A look at the current state of online news’ credibility
By J.D. Lasica
When the Web first blasted onto the public’s radar screen back in 1994, the grand pooh-bahs of journalism wondered what it meant for the profession: Would journalists become obsolete in the new Net order? Would the Internet’s anything-goes dynamic dilute journalism’s core values and standards? What were the rules, and who would write them?
Things have settled down a bit since the Web’s Kitty Hawk days. Now that the high-tech bubble has burst and we’re moving into a period of retrenchment and reassessment, it seems appropriate to pause and consider how the Internet is shaping journalism ethics, and how the Internet ethic is steering journalism in new directions.
Every day we read about ethical lapses fostered in cyberspace: the stealth drug company site masquerading as a health information center, misleading stock tips made in financial chat rooms, electronic shopping bots whose results are skewed to favor retail clients, e-commerce sites’ egregious violations of users’ privacy. Compared to this sorry track record, online news sites have performed admirably.
That’s not to say that journalism on the Web has been flawless. Both traditional news operations and newcomers like Slate and Salon have encountered their fair share of ethical controversies. It strikes me that online journalism ethics might be grouped into three broad categories:
• Gathering the news. Journalists face a new host of ethical considerations related to the online medium, ranging from a reporter concealing her identity in a chat room to quoting from bulletin board postings to recording and streaming digital footage without the subject’s permission.