At the recent Social South conference, held in Birmingham, Alabama, Kellye Crane and I held a Public Relations 2.0 (The New PR = People Relations) conversation session and one of the questions we asked was "Are there any PR advantages to new media channels (vs. traditional media)?"
One of the areas that came up was citizen journalism versus professional journalists and the advantages and disadvantages. We discussed the fact that we didn't truly believe Michael Jackson had died until a 'real' journalist reported it (even though TMZ reported almost an hour ahead), but we did believe that the USAir flight had landed on the Hudson River because a nearby citizen captured a shot of it and shared it on Twitter.
- Could it be that it's really about having proof or evidence? (And, as we know, in some situations only a professional journalist with media credentials can get that exact proof/evidence.)
- Is it about integrity and the perception that professional journalists have integrity where bloggers do not?
Curious about the latter, I looked into journalistic integrity (well, as much as I could on Google) and found the following:
American Society of Newspaper Editors (founded in 1922) Canons of Journalism:
- Responsibility (of newspaper and journalist)
- Freedom of the Press ("a vital right of mankind")
- Independence (fidelity to the public interest)
- Sincerity, Truthfulness, Accuracy (good faith with reader)
- Impartiality (news reports free from opinion or bias)
- Fair Play, Decency (recognition of private rights, prompt correction of errors)
And from the Society of Professional Journalists:
- Seek Truth and Report It
- Minimize Harm
- Act Independently
- Be Accountable
I was always under the impression that journalists took an oath of some sort, but in reality they don't. Further from the SoPJ: "...Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility."
Why can't a citizen journalist/blogger do the same?
If there is no oath what happens when a professional journalist lacks integrity? I found a rather stunning example of that recently. MSNBC ran a story on a town hall meeting where a man was carrying a semi-automatic rifle and pistol and the anchor asked if it equated to "racial tension because we have a man of color in the Presidency and white people showing up with guns..." (Paraphrased.)
It turns out the man they were referring to was actually a man of color himself AND that the whole thing was planned by a local radio show host. Why were neither disclosed by MSNBC?
I did not major in journalism, but I am a PR practitioner and this particular MSNBC example, to me, isn't responsible or impartial at all according to the canons OR what we should expect from the media (not to mention it flies in the face of some of the other canons too).
So then, does a professional journalist's lack of responsibility and impartiality lead to a lack of integrity if done frequently? And if a citizen journalist/blogger is responsible and impartial could that lead to integrity (and thus respect) when done frequently? Are there obvious answers here? I don't think so...
This isn't a new topic and more and more we are seeing a convergence of the two. The reason I bring it up is NOT to be political, but to make a point that organizations need to understand what is taking place in this space (there is nowhere to hide) and how it could potentially affect their public relations efforts.
- If you are a PR professional, who do you trust more with your organization's news a blogger or the media?
- If you are a journalist, how do you feel about the canons and how it relates to your job today?
- If you are an organization, will you start taking citizen journalists/bloggers more seriously?
- If you are a journalism/PR professor, how does this convergence affect how you teach journalism?
I don't have the answers...but I know you might. Care to share your thoughts?
P.S. If you are a blogger, you might consider signing the "Blogging with Integrity" pledge. BWI was set up by Susan Getgood, Liz Gumbinner, Kristen Chase, and Julie Marsh in response to "debates about blogger compensation, sponsored posts and product reviews, an alarming increase in ethical lapses and idea theft, and a growing backlash against poor blogger relations practices..." (From their About Us page.)