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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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July 02, 2005

Trust Me?

Posted by Ernest Miller

There has been a bit of a hubbub over codes and labeling of bloggers. The Media Blogger's Association is "is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting MBA members and their blogs, educating bloggers, and promoting the explosion of citizen's media." They are considering whether to adopt a code of ethics/standards for their members.

Jeff Jarvis has been opposing this move. Dana Blankenhorn on Moore's Lore has taken him to task for his opposition (Media Anarchy). Part of his reasoning is that there is a need for an enforceable code:

The problem with the SPJ [Society of Professional Journalists] code is that it’s unenforceable. Journalists have no say in deciding who a journalist is. Employers have all the say, and they don’t have to subscribe to this ethic in their hiring, firing or promotion policies.

I figure a group like the MBA could at least enforce simple rules by creating valuable member benefits and kicking out those who refuse to conform, following some objective process.

Jeff has responded here: As Groucho Used to Say .... I side with Jeff on this one.

Why have a code at all? Why not simply a set of best practices? A practical guide to transparency, accuracy, fairness, open access?

Can journalism really be codified? Do we want it to be codified? To me, journalism is like democracy, there isn't one single way to practice it correctly. It isn't a monolithic institution; it is a cacophony of voices. We define journalism through a working consensus, not a hard and fast set of rules. There will never be perfect agreement on what the means of journalism entail beyond some general guidelines.

We all know enough that we should be honest, but what the blogosphere needs if anything, is some practical guides as to what that might entail in various circumstances. Of course, even here there won't be agreement on some of this, but that doesn't mean that those who disagree are somehow dishonest.

If you think that someone has gone beyond the bounds, then make that case. Is there any particular reason that such decisions need be rule-bound? Do we really need an organization to declare when someone has been dishonest? This isn't a call for anarchy, but simply a recognition that free speech doesn't need a certification process for it to work.

The other labeling move is the introduction of Honor Tags, which claim to "help readers find content they can trust, and help journalists, bloggers, podcasters and other creators build that trust within their communities. As a creator, you can tag the postings on your own blog or other site to indicate your intentions." What's Next Blog has a lot more information (Bayosphere to Institute Voluntary Honor Tags for Bloggers & Other Writers). I don't really get it.

The tag system will include:
A. Journalist-- "I'm fair, thorough, accurate, open, and in general operate with integrity."

J-News tag: "I write and explain the facts as truthfully and fairly as I can report them. I work for the community interest."

J-POV tag (for reviews and commentary) "I make the case for action based on the most thorough reporting of facts possible. I work for the public interest."

We need tags to tell us this?

Tags are a very cool technology, but not everything is suited to tagging. This is one of them. Of course I'm going to self-lable myself honest. What, I'm going to tell you I'm a liar? Even aggregated do these tags give us any particularly useful information? via Citizen Paine

Now, this idea has probably already been raised, but what I would like is to be able to tag my links to other blogs and sources. That might provide some useful information, even if the majority of tags are very simple such as "agree", "disagree", "informative", "humorous". The tagging would be unlimited, of course. It would be interesting to see the results of how people who linked to a page labeled it. After all we often show our support for a page by linking to it, but also we disagree, and it is unfortunate that pages with high levels of links due to disagreement benefit disproportionately from this.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism


1. Dana Blankenhorn on July 2, 2005 01:31 PM writes...

I'd call it more a "committee of the whole" meeting, but I've also seen it described as a brouhaha.

You should know that there were no fistfights, that some of us agree to disagree, and I don't dislike Jeff Jarvis personally. (I don't know him personally but I suspect he's a good guy.)

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2. barbara Iverson on July 3, 2005 09:24 AM writes...

I have checked Gillmor's honor tags and I think it has potential, but as with any tag organization that comes from above, rather than one that bubbles up from users, time will tell. I have linked to it from current buzz and I plan to try it out and see if my readers go for it.

As a member of Media Bloggers Association. I have just been lurking as far as the ethics discussion has gone. It is hardly a brouhaha. It is more like a bunch of folks on road trip. There is a burst of discussion, then quiet, then someone pipes up again.

Bloggers are like cats as far as herding goes. Bob Cox is trying mightily to box the cats into some kind of order. Jeff, Dana and the others are moving slowly as cats will do, but my take on the matter is that there is actually a smaller committee working on the ethics issue and that all is well among our group.

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