Even if we can’t legally define journalism, we should at least define our journalistic principles

 by Martin Belam, 10 January 2012

An Oregon judge has inadvertently sparked a wider debate about the nature of journalism and who is “a journalist”, as Cleland Thom reported for the Press Gazette. The definition the judge outlined was:

  1. Journalism education.
  2. Credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity.
  3. Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest.
  4. Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted.
  5. Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources.
  6. Creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others.
  7. Contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story.

Paul Bradshaw blogged about how difficult it is to pinpoint the actual act of journalism:

“If, for example, one person researches the regulations relating to an issue, another FOIs key documents; a third speaks to a victim; a fourth speaks to an expert; a fifth to the person responsible; and a sixth writes it all up into a coherent narrative – which one is the journalist?”

The case in Oregan is a libel one, and the blogger who is defending themselves against the action has not been able to rely on the defences that might have been available to them if the judge had been satisfied that they were a journalist. Distinguishing between the two risks re-igniting the bloggers-vs-journalists debate that seems to be as old as the invention of the blogging CMS.

For a long time I’ve agreed with Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust that one of the ways media organisations can distinguish themselves from the general hubbub of the web is by having recognised and published sets of principles.

I also think it is a way for bloggers to set themselves up as aspiring to be credible sources and publishers on the web. I’ve had a published set of principles on this site for some time. They are:

“I strive to be accurate. I promptly correct any inaccuracy or error with a visible edit and update. I attribute and link to sources on the web wherever possible. Links on this blog are ‘dofollow’. Where comments are enabled, I encourage debate, but I never publish comments that appear to have been left solely to obtain a link from my blog for SEO purposes. My direct contact details are displayed on every page of the site. I use a range of third party services which may collect anonymous data about your usage of the site. Further details can be found on my privacy statement page. I do not receive payment or services for any reviews or editorial on currybetdotnet. The views expressed are my own, and do not reflect the views of any current or former clients or employers.”

If you are using rNews, you can even mark-up your content semantically to point to your principles using publishingPrinciplesURI.

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