In a fascinating piece today—”fascinating” because it is about me—Arkansas News Bureau columnist John Brummett probes the perennial question of ethics in blogging. Specifically, how bloggers like me and Blake Rutherford of Blake’s Think Tank, both of whom have other jobs and business arrangements, manage to distinguish our blogging roles from our paid work.
And it’s a measured and fair-minded column. I’ll confess that I’m surprised.
Since I spoke to Brummett last week on this matter, I had assumed that he was going to write something highly critical, and I’ve been constructing counter-arguments in my head in response. I was even going to do a hilarious Photoshop of Brummett’s head on a finger-wagging schoolmarm’s body, to portray him as an “old-fashioned media scold.” (There is, after all, precedent for my having expected this.)
But then he went and wrote this piece. Read the whole thing, but I’ll jump ahead here to Brummett’s conclusion. After considering the potential ethical pitfalls of part-time blogging, and examining my and Rutherford’s attempts at maintaining some semblance of integrity, Brummett writes:
Actually, the answer to my concern is simple and clear: These time-honored [ethical] principles won’t survive unless self-imposed and rewarded by discerning readers, which, actually, is how they’ve always existed in a free-expression country.
So blog on, baby.
The only thing I might add to the mix right now, essentially amplifying Brummett’s point, is this: In a media-rich environment in which people have more information options than at any other time in history, it’s more incumbent on the media consumer to make judgments about who and what publications they want to invest their trust in.
There’s a “marketplace of ideas” dynamic at work here—if readers decide, for whatever reason, that they can’t trust, can’t use or simply don’t like the content that they get from me, Blake Rutherford or any other self-publisher, then it’s the easiest thing in the world for them to opt out and go elsewhere.
That’s a significant incentive for any blogger to be as aboveboard as possible, because once you’ve lost that relationship of trust with your readers, it ain’t coming back. And as Brummett suggests here, the same incentive applies to bigger media players these days, as well.
Could it be that all these Arkansas new media whiz kids may just find a way to coexist peacefully with the John Brummetts of the world after all? Is there a rapprochement at hand? Perhaps.
But I might still do that “Brummett as scolding schoolmarm” Photoshop, just to have it on hand, because that would be some pretty funny stuff.
Update: More from Max Brantley at The Arkansas Times, who seconds the “marketplace” model, more or less: “Performance over time eventually provides a somewhat useful base for evaluation of blogs, I think. Eventually.”
Update II: Mark Moore at the Arkansas Watch blog weighs in with a dissent to the era of good feelings. No holiday truce for this warrior.