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Ethical Issues in the Online World

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The Need for Accuracy Online

Monday, Apr. 8, 2013

The Internet has surely surpassed the expectations of its pioneers.  As a communication medium, it is unparalleled in scope and impact.  However, the ease of publication in the Web 2.0 world has created new ethical dilemmas.  In this brief video, Adobe Chairman of the Board Charles Geschke points out the gap between what Internet users expect to receive (i.e. factual and accurate information) and what they too often get instead.  Is it the user's responsibility to judge which sources to access on the Web, and how much to rely on them?  Is it the publishers of information who have a duty to strive to be accurate?

Below, Sally Lehrman (Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest at Santa Clara University, and a Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Scholar) responds to Geschke's comments.  Add your own responses in the "Comments" section!

"The Internet has certainly opened up opportunities for anyone to publish whatever they want.  In some ways, the proliferation of voices is good.  It provides access to ideas and perspectives that traditional news gatherers might miss. It also can put pressure on news organizations to get things right.  But, as Mr. Geschke points out, it's hard to tell when the information packaged like news on the Internet is really just marketing or propaganda.  That's why brands like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and local sites such as Patch.com and your own local newspaper are valuable.  Their reporting can be trusted.

Ethical traditions in journalism ensure multiple sources and careful attention to facts.  But many people have come to expect their news for free, and feet-on-the-ground reporting and fact-checking are expensive.  That makes it very difficult for true news operations to survive.  Unfortunately, we're seeing a decline in quality as a result.  The public must learn to discern--and value--quality news.  One way is to learn more about traditional journalism ethics guidelines, found (on the Internet!) on sites such as www.spj.org/ethics.asp and www.rtdna.org/channel/ethics."

Sally Lehrman

Comments Comments

Howard Rauch said on Apr 15, 2013
One aspect of why online accuracy does not seem up to standard has to do with the willingness of publishing management to make necessary investment in editorial staffing support. This may or may not be the case with consumer media -- which appears to be the focus of your group's "Ethical Issues in an Online World" series. But it definitely is a concern for business publication editors. The tendency nowadays seems to be to invest heavily in the technology required to operate on-line. But effectiveness on-line, especially for B2B publishers with no prior daily frequency experience, requires a dedicated digital staff, where assignments allow sufficient time for enterprise reporting that is commonly assumed to be how consumer media operate. Inadequate staffing also results in editing haste that sometimes bypasses necessary fact-checking or source re-interviews. If the "Online World" series omits input somewhere along the way from editorial staffs -- and the smaller players as well as the celebrity names -- your coverage is somewhat one-sided. P.S. -- I have contributed this comment in my role as Ethics Committee chairman of the American Society of Business Publication Editors. - Like
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Tags: accuracy, digital media, ethics, internet, journalism