biased. I enjoy reading blogs because they’re NOT journalism! I like reading people’s biased impressions and tangential ramblings. I like reading about things that other people think are cool. I don’t mind typos. I would be very sad to see the blog world take on codes and rules and imposed structure.
I hope to see lots of biased blogs full of interesting reflections and typos at ALA Midwinter. If I end up going, I plan to blog, and my blog will represent my biased and half-baked opinions and not those of any library or organization.