Should small news outlets print the names of people listed in police reports who were cited for misdemeanors, knowing the published names will live a long time on search engines? Should a publisher remove a published comment or photo upon reader request?
Those issues and many more are explored in the new book “Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism”, published July 20 by J-Lab. The book’s author, Scott Rosenberg, is a journalist and co-founder of Slate.com. The book’s forward was written by Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab and a new journalism researcher.
Incidentally, Schaffer and Rosenberg said the idea for the book came from their attendance at last year’s Block by Block Community News Summit in Chicago. BxB will be hosting a second annual summit this year, again in Chicago.
Some takeaways from our hourlong online chat:
- Today’s local media landscape — increasingly composed of community or hyperlocal news outlets led by independent publishers — faces specific ethical challenges that the standard Society of Professional Journalists‘ Code of Ethics does not address. “Local journos have to be reporters, assigning editors, ad sales people, grant writers, ombudsmen — all in one — tough stuff,” Schaffer said.
- Local news operators have a more intense relationship with their audience than large or national media outlets. This has the potential to shape how local sites do journalism or respond to reader complaints. “Salon had readers ask us to ‘take down’ embarrassing letters to editor. But the concerns are much more intense in any local community, where the online and in-person communities easily overlap,” Rosenberg said.
- Publishers will choose site integrity, reputation over business. Since a lot of independent start-ups are one- or few-person operations, with limited staff doing editorial and sales functions, publishers emphasize that the quality of their product is more important than pandering to advertisers. “Most care more about site reputation than revenue,” Schaffer said.
Some publishers in the Block by Block network contributed to the local journalism case studies. Among them: Howard Owens of The Batavian, Tracy Record at West Seattle Blog and David Boraks at Davidson News..