Thursday, May 12, 2011

What Responsibility Do We Have as Bloggers? (Re-post)

**Note** Blogger lost this post and the comments. I was able to retrieve the post and the comments from a cache on Bing. I'm going to copy the comments and repost them in the comment section. Freaking Blogger...

It's been over 15 years since I graduated college with what is now a completely useless degree in journalism. At the time I could never have imagined a world in which news would be disseminated via computer and anyone could brand themselves writers by virtue of putting up a blog and declaring themselves citizen journalists-- or reviewers. The internet was in its infancy and people still relied on newsprint and network television for information. Boy, how things have changed.

I can't help but think about how the world has shifted as I sit with my laptop, composing my own self-important thoughts and click on the "publish post" button without the benefit of another set of eyes to catch my flaws in reasoning or grammar.

How can this be a good thing?

Well, that's the question isn't it? Is it a good thing that any random schmuck cough*PerezHilton*cough can put up a blog that is little more than sophomoric scribbles over celebrity images and become very wealthy doing it?

And am I qualified to answer that question?

I'm pretty sure I agonize over trivial things more than the average person, but I do wonder what my responsibility is as a blogger-- or whether I have any obligation other than to please myself?

I'll be the first to admit that I love the information age. I think the Internet and the explosion of citizen journalists, reviewers etc., is a great thing. But there's no denying that with the flow in information comes an even greater flow of disinformation where rumor can (and will) be accepted as fact-- and setting the facts straight after-the-fact is nearly impossible. When I worked in television it seemed as if we spent as much time with the lawyers as we did with the subjects of our interviews-- I was frequently reminded that nothing was too trivial to be sued over. I haven't worked in TV in quite a while, so I can't speak of the legal standards that are enforced today, but I suspect they haven't changed much. But blogging?

I've heard of a few instances of bloggers being sued for libel, usually in relation to political content. But I have to admit I'm amazed at how much protection our free speech laws allow when it comes to blogging. Though I shouldn't be surprised considering we're a society that will allow the abomination that is The Westboro Baptist "Church" and their psychotic rantings-- but I digress. I suspect that a lot of laws are trampled on pretty regularly by bloggers, mostly because we don't know any better. How many images do I use that need to be properly attributed? Heck if I know. I honestly didn't think of these things when I slapped up the blog. And how much content is being plagiarized? I know I've actually seen articles and reviews I've written show up on other sites with no attribution-- but what am I supposed to do about that? Sue? Yeah right.

Though, if I'm being honest, I don't care that much about simple carelessness. We're all guilty of it. But it's unfortunately common for bloggers to become downright malicious. Stories of cyber-bullying, and stalking, are becoming more common and, as usual, our laws haven't caught up to reality. And I have no idea what we do about that.

There are so many ways in which average people have managed to insinuate themselves into the "celebrity" culture. Social networking and reality shows have made it seem perfectly normal to put our lives on display whether there's profit involved or not. I don't really fear video games anymore-- but YouTube scares the heck out of me. The world has become so strange that celebrities have begun competing with the rest of us and now use Twitter in ways I never imagined-- though I won't lie, if the real Christopher Walken is Tweeting, I want to know about it. That's just bizarre enough to cut through my prejudices on the matter.

Maybe I'm strange, (That's rhetorical-- no need to chime in here) but I feel a certain responsibility as a blogger. I used to worry about things like blog traffic, posting every day and generally fretting over whether I was interesting. When I started this blog about five years ago there weren't that many people doing what I'm doing, but now... We're everywhere. The Internet is like the Wild West, only in this case the it isn't the gunslingers we have to worry about. People wear anonymity like a shield even as they flaunt their every move to anyone willing to watch. And the incivility is rampant.

The online world is a society without boundaries and I doubt there will ever be a day when it will be something that can easily be controlled by lawyers. One only has to look at what has, so far, been a futile effort to stop the online piracy of music, books and movies. So it is incumbent on us to set the boundaries-- the hard part is going to be getting people to agree on where the lines should be.

For my part I think the immortal words of Bill and Ted sum up my hopes for the future of blogging, and online interactions in general, as I pray that we all learn how to be excellent to each other.


Budd said...

wow, some food for thought there. I have noticed that blogger is full of people that are writers and are promoting their books and/or going through their creative process. They are able to build this network of followers and cross promote each others books. Some have publishing deals and others are self published. Several years ago, this was not the case at all.

I started my alternate reality as a way to keep my writing skills sharp. Then I started SciFi Media to write about scifi with others, although it seems to be just me most of the time. Now my alternate reality is just things I want to say that won't fit into scifi media.

I too use images without getting permission or siting sources, but I doubt most of the images I use are from their original source anyway.

The Curmudgeon said...

I hadn't visited for awhile, but I'm glad to have dropped in today.

This is a matter of great interest to me as well. Even though I was never a journalism major -- the major was not offered at my school -- I've been a newspaper wannabe for 30+ years. The high-water mark of my journalism career came when I had a second interview with the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. I was willing to do almost anything to get out of law school at that point -- being co-editor of the law school newspaper was not enough to scratch my journalistic itch -- but the 2nd interview turned into an offer to drive a delivery truck... an offer rescinded as soon as it was made because I was not yet 25.

As a blogger I try to be original, either by creating new content or by combining others' materials in my own (hopefully distinctive) way. I link faithfully to articles. I am less faithful with regard to pictures -- but, if they are an integral part of my post -- i.e., the post would not make sense (or, if you must, make less sense) without it, I try and include attribution.

Even as an anonymous blogger, I strive to be civil. Shouting isn't always necessary... or effective. One of the most effective appellate advocates I've ever seen spoke in a voice that was barely above a whisper.

I also blog in my own name. There, I have become something of a journalist in that I am providing news coverage on a topic underserved by traditional media. Here I recall what my one journalism teacher, a former Tribune copy editor, said: Human beings can not be 'objective' -- but journalists should strive to be fair. (I did have one class.) That's been my goal and I've received enough favorable response to suggest that I may be succeeding, at least on some level.

I don't think it wise to censor the shouters or the haters (I'd make an exception for the worst cyber-bullies, especially of private individuals -- but that's not as easy as it sounds). However, I'd be pleased as punch if the shouters and the haters found themselves ignored.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Great post!

I don't give much thought to blogging ethics. The way I figure, people already know not to take ME seriously.

M. McGriff said...

Ugh, I tried to leave a comment on this one the day you posted it and after writing a long, almost well thought out comment, blogger went done and it wouldn't let me post it! Let's see if I remember any of my rantings....

The blogosphere is ever changing and yes it can be a big free for all, where ethics, morality, and just plain courtesy can go completely out the window. However, with all things new, there will be a standardization that has to develop - probably in the same vein that journalism did in the early days (though I never studied journalism but I'm just speculating!) I've noticed this happening believe or not with fashion blogging (something I've been doing for about 2 years now) Those bloggers who have risen to the ranks of having a million page views and actively working with brands, etc. are starting to lead movements to have standards and ethics in blogging. Slowly but surely those blogs that have nothing but negative and unethical garbage are beginning to fade into the background and blogging is starting to become a legit form of journalism. So I'm hopeful the same will happen in this part of the blogosphere too!