Citizen Journalists Will Need Ethics

You are it now. The newspapers collapse day by day, and no one wants to sit in this no-man’s land without their news. You are a blogger, and you are responsible for disseminating information to the public. You are the primary source. So you may need to consider the responsibility.

Old news institutions regulated their reporters’ ethics. You have no such restrictions. You are online. A blog has no set length, no one standard style. But it is not legitimate. It is not credible. You will need training for that.

Web 3.0 is the Content Age. Everything will be online. Print is dead. Print is wasteful. The forests may return within a few years. There is no market for recycled newsprint. It is wet, heavy compost.

Indeed, the whole news industry is compost, garbage, dust. And therefore we are poised for a revolution. It is not often that we see entire institutions crumble. But the public still wants their news. And you are the one who is going to give it to them.

Call up an unemployed newspaper reporter and buy them lunch. Go on a retreat with them, learn from them, become legitimate. You will now bear the standard. The news had shaky ethics to begin with, but in the new age, everything can change.

Reporters are simultaneously objective and sensationalistic. The News is transmission of fact, truth, and legend. An old news institution knew how to cover major events, boil them down into bullet points and fit it all into a column. You have no such restrictions. Your news may be richer, more dense, more personal, and more effective. And more entertaining.

Your style can remain. Your style is what your readers love about you. You may need a bit of refinement on your format and structure. But your work is most effective when it is unique and has a clear point of view. You don’t need to fit it into conventional news formats. There are no more newspapers, so don’t try and behave like you’re writing for one. You are a pioneer of style and content.

Begin now. Throw away the word ‘blog’. A blog is just what it sounds like: vomit. A web-log. A terrible, too-simple word. Escape the blogosphere. The blogosphere is the blanket term for all citizen-generated online content. Do you really want your work under the same blanket as your neighbor who blogs to sell Mary Kay Cosmetics? You do not. You are an essayist, a reporter, a thinker, a columnist. When everything is available online, it is redundant to call anything a web-log.
There may be a dollar value to your work too. Your essay and your original images may be worth something. The newspapers remain online. They have a reduced staff, however, and significantly reduced coverage. Carry your camera, or at least have your camera phone ready, to capture life as it is happening. And before you post it on your Facebook page, see if you can sell it to a news corporation. An important image may be worth something. And your story may be the exclusive. So don’t give away what you can sell.

Consider Hunter S. Thompson for a moment. One of history’s most famous journalists. He wrote himself into the story, and indeed, he was the most important part of the story. He immersed himself into various cultures, lending his own unique voice to each particular event. His readers love him for his prose and his point of view. Most readers do not care that he fabricated a lot of material. He lied, and went into everything with an agenda so skewed, so bent and twisted, so free and loose that it made everyone a little uncomfortable. He was a danger to himself and others. Every article, every book, every essay, was a suicide note. And we love him for it. He not only developed his own style, but also his own set of ethics. And in developing a reader base, you can do the same.

It is not important that you cling to old institutional new ethics. See where it got them. Newspapers had shaky ethics to begin with. This collapse has been a long time coming, and ethics have everything to do with it. Over the last 8 years, journalism itself has been the story. Journalists have been embroiled in mortal combat, and news institutions became as partisan and dysfunctional as the rest of the country. The dumbest thing any newspaper ever did was to endorse a presidential candidate. In doing so, they cut out major portions of their readers. When certain papers went Republican, for instance, the Democrats fled and got their news online. And they never came back. In becoming political rather than simply reporting on politics, the news lost its foundation. Ethics are the foundation of any credible news source. Every newspaper and magazine’s value is based in its ethics. And now that you are going to replace them with your online essays and your own news magazine, you will need to consider your approach.

Will new news institutions emerge? How long will we hang in limbo? And where will we get our news in the meantime? We will depend upon each other for that.