Make us your home page

The Feed

What you're talking about today

Online Ethics: Not Just a Punch Line Anymore



Onlineethicslogo_2   I know. It sounds like a triple-sized oxymoron: Online journalism ethics.

But I've just spent two days with a group of really smart online media folks trying to make that quixotic quest a reality. A code of ethics for online journalism.

The group was assembled by the Poynter Institute here in St. Petersburg Tuesday and Wednesday, using a model similar to a gathering on digital photography they convened 15 years ago. The hope is, at some point, the institute will release a collection of codes, ideas, questions, protocols -- something -- which helps online media types practice journalism more ethically, when they choose to commit it.

Yeah, it sounds awfully precious and pointy-headed. But there's value in getting a bunch of cool Sunshine_week_logo people together to kick around issues we're all struggling with in the online arena. And what a group: folks from MSNBC,, the Media bloggers Association, the Chicago Tribune, McClatchy Interactive,, Washington, WTSP-Ch. 10, the Indianapolis Star and more.

Some questions we kicked around:

How much responsiblity do outlets have to make sure a link leads to accurate, credible material?

Is there a difference between featuring material on your site and linking to it, in terms of backing the material with your own crediblity?

Should blog posts be edited before they are published, when developed at an institution with editors? Can outlets with news reporters allow them to write opinionated blogs?

Do online operations have a clear process for developing and posting material? Is breaking news handled differently? And are those distinctions purposeful, or do they happen by accident?

How much do you verify or edit content submitted by the public?

Can those who sell ads work closely with those who create content without corrupting their journalism? how do you ensure that?

Computerusers I'm sure to some online types, these questions seem quaint and old school (one participant even asked why journalists work so hard to develop ethical rules when the public's confidence in us keeps tanking).

But you don't stop trying to get better at your craft, just because a few people refuse to believe in your commitment. And I gotta say, it was inspiring to commiserate with so many accomplished people who were so focused on developing standards that can elevate the journalism without handcuffing the innovation.

I won't detail what we cooked up over two days -- mostly, we learned this is going to take much longer to work out what is needed. But I felt it was worth noting that there are inspired people out there asking incisive questions about what happens when online innovation and journalism intersect; and we're working hard to help people make the best choices...

As always, your thoughts -- and particularly, your suggestions for guidelines -- are most welcome.

Sumner Redstone: Idiot or a Genius?  Depends on Who You Read

Redstonecover Showbiz and media blogs were buzzing today about the announcement by Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone that his company's Paramount Pictures wouldn't extent its production contract with Scientologist schitzo Tom Cruise, saying his "recent conduct has been unacceptable."

Everyone who knows the business agrees this is less about a couch-jumping superstar who can't  have a civil discussion about psychology and much more about a failed negotiation with a star who takes big chunks out of his movies' bottom line.Tom_couch_narrowweb__300x5370

But the question remains: Was it smart of Redstone to take this fight public?

Enter Nikki Finke, ascerbic columnist for LA Weekly and her own sparkling blog Deadline Hollywood Daily, who notes that Hollywood has long been filled with eccentric, erratic, immoral, undependable types -- including a few Viacom execs rumored to have flouted their marriage vows -- and that Cruise's movies still rake in big bucks.

She says: "Cruise did better for his studios with MI3, War of the Worlds, Collateral, The Last Samurai, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky and MI2 than almost any other star, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Adam Sandler. My best guess is only Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp and Mel Gibson did better box office."

Tomcruise1 But hold on -- Advertising Age has another take, rooted in their New York-based knowledge of another community: the investment world.

The magazine posits that Redstone was calling Cruise's bluff -- that he and producing partner Paula Wagner could get funding for their projects from venture capitalists -- by trashing the star's reliability and trustworthiness to the very investment community he would approach next for money.

They say: "So before you (Redstone) announce the split, you pick up the phone and call The Wall Street Journal -- not, please note, Variety, which is read by everyone in Hollywood, but the paper read by the people who have money to invest -- that Tom Cruise's behavior was not to be trusted by stalwart business types."

Much as I love me some Nikki, I gotta side with the New York crew on this one. Though I think Redstone's efforts won't amount to much: Celebrity and the lure of Cruise's highly bankable past will wipe away many sins with potential investors. 


[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours