Do journalistic ethics really differ in an online environment?

One of our classroom blogs,, has posed the following question:  “Are Your Online Ethics Different?” The post, written by Deb Wenger, addresses the fact that the Washington Post recently released its digital publishing guidelines as a supplement to their current print guidelines. For Wenger, this raises at least one very interesting question: do standards for online media have to be different from print standards?

If one takes a look at the Post guidelines, the normal journalistic standards are still there. Sourcing, attribution, third-party content and corrections are still addressed. The difference lies in the adjustments to these standards to incorporate the ever growing need to get as much accurate information out as quickly as possible. In an on-demand world, the online environment is frequently more self-edited than traditional media. Stories go up without having been through two or maybe even three other reads; therefore, stricter written standards must address this.

The blogosphere has put a great deal of pressure on journalists to scoop or be scooped. With the ability of amateurs to post whatever they wish whenever they want, it has become even more important for professionals to be ahead of the curve in delivering information while staying spot-on accurate. In a world where anyone can seem like an expert, it is imperative that professional standards separate those who “do” from those who “try.”

So is The Post the first to defer to specific guidelines for online content? Not in the least. Reuters, NPR and the L.A. Times have all gotten on the same bandwagon, with more news agencies to follow suit this year. Even that bastion of print content, The Associated Press, has joined the social media guideline fray. While each outlet addresses its own particular issues based on experience, the underlying theme is the same.

Social media is part of the new journalistic frontier, and there really must be some law and order around here.


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