How Do We Reconcile Ethics and Journalism 2.0?

By Steve Byers

Writing in Forbes, Jeff Bercovici discussed how a story filed by a student ended up basically costing more than 30 people their lives. The story recounted the burning of a Quran by an insensitive pastor in Florida.

Bercovici’s report prompted some excellent comments (very nice to read thoughtful comments instead of the stupidity associated with most of those showing up in Wisconsin newspapers about the political problems) as he talked about how the story was ignored by “legacy newspapers” before being run by a foreign news agency. It’s the story of how the traditional ethics and checks and balances seem lost in this era of “empowered citizen bloggers and crowdsourced reporting.”

But the battle was joined. John McQuaid, writing  in the Huffington Post, sums up the flap started by Jeff Bercovici writing about the Internet reports of the Quran burning, and he extends the discussion into the whole role of aggragators — like Huffington Post.

What may be more fun, even is somewhat less enlightening, is a listing in New York magazine’s online site of the Twitter battle between Bercovici and two other writers he’s attacked: Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen.  (Note: profanity used here.)

Frankly, Bercovici’s central premise attributing the report to a student without direction was wrong. The student posted at the request of an old media news agency on that agency with, presumably, editing. But the point about crowdsourcing and ethical considerations is worth making. Anybody can start a blog or a website. It can operate without any ethical consideration at all. This has always been true in old media (go to a bookstore and look at the “current affairs” section or watch Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann or the Sunday morning political shows for totally unsupported, outrageous if not fully false claims), but the Internet allows faster and wider consumption of that drek, so the current discussion is worth following.

Sometimes progress hurts — and journalism can kill.

Steve Byers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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