Advice to journalism students for being online.

Its getting to that point in the academic calendar where I’m writing documentation for the modules I’ll be teaching this year. Looking back over previous years, I’ve noticed how bits of information appear and disappear in the guidance notes I write; notes about certain types of kit have been replaced with general advice about phones; Reading lists become increasingly digital.

But in all of the changes, and beyond the standard academic boilerplate, there are some elements that have stayed the same. One is a section called ‘guidance on blogging’. I started including it nearly 10 years ago and I based it on the ethics guide put forward by Suzanne Stefanac in  her book Dispatches from Blogistan: A Travel Guide for the Modern Blogger:

Be fair:

  • Acknowledge any personal bias or influence
  • Clearly distinguish opinion from fact
  • Research all facts thoroughly and honestly
  • Never mislead or misrepresent
  • Be transparent
  • Never plagiarise.

Be Accountable:

  • Identify and link to sources whenever possible
  • Invite feedback and respond to it
  • Admit mistakes promptly and publicly
  • Be courageous when holding those in power accountable
  • Avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest

Minimise harm:

  • Avoid pandering and sensationalism
  • Recognise that private individuals have a greater right to an expectation of privacy than public officials or those who court power, influence or public attention
  • Practice discretion when writing about those who may be adversely affected by blog coverage.
  • Recognise common standards of decency
  • Seek approval for content distribution of any material which is not your own

Sometimes it feels like we spend an increasing amount of time thinking about how to ‘do’ and less on how to ‘be’ online.  So it’s nice to reflect that even when the form changes, the basic approach can still stand.

I know that blogging is fast becoming a bit of a legacy concept, which I think is a real shame; I still think a blog is about the space to say* why* you think something in a world of people saying what they think in 140 chars or less.  But the sidelining of the concept doesn’t undermine the usefulness of  Stefenac’s advice. So I’m going to keep it in. Relevance might dictate that I  replace blogging and blog with publishing and publish, but they still work for me as a guide for being online.

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