Setting the Ethical Bar for Bloggers

by on September 27, 2012 · 0 comments

Beyond the preponderance of a doubt, membership in new media’s blogosphere has its privileges.  Preferential treatment, increased levels of access, and recognition by a team that we cover translate to a higher order of unique content available on this blog.  As we’ve all learned from Spider-Man “with great power comes great responsibility”.  That idea could not be more relevant for a superhero than it has become for bloggers.

I certainly will stop well short of declaring myself a paragon of virtue and an authority on ethics.  However, I’m willing to commit my thoughts on the subject of blogging ethics to pixels, and that gives all 3 of our loyal readers the opportunity to publicly shame me for hypocrisy or even leaving the toilet seat up.  Our readers have the right to raise their expectations as we spend more time in the mainstream media playground.  When we encroach on that hallowed ground, we cannot simply abide by the rules of the giant swings and yet hoard all the Tonka trucks in the sandbox.

Given that all 3 readers could have very different expectations, I think it necessary to form some sort of pact with all 3 that puts expectations together in some way, shape, or form.

  1. Primum non nocere – “first, do no harm”.  While the primary function of a baseball blog may be to generate content, the content must be verifiable, come from a reliable source, and be newsworthy.  Even if all 3 criteria are met, we must ask ourselves whether or not passing along the information constitutes a malicious or libelous/slanderous act.  Obviously this one comes with a whole set of caveats, but the primary objective here is to double and triple check whatever comes across our virtual desks.
  2. Remain objectively biased.  In practical terms, some people see bias where others do not, and bias may simply be in the eye of the beholder.  As a Cardinals-centric blog, we probably focus 95% or more on what happens in the world that revolves around the Cardinals.  So be it.  That still does not free us from the need to remain objective and stay grounded in facts and numbers.  If hitter A has a career OBP of .375, and hitter B has a career OBP of .300, we can safely say that A does a better job of getting on base than B.  A blogger can add context and rational to try and explain the difference, but we have an obligation of some kind to separate opinion from fact.  The casual reader must be able to differentiate between the 2.  If not, then we’re doing something wrong.
  3. Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy.  When I meet a player, team personnel, or anybody else who may need to know that what they say can and will be held against them on a blog, I identify myself as a “writer for the baseball blog, PH8”.  Since I’m not carrying press credentials, I feel this step is necessary to make sure that the introduction sets the tone for the conversation.  Players and other team employees have the right to know that what they tell me could appear on a web page that more than 2 people read.  If they do not obviously understand that, I throw in a 2nd “warning” that I’m potentially quoting them on the record.
  4. Separation of blog and fan.  I’m a huge baseball fan.  Specifically, I’m a lifelong fan of the Cardinals.  Also, I really, really enjoy writing about the Cardinals for our 3 loyal readers.  The 2 require a certain amount of separation, or at the very least they require delineation.  If I attend an event as a “fan”, then I have a certain set of guidelines that govern my behavior.  I will drink an ice cold refreshing adult beverage.  I have no issue obtaining an autograph or 3.  I act pretty much like everybody else at the event.  If I attend an event as a representative of PH8, then the rules change.  Completely.  I won’t show up in a Musial replica jersey.  I don’t yell “Hey, you are my favorite player of all timez, sign my arm!”  If I attend an event in fan mode and eventually write a recap of the event, I will leave out any details or quotes I was privy to as just a fan.  If there is any question about the pretense under which information was obtained, I omit it.  It gets complicated, but it’s only fair.
  5. Cite sources.  If you see a quote that is not properly attributed to a source, then by all means feel free to call me on it.  If an image used in something I write belongs to someone else and no citation appears, then call me on it.  Statistics may be a mixed bag of sorts.  I keep track of a lot of things in my own database to increase availability and updated information.  When I refer to something from Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, or BrooksBaseball, I always try to link back to the original source.  This isn’t simply a journalism issue; we all learned how to cite sources way back in like 6th grade.

Do the lines blur just a bit at times?  Rarely, but yes.  I feel pretty strongly that I have not knowingly or consciously crossed any lines, though.  I have tried to hold myself to a certain standard since I started writing for this blog.  From the very beginning my intent was not to become like media professionals who work as beat writers or syndicated sports columnists.  I have a profession, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the media access and lousy hours that often accompany those jobs.

If I ever took the time to write a mission statement, it would simply serve as a reminder to readers that I think of the blog writer as a hybrid combination of super fan and media member.  To a certain degree, we have slightly greater access to people and information, and in exchange we play be many of the same rules that the mainstream media people do.  To increase the level of access, we would have to play by all the same rules in my humble opinion.  It’s not worth the tradeoff to me, and I won’t bemoan the lack of greater access.

Hiding my “fandom” while interacting with a player or ex-player takes some restraint as it is.  I have no desire to cloak myself behind the facade of old school journalism as well.  Failure to do so certainly comes at a cost in terms of access, but I’m fine with that.  It’s their sandbox, and I like my Tonka trucks just a bit too much to share all the time.  When I venture into the sandbox, I begrudgingly play by the same rules as everyone else, but that doesn’t mean I’m not anxious to leave the sandbox with all of my toys.

In fairness, I only put forth a set of guidelines for myself.  I hold nobody else to the same standard.  They are accountable to themselves and potentially to their readers, and that’s really none of my business.

Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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