Sources and Ethics – Yays and Nays of Web-Journalism

I just finished reading Ch. 9 of  We The Media by Dan Gillmor.

What I gathered? Five tips on sources and ethics in the digital age for citizen and “professional” journalists that I think are most important. Most of it concerns source, but as a photographer, I could not help commenting on the ethics of using images:

1.”Consider the Source” and “fact check its ass”

In the age of internet anonymity, it may become hard to figure out how reliable a person as a source is. If people are hesitant to say who they are in Real Life (RL), be careful! Use common sense! Suspect a lack of authority or an ideological agenda hidden, trying to make you their tool.

However, source anonymity shouldn’t be given up. Just be sure to fact-check and use common sense when you don’t know the reliability of a source! One way would be fact checking through citizen journalists (who will “fact check your ass”!)

2. Cut the Cutting-Out

Avid news readers often feel the urge to share what they’ve read. If you want to share something in the digital age, email a copy of the entire article or a URL to the original. Otherwise you run the risk of losing or even changing information! Cutting and pasting sounds like a good idea? Mind you – did you get all the relevant information? Headline? Category? The initial source? Just send the link – so much easier, too!

3. Cut the Bullshit

More and more companies produce their own “journalism” in order to get their news out there. When journalists simply reiterate these press releases, they become tools of companies and agencies rather than reporters. Don’t be lazy; do some background investigation, find out what’s really worth reporting!

4. What’s in it for ME?

Do you consider that when you interview somebody, you might not be the only one to gain? This is not bad, but be aware of it! Ask yourself:  What does a person I interview have to gain from an interview? Is there an agenda to participating? Gilmore says: “We need to recognize that motives play a part in what we’re told, and we adjust our ultimate coverage accordingly.”

Going back to #3 that might mean: go do your homework!

5. What’s Wrong with this Picture? Image Ethics

The times when photographs were proof that something had really happened, as Roland Barthes states it in La Camera Lucida, are over. Image manipulation is common practice in general media and seems to be slowly moving into journalism. But careful! Changing an image entails the same troubles that clipping parts of a news article brings – it may change the meaning. Deception is intolerable, but where is the line of making an image better or changing it’s meaning? Think about it!

Edited out some spelling errors

  1. May 20th, 2009

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