The evolving ethics of blogging


Tulsa attorney (and my friend) John Eagleton sends along a Wall Street Journal article about the growing clout of bloggers (the story reports an estimated blog audience of 32 million people) and the debate over ethical standards, particularly involving objectivity and disclosure of financial interests. The article also touches on a blogger's legal liability -- the bottom line is that you don't need a printing press to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment that you may think only belong to traditional reporters.

The last paragraph contains a usefully simple ethical standard:

All the way back in 2002, Rebecca Blood advised bloggers to disclose their conflicts of interest, publish only what they believe to be true, and correct mistakes publicly. Her counsel to readers? Follow the same rules as one would walking down the street: "Don't make eye contact with someone who seems crazy."

Karol Sheinin of Alarming News is a political consultant, and she has posted the following disclaimer on her home page:

NOTICE: I work at a political consulting firm in NYC. From time to time I will write favorable posts about my clients because I believe in my clients and their causes. Consider this statement as adequate disclosure for all my possible conflicts of interest now and in the future. Additionally, all material on this site should be considered my personal opinion and may not represent that of my employer.

This may seem inadequately specific, but in her situation, disclosure of her firm's involvement with a specific client may violate the client's expectation of confidentiality.

Karol's disclaimer was suggested by a commenter to her blog and slightly modified. It was inspired by her post on Armstrong Williams' allegedly taking money to promote the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" bill -- you can read her wrestling with the issue and readers' comments here.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 25, 2005 11:21 PM.

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