For arts journalists who blog: What are the guidelines?

"That does bring up a subject I wonder if you guys might address on Flyover: For journalists who do blog, what kind of ground rules and expectations have publications given them, and how have they worked blogging into their work schedules?"

That's from Rich Copley, the copious culture writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky. He was responding to last week's post about the journalistic value of blogging.

His question -- a very pragmatic one, I might add, pragmatism being a rare topic of discussion here on Flyover -- has come up a lot in my newsroom and I'm sure in many others.

When any new means of communication arises, the natural question, for those of us who believe in and comport ourselves according to a relatively strict set of ethical guidelines, is: "What are the guidelines?"

Furthermore, what are the ethics of blogging, the legal strictures of blogging, the tone of voice, the appropriate subject matter? More fundamentally, perhaps, is the question of objectivity: As cultural journalists, to what degree can we assert professional points of view, knowledgeable perspective? To what degree does the critic's voice live among the impartial fact-finding of the journalist? This question obviously applies to writing for print, but is it different for blogging?

I agree with Rich that Flyover would be a good place to sort out these questions. Or at least to figure out what sorts of questions to sort out. Please let us know what you think. After we've gotten a number of responses, I'll put them all together in one post for easy reference. -- J.S.

August 13, 2007 6:16 AM | | Comments (5)

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5 Comments

I'm just trying to get in the groove with this blogging form, and find it a challenge -- more for isses of time devoted and appropriate amount of info to give than any ethical considerations, as it's my independent outlet and I owe no one the writing but myself. Amazing people find time to read blogs!

It's a discipline to write and disseminate work regularly that lives up to standards inculcated from straight journalistic training (starting as a copyboy, maybe in the last generation of them!). These writings ought to be worth something, substantial, not just ways to let our eyes glint over screens on useless opinions easily forgot.

The blog isn't exactly a column. It may be a report, or a flick at a report (it ought to be correct in all facts, but I gather it need not be exhaustive). I suppose it could be a haiku, a slogan, a collage -- may as well use the freedom as long we've got it.

Good observations all, Chloe. Thanks for sharing.

I blogged on this very subject a couple of weeks ago. you can read my posting here:
http://www.chloeveltman.com/blog

And here it is in full text:

The Rules of Blogging
August 1, 2007

I've now been a culture blogger for 7 months. Seems like a good time to look back and think about what I've learned about this medium.

1. PEOPLE READ BLOGS
One of the biggest shocks I got soon after starting to write this blog was the notion that there are people out there who are actually reading me. This came as quite a surprise. It continues to astonish me, actually, given the size of the blogosphere and the sheer amount of information out there. I fill a niche as a Bay Area culture blogger. But there are literally hundreds of arts blogs in the U.S, many of them written by very prominent cultural pundits from The New Yorker's Alex Ross to Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal. Given that people are actually paying attention...

2. BLOGGERS HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES
...bloggers need to behave responsibly. Given the speed at which blog postings are written and assembled, it's sometimes easy to forget the rules of journalism. People call me when I make mistakes. I'm really glad they do, though often the errors are as a result of simple carelessness on my part. Blogging should be treated every bit as seriously as writing an opinion piece or feature article for a major national publication. Bloggers need to be good self-editors and apply the same levels of rigor to their approach as they would for any professional journalistic assignment. This means checking facts, paying attention to grammar, syntax and spelling, telling a compelling story and writing in a way that can be understood by the reader.

3. BLOGGERS SHOULD BE SENSITIVE
I've gotten myself into trouble a few times when people in the arts industry have read my blog and been unhappy about being mentioned or quoted in my postings. Because conversations with these people sometimes end up being captured on my blog, I need to be careful about what I write. If a source has disclosed sensitive information, it's best to check with them first if it's OK to write about it. In fact, there's a case to be made for checking in with sources even if the material seems pretty incocuous. Another way around the issue is to avoid mentioning specifics like names where necessary.

4. BLOGGING IS ABOUT SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES
The number of times I've found out a scoop or heard a fascinating story, thought about an interesting topic, or had a great conversation with someone about a pressing cultural issue but failed to blog about it is beyond my ability to count. The beautiful thing about this medium is the lack of gatekeepers. I have the power to write about whatever I want -- and quickly too. A blog is a great place to launch ideas, suggest solutions and grapple with the status quo without spending weeks debating with an editor whether there's enough of a "story" in a subject to merit publishing it in a regular media outlet.

5. BLOGGING IS SURPRISINGLY EASY AND FUN
I thought keeping a blog five days a week would be an impossible chore. At the start, I doubted whether I'd keep it up past the end of January. Actually, I enjoy it. It helps rev me up in the morning and get my brain in gear for a day or writing.

6. THE CONVERSATIONS A BLOGGER CAN HAVE WITH READERS ARE VERY REWARDING
One of my favorite things about being a blogger is interacting with my readers. I don't get a whole lot of comments, at the moment but I've enjoyed corresponding with those that do choose to get in touch. After all, that's ultimately what this is all about: generating debate.

Jennifer makes a good point, and yes, my initial thought in raising the question was for the blog done on an employer's platform and time. But there is a necessary distinction there, because there are certainly professional journalists doing extracurricular blogging on their fields of interest, like Flyover.

But, as with all things in this evolving world of new media, it raises even another question for journalists: Do your employers put any restrictions on outside blogging, myspace pages, etc.? Certainly in journalism and other fields, we've seen folks get in trouble at work for what they put on their personal internet sites.

For a discussion of this to go forward, I think a distinction needs to be made between people who are blogging on their employer's time, as an official part of their jobs, and those who blog outside of work about their professional field of interest. Obviously, it seems like Rich is interested in the former type of blogging and not the latter, but I felt this needed to be noted. While all of us on Flyover do write for money, none of us is doing this as a part of our jobs. We're simply doing it out of personal interest and, as such, are not writing under an employer's ground rules.

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