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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Do we really need a food bloggers code of ethics?

I have, in my travels for a delightful (insert sarcasm here) 8000 word research project about the role of new media in public relations, recently stumbled on a website outlining a food bloggers code of ethics. Due to the nature of the beast, I think it would be fair to assume that a large number of you who read this blog also have your own food blogs, so I thought I would share it.

The code, created by professional journalists who also write food blogs, addresses some important issues that relate not just to food bloggers, but bloggers of any variety really. I really struggle to believe - although I am repeatedly told - that there is no difference between the two. There is loads of bloody difference, I am both, I think I am in a position to say so.

The argument questions the idea citizen journalism is a lesser craft, which I believe no, it does not have less of an importance than mainstream journalism. Different yes, lesser, not at all. The code of ethics website addresses the issue quite well, I believe:

"The great thing about the blogosphere is that you don’t have to be a journalist to publish your work in a worldwide forum. In fact, one of the reasons we started this was because we understand that plenty of bloggers don’t have journalism backgrounds and probably weren’t aware of some of the guidelines about image, recipe and quote usage and attribution. The Internet is filled with talented people who put a lot of hard work into their craft, we just want to make sure that work is protected and respected."

Unlike in the real world (which, not coincedentially I get paid for) when I write for this blog, there is no one to fact check or edit my work. I have complete freedom to do as I wish. I do have a backlog of journalistic knowledge to draw from, however, and I think this influences the way I write about food, because I had the journalists code of ethics drummed into me years ago.

An article from the September/ October 2008 Columbia Journalism Review, The Bigger Tent, by Ann Cooper aims to address the differences between citizen journalism and traditional journalism. Cooper cites former NBC corespondent, David Hazinski: "calling a citizen iReporter a journalist is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a 'citizen surgeon' or someone who can read a law book a 'citizen lawyer.'" Hazinski believes that the differences between a journalist and the average citizen with a laptop and an internet connection are education, skills and standards. I have to say, I agree.

I realise I am opening up a big can of worms here, but I'd like to hear from anyone who has a read of the code of ethics who writes a blog but doesn't have a writing/ media background. I think my media knowledge warps my perception of citizen journalism, and I am looking for a view that is biased on the other side of the coin. Do other food writers out there in the blogosphere think a code of ethics should apply to them? Remember that the journalism code of ethics is not compulsory either, although being really unethical would get you sacked, really really quickly.

I think a bloggers code of ethics is a good thing. The writers of the code explain why they do too:

"As the blogging world expands exponentially, more and more people in the culinary world believe that
food bloggers—as a groupare unfair, highly critical, untrained and power hungry individuals empowered by anonymity. As trained journalists who happen to be food bloggers, we feel it is unfair to be labeled something we aren’t. By creating a food blogger code of ethics, we hope to draw attention to the food bloggers who hold themselves to higher standards."

So I see it as a two way street. Citizen journalism is a valid and essential practice, and I think "old media" will need to let go of some of the conventional attitudes it holds about itself to keep up with the pace. But if citizen journalism demands the same recognition and respect usually reserved only for traditional media, they will, as the code says, need to collectively hold themselves to higher standards.


Tangled Noodle said...

I can't provide you with an opposing viewpoint as I agree with a code of ethics but I have read some of the comments left on the site from those who question the motivation of the code's writers. Their stance is that it impinges on their 'freedom of speech'; I'm still scratching my head over this. There is nothing in a code of ethics saying that you can't write what you will - only that you acknowledge the work of others if you make use of it!

Fitzroyalty said...

Many citizens undertaking blogging, hyperlocal news reporting or citizen journalsim do have the same (or better) skills, education and ethical awareness than journalists. They have law, arts, or other degrees and work in professions where equivalent standards of transparency and ethics are required. Many traditional journalists are comparatively poorly skilled and are now whinging that their careers are doomed. Good riddance!