Journalism standards for bloggers and story commenters

Jumping into the question of journalism education as we did with the story on the end of the program at Olympic High School is a special challenge for a reporter.

For one, journalism is a subject matter we ponder every day. So a story like this lends itself to a little navel gazing.

Secondly, to do a story like this it’s helpful to talk to journalism experts, which means putting our interviewing skills on display in front of experts. I stammered a lot in the first interview and pulled myself together for the second. It helps sometimes to pretend to be a radio host.

Third, while we’re not on the level of the entertainment industry when it comes to self congratulation, we do sometimes tend to think highly of ourselves, or at least of what we do for a living. Knowing this is important and makes it possible to approach the subject fairly.

We provided some indication how many journalism programs are out there in the high schools. I’ve since received an answer from all but one of the principals I asked. Here’s the list of local high schools and whether they have a journalism class and/or a newspaper/online news outlet.

Bainbridge — Yes on both.
Bremerton — No.
Central Kitsap — Yes to both.
Kingston — No. One year there was a club that put out two editions.
Klahowya — The course catalog shows there is a journalism class and the school does have a newspaper.
North Kitsap — Yes, but both could be cut next year.
North Mason — No.
South Kitsap — Yes on both, but are considering whether to continue.

For me one of the more interesting points to the story was made by Le Anne Wiseman, director of the High School Journalism Initiative for the American Society of News Editors. Early last decade our industry’s downfall was predicted and sometimes celebrated by those who figured a nation of bloggers would take up the news gathering role we in traditional media had done. It is true that anyone with an Internet connection can be a reporter and that maybe about 0.5 percent of those who started blogs have yet to grow tired of writing for them. (That statistic is phony, made up to exaggerate. The actual figure in 2008 was 5.5 percent, according to this story quoting a stat from Technorati. To be considered among that 5.5 percent you had to update your blog once in the past four months.)

Bloggers didn’t go away, necessarily. Many of them migrated to Facebook, Twitter and to the end of stories written by traditional journalists. That is reality, one that would be better if everyone of them employed journalistic standards in commenting and editorializing. (The best editorial writers do some reporting; they don’t just regurgitate talking points.) People complain about commenter anonymity, but I’m fine with anonymous commenters if they are good reporters.

So I would love to see every student in every high school in America required to take at least one rigorous journalism course. I want them to be required to interview both or all sides on an issue, to consider how their own biases could be affecting a story, to continue digging when something doesn’t make sense, to go back and ask more questions and to subject what they write to an editor or multiple editors. Chances are the new world of online chatter would not change all that much. But even a little would make me very, very happy.

11 thoughts on “Journalism standards for bloggers and story commenters

  1. @SharonOHara,

    That’s a great question. I probably should have written “fair” along with “good.” If someone goes after a topic with an open mind and comes out of it firmly on one side, that’s fine and I’d consider that fair. What I like is when people show they have given an opposing view the benefit of some doubt and that they have tried to find new information that will can improve the debate. That’s good.

    Several of our story commenters do that.

    Steven Gardner
    Kitsap Sun

  2. It is a shame that schools are closing their journalism classes. I was the combo photographer newspaper/yearbook when I graduated in 1980.

    I am currently reading about 7 papers daily online.

  3. What online journalism class would you recommend and/or editor to critique the commentators pieces?
    Who gives in person critiques, for that matter?
    What is available to help the fledgling journalist to write in a more fair balanced manner when they sometimes have only one point of view and can’t ‘see’ where they could add another dimension?

  4. @Sharon,

    High school journalism classes would be a start.

    We reporters generally don’t have access to anything you don’t. Sometimes people are more likely (and sometimes less so) to take our calls because we’re reporters, but in most cases it is just a matter of knowing where to look. That takes the experience of hitting lots of dead ends as well as training.

    Steven Gardner
    Kitsap Sun

  5. Here is the preamble to the Code of Ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists
    “…public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”

    Wow, that’s a big role in our society, a huge responsibility. Here are a  few other items that stood out to me when I read the Code of Ethics and thought about the role and obligations of the Kitsap Sun.

    “— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.”

