The blogosphere dumped a blizzard of “absolute hatred” on Hazinski. “I had death threats,” he says. Most were rejecting his suggestion that a lack of standards for citizen journalism “opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend.” The more irate responders reminded Hazinski that mainstream media’s record on fraudulent reporting was far from unblemished, and that his vague call to “monitor and regulate” wasn’t likely to be embraced even by mainstream journalists, in a country where the media tend to equate “regulation” of their industry with censorship.
Underneath Hazinski’s provocative phrasing is an important point, though: let’s not cast aside good journalism’s goals and values simply because there are new ways to report and present the news. At the same time, let’s do see if some of the rules need rethinking and adjustment to fit the new realities. That Mayhill Fowler article on Obama’s “bitter” remarks sparked one fierce, and useful, ethical debate. Fowler recorded Obama at a fundraiser that she was able to attend only because she had contributed to his campaign, a move that violates the ethics codes of major U.S. news organizations. Yet even as Fowler’s newsgathering strategies were being debated, her scoop—followed and amplified by the mainstream press—became an important new narrative in the election. No one denied that what she reported was important. “But if the old rules are fading away,” wrote Michael Tomasky, who edits Guardian America, “there have to be a few new ones to take their place. There can’t just be anarchy.”
Draft ethics codes have circulated in the blogosphere, and the ideas in drafts posted at CyberJournalist.net and on the sites of bloggers such as Rebecca Blood and Tim O’Reilly would be familiar to those who’ve worked in major media newsrooms. It would be wrong, though, to assume that the blogosphere is likely to organize itself into mainstream-style professional groups with industry-wide standards (for that matter, mainstream media don’t follow one set of standards). “The blogosphere has no organization. None. It’s chaotic. That’s what makes it vibrant,” said Rosen.
When I asked Eric Umansky, a senior writer at the investigative journalism project ProPublica (and a CJR contributing editor) and a veteran of both old and new media, how standards of online journalism will be enforced, his answer was one that’s repeated often in cyberspace: “It’s going to be regulated essentially by the marketplace.” That means a blog, just like a newspaper, has to build credibility; people will stop reading if it’s “unreliable and unlikely to tell me anything new,” he said. The marketplace solution is not particularly reassuring to many traditional journalism gatekeepers. They don’t want mandatory standards, but as they open up their own thinking about the online world, they do want the blogosphere to recognize that journalism won’t survive on any platform without a common belief in some principles—among them, a commitment to accuracy and to avoiding (or clearly revealing) conflicts of interest. In one of his most recent ruminations on the transitional world of journalism, Rosen described the gatekeepers as a “tribe” now migrating from the failing business model of old journalism to a new digital platform. The migration, he said, offers the opportunity to build a hybrid model with online journalists.