Why a Code of Blogging Ethics at Desirable Roasted Coffee?
(Note: I had intended to post this at the same time as the actual code, but a lovely weekend with friends intervened).
Why post a Code of Blogging Ethics at Desirable Roasted Coffee?
Recently, friend Shel Holtz wrote about the the dark side of blogging -- when bloggers deceive readers. It is a thoughtful post, and one can't read it and just look away again. Ethical questions (and legal ones) about blogging are popping up all over. And press and public believe that some, many, most, all bloggers are the border ruffians of cyberspace, with little interest in facts and without the moral underpinnings for fairness.
Over the last month, several influential bloggers have called for Codes of Ethics.
Nick Denton suggests a Blog Ethics Committee.
"Maybe it's time that we rely, not on a volunteer watchdog, but on some sort of permanent institution. So I'm going to grit my teeth, and make a proposal: that a blog ethics committee be established."
Holtz's HC+T Update November echoes this:
"Perhaps an informal opt-in program would serve as a needed first step. All that's required is a statement of an ethical code posted to a Web site where those who agree to abide by the code download a logo to appear on their sites asserting that "This blog adheres to the Blogger Code of Ethics," or some similar language. Violations could be reported to some volunteer body that reviews the complaints with the power to revoke the right to use the logo."I can't ride that train, since I distrust authority on reflex (let me digress briefly to say I found it juxtapositionally-delicious that Scoble blogged my Code just next to the story about Barlow's Troubles with the Man). Moreover, the vast majority of the world's 5 million bloggers are utterly unaware of this discussion and probably would never learn of the existence of a central Blogging Ethics Committee (and would be bemused that it was watching them if they did).
"As blogging's influence grows ... somebody somewhere needs to take a first step."
Luckily for me, Jeff Jarvis (who Denton wanted to enlist in the effort, and who refused) pushed my thinking, and gets us all off the central authority hook, by arguing:
"We don't need a committee. We don't need an authority figure or moral guidepost.
"This is a distributed world, a world owned by the whole. We are ruled by the wisdom of the crowd."
I think that's the best I or anyone can do, at least until some sort of distributed "referral and rating" system is developed. By posting a Code of Blogging Ethics that applies only to Desirable Roasted Coffee, I can promise my readers what my blog's moral guidepost is. And they can measure my words against that pledge, as they also measure my words for relevance and usefulness. If I'm useful, relevant, and keep to my moral compass when I write, then I hope readers will stay. Failing on those points will certainly drive them away, as I am driven from blogs that fail me.
In short, my Central Blog Ethics Committee (And my Central Blog Relevance and Usefulness Committee) is you, reader, and your sanction will be swift and unsparing. It always is.
Shel asks if he can sign on to my code. No, he can't -- my promise to readers is a personal one. But if he likes my code enough, I'd be honored if he lifted it, published it, but called it Code of Blogging Ethics at a shel of my former self. Or he could tweak it to fit his values. Or he could use it as inspiration for something entirely different that would be his. The same goes for anyone who reads this, of course.
Credit where credit is due. In thinking about the Code of Blogging Ethics at Desirable Roasted Coffee, I was heavily influenced (as I have always tried to be in my writing) by my college journalism professor, Bob Bristow, whose mantra was "Check your facts, be fair, be straight with your readers, editors, and sources." I also read and was freely inspired by:
Charlene Li's wiki and its links
The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists
Code of Ethics of the Australian Journalists Association
The International Journalists Network's exhaustive list of national journalist ethics codes
International Association of Business Communicators Code of Ethics
Ethics Code of the Public Relations Society of America
Benjamin Franklin's 2nd, 7th, and 8th Virtues
Update (16 December 2004): ran across Blog Ethics Analysis 2004, where Martin Kuhn seeks to apply the thinking of Rawls, Ross, and Kant to the ethics of blogging (via Sandhill Trek).