FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Should Bloggers Adopt MSM Ethics?

Jeff Jarvis, Ann Althouse and Glenn Reynolds are just some of the bloggers who have slammed a New York Times op-ed piece by Alan Cohen calling for more stringent ethics in the blogosphere.

Cohen observes that bloggers follow no standards or codes of ethics in their reporting. Bloggers counter that such standards are unnecessary, and that Cohen's piece is merely more boo-hooing that mainstream media (MSM) is being upstaged by the blogging revolution. It was we and not the MSM who upheld standards during Dan Rather's Bush National Guard fiasco, bloggers say. Tim Worstall even jumps down Cohen's throat because, in his piece, Cohen lumped the Drudge Report in with blogs -- clear evidence that Cohen doesn't have a clue.

With all due respect to bloggers who routinely roll their eyes at MSM defenders, I believe Cohen makes some valid points. As the blogosphere matures and more people rely on it as a source of information, tools for accountability are going to emerge. Even if they're nothing more than voluntary codes of conduct, readers will at least have some assurance that a blog is attempting to adhere to a level of quality and accuracy. It's simply the next logical step in the self-policing that "governs" the blogosphere today.

Standards will emerge, in part, because the blogosphere is not a place where all blogs are created equal. The big "alpha" blogs that get a lot of media attention exist on one level, while smaller blogs by individuals are farther down on the food chain. Alpha blogs have their "brands" to consider, and can always use those to ensure high standards. But what about the small upstart bloggers? Signing on to a code of conduct would help them achieve a level of credibility that they might not be able to achieve otherwise.

Much of the current controversy is reminiscent of the dialog that took place during the early days of the Web, leading up to the dotcom boom. Back then, webmasters and dotcoms would say, "We're different, we're special. The 'old economy' is dead, so we don't need to adhere to those rules." Well, we all know how that turned out. The "new economy" wasn't any different from the old one, and many a dotcom paid the price for their "difference."

There may or may not be a blog bubble to burst. But like dotcoms, the blogs that survive and thrive will be those that offer something that their predecessors couldn't, yet observe established standards and practices. Ebay is an example of a dotcom that succeeded by offering a new service that would not have been possible without the Web, yet took itself seriously as a business. Likewise, blogs have a lot to offer the media world that print and broadcast media simply aren't equipped to provide. But that doesn't absolve blogs from assuring their readers that they are acting in the most responsible and ethical manner possible.