The Internet is a godless environment. It is an enigma. Wikipedia, in its infinite wisdom, tells us:
It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless and optical networking technologies. The Internet carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents of the World Wide Web (WWW), the infrastructure to support email, and peer-to-peer networks.
Blogging is the same way. What the hell is a blog anyway? People are reluctant to define it, or to make any rules about it. And so am I, but there needs to be some guideline. While working at the Western Washington University’s student run newspaper The Western Front, I’ve developed some points to consider for keeping up a good blog and keeping it ethical.
The following is a from a manual I created for The Western Front’s blogging guidelines:
Seven Guidelines for Blogging
1. Choose a topic
Clearly define the subject you wish to discuss by narrowing your focus. Instead of “local news,” try “local weather,” or “winter weather in —.” Choose at least three tags or key words/phrases for the blog.
2. Define your voice and personality
What is your writing style? Sarcastic? Humorous? Optimistic? If this is a news blog, avoid using first-person descriptions (unless you were an active participant in the news). Be critical of your writing style.
Keep your writing style consistent. If the blog is a group project, make sure the tone, voice and styles are agreed upon.
3. How will the blog supplement you or your organization?
If you’re writing a news blog, the posts should be relatable to your organization’s audience. If you’re writing a personal blog, your posts should develop your niche as a writer. Consistently update the blog at least once a week.
4. Communicate with audience
Respond to comments on your blog or messages in your social media feed. Avoid responding when feedback is negative or offensive. Apply the Golden Rule.
5. Link to other sites
Writing a blog does not require interviewing people in person, but you should be able to attribute your information with links to other credible websites. Remember, linking to other websites is a form of endorsement.
6. Be transparent
Reveal any bias or conflicts of interest in your blog. Discuss how you discover information when appropriate.
7. Follow the rules of good journalism
Adhere to the standards of NPR’s Ethics Handbook for social media guidelines and the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
BLOGGERS CODE OF ETHICS
As a blogger you assume the role of a journalist. You are responsible for writing accurately. Social media and blogging can be abused by spreading misinformation or information that is false. The rules of grammar and AP style still apply.
Portray yourself a professional manner. Don’t behave any differently (or questionably) than you would in person. Be prepared to stand behind your claims if they are challenged.
Be informal and be inclusive, but be critical of your style, tone and voice. Remain as impartial as possible, but utilize your independence as a blogger.
Respect the community’s standards. Consider any possible legal (libelous) implications when writing.
Assume that your audience is always watching. Anything you write or say online is on the record (though this works both ways). Be transparent about any biases and disclose any conflicts of interest.
Update blogs as soon as possible when corrections are needed.
Practice good journalism
Whether you are professionally employed or not, always practice good journalism when blogging. Adhere to the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and NPR’s Ethics Handbook for social media guidelines.
Report the truth, act independently, never plagiarize, always attribute, strive for accuracy and minimize harm.
This is to be taken with a grain of salt. Blogging, especially in a journalistic environment, is meant to break the rules. Be bold, but be smart.
The code and the guidelines I created are a culmination of research from several different resources, such as:
- Internet Journalists’ Network
- NPR Ethics Handbook for social media guidelines
- Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
- Washington Post blog guidelines
- Food Blog Code of Ethics
- Gina Cheng (University of Southern Mississippi School of Communications)
- Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media)
I highly recommend checking out each of these links. They provided me with excellent information and were great resources for defining my own philosophy on blogging and social media use.