Blogger Ethics vs. Journalistic Standards

What makes this a Los Angeles topic is that two local “bloggers” (quotes stressed), Arianna Huffington and L.A. Times’ Michael Hiltzik have both been in the news lately for their questionable approach towards blogs.

LA Observed noted yesterday that Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State blog at the LA Times was suspended because “he posted items on the paper’s website, and on other websites, under names other than his own.” The pseudonymous postings gave the impression that readers were agreeing with what he was writing. (the suspension was apparently brought about by a post LA Observed made on the subject one day prior)

Arianna’s controversy from a few weeks ago concerned her “Huffington Post” reprinting quotes given by George Clooney in assorted sources, and reprinting them as a blog entry by George himself. George objected and claimed he has never blogged, while Arianna defended her actions and said, in essence, that a blog is whatever you want it to be.

On a broader note, Apple is now arguing that bloggers shouldn’t be considered legitimate journalists. While their motive is their own bottom line – to keep bloggers who leak Apple secrets from invoking journalistic protections, this doesn’t mean they don’t bring up a valid argument.

Which is where my opinion comes in: Just being a blogger does not constitute being a journalist, no matter how widely read one is or how often one posts. Allowing anyone who has a blog to claim confidentiality protections just because they have a blog would be a boon for criminals, terrorists, or anyone who wants to dish dirt and avoid libel charges by claiming the use of anonymous sources. This isn’t to say bloggers can’t be reputable, or can’t become journalists, but anyone can spend five minutes to set up a blogger account – it takes much more to be a journalist.

As for Arianna – she may be right. Some people write blogs under the guise of dead historical figures, others merely post favorite pictures or mailed in postcards. A blog can be whatever you want it to be. However, to claim any sense of legitimacy and say George Clooney is blogging when, in fact, he never actually sat down to type, or even expressed his intent for his words to part of a blog, is a little disheartening – it makes everyone question which of A list celebrities Arianna claims as bloggers actually write their stuff, or if she’s just pulling lines from press interviews and slapping them together.

But for Michael Hitzik to post under assorted pseudonyms to inflate his own ego is nothing short of deceptive, especially for a blogger who actually is considered a legitimate journalist.

Regardless, the important, and I believe, great thing about blogs, just like the internet as a whole, is that they are a great equalizer. No matter if you’re a blog backed by a huge corporation like the Los Angeles Times or one that is a grassroots effort (like Mack Reed’s LA Voice or blogging.la and Metroblogging), its the content that matters. The readers will decide for themselves what is legitimate and reliable or not.

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6 Replies to “Blogger Ethics vs. Journalistic Standards”

  1. Yeah sure, a blog is whatever you want it to be, but you can’t make it by someone else, and then claim it’s what THEY want it to be!

  2. This is why I will not post anonympusly. So no one can claim they are me when posting anonymously.

    I would prefer to accept responsibility for my words and plus it makes you think before you post it. You have to make that personal decision that whatever you write you are willing to accept the responsibility for what you are about to write.

  3. I think the distinction with the Clooney/Huffington thing is the same as this situation:

    I write a letter to the editor and instead of printing it as a letter they print it as an opinion column with a byline … basically changing the format and context in which it was delivered.

    It is tacky and unethical to post comments on your own blog without identifying yourself as the person who wrote the entry unless you have a verified psychiatric schism.

    As an LA Times staff member Michael Hiltzik was bound by the LA Times policies which state that they’re are supposed to identify themselves as themselves on the internet in these instances.

  4. re: quote: Just being a blogger does not constitute being a journalist, no matter how widely read one is or how often one posts. Allowing anyone who has a blog to claim confidentiality protections just because they have a blog would be a boon for criminals, terrorists, or anyone who wants to dish dirt and avoid libel charges by claiming the use of anonymous sources. end quote –

    Here Here!!! Very much right on. I would in no way consider myself a journalist. I had some joker comment on a posting of mine that insinuated I was a bad journalist. I told him flat out I was a blogger. End of arguement.

    At the same time if someone passed on information to me that was illegally obtained THEY would be the ones hearing the clang of steel bars!

  5. Meant to add that if a person cannot be ethical while blogging I would not expect them to be ethical in other areas of their lives. Like work…

  6. Cybele, I disagree with your comparison of the Huffington/Clooney situation to a letter to the editor being reprinted as a column for a number of reasons. Number one is that Clooney didn’t speak or write to Arianna, nor did he write any of what he became the blog post down. She heard or read what he said at a number of interviews, then combined them together into a series of paragraphs, and then claimed that George Clooney had blogged at the Huffington Post.
    A better comparison would be if an LA Times reporter overhear a conversation you had at a restaurant, transcribed what you said and posted it as a column with your name attached.
    Up til this instance, I loved the Huffington Post – but lost a great deal of respect for Arianna after the whole debacle.

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