Last night, I had the opportunity to be an invited guest speaker at Third Monday, a monthly gathering of PR and government relations professionals on the topics of blogging, politics, and the emergence of social media as media. It was an enjoyable experience as I met some of Ottawa’s top thinkers in the marketing of products and ideas.
Immediately, I was able to appreciate the depth of knowledge that the attendees had in blogging and other forms of social media. After our preliminary chat and before I took the stage, I knew that the crowd was past the stage of explaining “a blog, or web-log is a form of website authored by an individual or group that writes on topics in reverse chronological order”. This was refreshing to know, as I knew that we’d be able to get past the technicalities of the medium and discuss the social, legal and ethical implications of writing a blog.
I have raised open questions in the past about a blog’s role in cataloging one’s observation of events. Specifically, how does one define blogs as media? One observer noted that unlike airwaves, the resources of the Internet and the delivery of information is not limited in a sense that a government body ought to license or regulate its use. Of course, in Canada, we tend to suffer over-regulation as the rule so it was interesting to consider the dissemination of media via the internet as an unregulated resource. However, some in this country would advocate for regulation of media, not because of the scarcity of the resource, but for control of content.
But what of “blogs”? I’ve come to the realization over the past few weeks (and indeed years) that blogging is simply a tool, or the method by which one’s ideas can be disseminated. A “blogger” ought not to represent a certain class of individual with categorical privileges, rights and restrictions. Like the pen, microphone, or typewriter, a blog is simply the tool. The blogger is the reporter.
And of the question of whether or not blogging is journalistic? Last night I was asked if what I do is journalism in any sense. To a degree, I would muse that I am an observer and reporter of news events. Journalists in the mainstream media are employed by companies that are owned by large media organizations (like Rogers or Bell) or powerful teachers unions. Of course, a reporter’s loyalty ought to be only to the truth. I believe that what I do is truth mixed with my own sincere opinion. Then again, some journalists are also analysts or columnists and base their views on what they perceive to be true. They have their partisan preferences and are paid to provide opinion. Certainly that opinion has been focused through a lens of experience unique to the individual.
Am I a journalist, reporter, or columnist? Some may say that I should not be considered a journalist since I have my own agenda. One CBC journalist once complained to me that I don’t declare my biases up front (I think this was derived from a similar charge that I had leveled at him seconds before). “It’s right there at the top of the page — Conservative Party of Canada Pundit”, I explained. I was astonished to hear the CBC journo dismissively grunted that “it’s not enough”. To distill what I do to its base elements, at the end of the day I’m just some guy with an internet connection, opinions and $20 a month to spend on website hosting. However, in a political climate bent on accountability, transparency and high ethical standards (and a country where one could do a Historica minute on our proud regulatory traditions), must I consider following a certain code of conduct? Legally, as long as I don’t write hate or indefensible libel against an individual or group, I believe that I’m entitled to speak as I wish; I certainly do not hold any elected office and am not accountable to anybody but myself. Ethically, however, as part ‘shoestring’ media, I believe that I ought to conform to a certain ethical standard. I hope that I’ve had some degree of success in adhering to it.
I suppose after speaking to a room full of lobbyists, individuals that navigate the ethical and legal complexities defined and redefined by Ottawa, these thoughts tend to come to the fore rather than reside nebulously at the back of one’s mind. If one is to assume that this blog has some measure of influence over its readers and if one were to further assume that many of those readers are policy makers and journalists, does these considerations pose certain ethical dilemmas given certain scenarios? I’ve always stated that my blog has been successful in most part because of my readers. As my audience has grown, more and more people send me interesting ideas and items for my consideration. Of course, some of this material comes from political parties (including anti-Dion Liberals), some comes from the media itself (if it’s too ‘raw for prime-time’). Most of the rest of it comes from everyday Canadians that send in interesting observations. However, at Third Monday, the general question came up asking if I could be sent propaganda by interest groups? Could this information influence me? For example, could someone from the oil and gas send me information to muddy the waters on climate change? Of course they could. However, I would never write anything contrary to my own opinion and I try to verify all facts to a certain degree of confidence. I’m also faithful to my sources and would never reveal who has sent me information.
One certainty exists in a media climate that is constantly changing: our views of media are undefined and may never be. A blog is simply a medium, as I’ve stated above. However, I’m certain that some in the MSM would say that blogging has had the effect of admitting pedestrians into a noble profession. Indeed, the cost of blogging is virtually nil; one only needs to go to the public library to publish one’s thoughts to the world. Blogging has also been a boon to democratic participation as one can participate in formative policy based debate with other citizens as frequently or an infrequently as they wish. Democratically, a citizen is not simply reduced to a voter anymore. I do, however, believe that the evolving definition of journalist ought not to be confused by the medium. At one time even television reporters had to fight for access. Blogging may lower the threshold to participation; however the blogosphere can also be viewed as the best crucible in which those that ought to be read, will be and those that don’t, will figuratively burn away. Thankfully, the internet is the closest medium that we have that approaches an unlimited information resource. Let’s hope that nobody ever tries to regulate it, for we should all have access.