    Nothing  urks me more about the Kitsap Sun, than their refusal to report on the elected presiding judge James Docter and his use of an unsworn, unqualified, fake “judge” to represent himself at the bench while wearing his robe. Public records show that the Bremerton municipal court paid this women as a pro tem judge for years, when she clearly was not qualified and therefore was acting under false pretenses. She did not have an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. How can there be justice without accountability? This is fundamental stuff, it’s basic really.  Is this not of any importance and within the publics right to know?  How can the KS  journalist outright ignore this?  Why? At least give me a reasonable explanation. 

    “— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

    — Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.”

    …..kind of hard to do now that you set up your so called “pay wall” to discourage the so called “trolls”

  6. I took a year of Journalism Class in High School. I was also taking a Contest Speaking/Debate class as well. After one year of taking both, the schedule changed and continuing to do both was no longer an option, I had to pick one or the other. I ended up picking the Speaking/Debate class.

    Both of these education environments laid the much important foundational groundwork for how I would go about forming opinions, crafting arguments and presenting myself on issues which were important to me. Looking back now, I realize I really should have applied myself more if I had known how commenting and writing opinion pieces would play out and become such a big part of my life later on. Let this be a lesson to you kids!

    One of the great pleasures of choosing the Debate over the Journalism class ended up being that I was able to be a rather close part of a group of kids who went on to do some really great things with their lives. One of those individuals is current Washington State Representative Jamie Pederson.

  7. Appreciate concern for your craft Steve . My biggest concern would be for teaching Civics first , I think it would improve our quality of journalism also .
    Many reasons , but an example for instance is the latest IRS scandal.

    We have students actually supporting the IRS in the University of Colorado because of their political understanding . Having a pro American philosophy or a American understanding that was taught using a Howard Zinn outlook I believe has more of impact then kids taking a journalism class. The Tea party is just small part of the story , it could have been the NAACP, but in journalism today it does seem to matter . From my view point that hurts all of us equally in the long run .

    But in regards to journalism , the perception is it is based more on ideology from FOX or CNN , and the media which is considered mainstream is credited to being biased in their reporting and what they report . Not sure how it was 40 years ago , but most people would say the media has a left wing bias . Only those who are really on the far left side disagree with that usually .

    My view is what is not reported that often hurts us more and journalism creditability . Different morality or philosophy will cause a selective news bias . Most of the main stream media that I have gotten to know consider themselves middle of the road. Their perception of being around so many people who are similar , and perhaps noticing the extremes on the left around them promote this outlook .

    My utopia answer would be a newsroom with a diverse group of ideologies and perceptions . It seems now we go to sources now and pick our flavor of reporting . That’s where Civics I would hope correct . Out of many , One !

  8. Cha Ching,

    …..kind of hard to do now that you set up your so called “pay wall” to discourage the so called “trolls”

    The pay wall is in place so the company can make more money. Period.

    Steven Gardner
    Kitsap Sun

  9. I attended the Poynter seminar a few months ago at the Seattle Library. It was interesting getting the take on journalism and writing from such a diverse group of professionals. High school students need to learn the basics of journalism just to open their minds to different points of view. Know some stories take months if not years to put together and how many times a writer modifies what they say before and after publishing are all concepts that would help students throughout their lives.

    Civics, history, etiquette, journalism and many other subjects are needed by K-12 students. The issue now is the common core mandates and student proficiency exams leave an environment that concentrates on passing a few subjects and leaves electives in the lurch.

    I am not reporter, I comment on articles to make a point or to clarify a topic. I write letters to the editor for the same reasons. I do not hesitate to leave my name as I stand for what I say. Given more information or a better source, my opinions can and will change.

    In a marketing class a number of years ago we were taught that if someone praises your business, they will influence 10 people. If they give your business a bad review, they will influence 100 people. Also for every person who comments or has a question, a large number of people have the same comments or questions, they just keep silent. I try to be a voice that raises questions, answers some, and always tries to promote a questioning attitude.

    Schools have to make budget decisions and at times those decisions will hurt more in the long run. Removing electives like journalism, music, art etc. can only give us students who have a very narrow view of life. To lose the what, when, where, why & how is not a way to keep involved in your community.

    Roger Gay
    South Kitsap

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