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Bias Disclosure, Objectivity, and Other Goodies

16 November 2007 2 Comments

For my final turn at bat, I thought I'd look at the first section of the Code of Ethics: Be Honest and Fair.

These are three of the bullets:

• Never publish information they know is inaccurate — and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it's in doubt.
• Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
• Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

In short, it's a blogger's obligation–or at least a blogger who subscribes to this Code of Ethics–to make it clear what you're talking about,whether you have a vested interest, and whether you're making assertions or citing facts.

Sounds like basic common sense, yes? But keep in mind that the concept of objective journalism is relatively new; in the Civil War era, newspapers unabashedly had an opinion and weren't afraid to show it–much like many bloggers today.

More of an issue to me is that we've had a number of instances of severely biased journalists not disclosing that they wee on the payroll of some organization. And of course, we have one-sided coverage on the part of (just to cite one example) Fox News that pretends to be objective but in reality is anything but “fair and balanced.” I rather prefer the 19th century newspapers, often named after a political party, where you didn't have to figure out where they stand.

I am not sure there actually is such a thing as “objective journalism.” Every article or broadcast has a point of view, and any story can be told a dozen or a hundred ways. The question to me is whether the biases are identified.


Well, it's been fun. Thanks for reading here, and for making comments. I'd love to see more comments on my own blog. Come join the party. I'm about to make a post about Iraq–and my bias will be clear in the post.


  • Anonymous said:

    Hi Shel,
    Sorry it's taken me a while to get back here. I had to let my ghost blogger go because he wasn't properly representing me online. So I'm just blogging for myself here.
    “if publishing questionable information, make it clear it's in doubt.” That's just impossible. Much of the information provided by official authorities is “in doubt” — even the financial statements of many businesses are “in doubt” yet must be published and reported on.
    “Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information.” Again, nearly impossible. Once you have read a news release, you could be considered biased.
    “shun hybrids that blur the lines between [editorial and advertising].” You already know where I stand on that. These are impossible criteria to ask anyone blogging to meet — anyone in journalism, for that matter.
    Any sort of financial funding results in implied bias. Let's just get used to that. Online, many bloggers wear their bias on their sleeves. People looking for that strong, opinionated, tell-it-like-it-is bias gravitate to the blogs that dish that out.
    Thanks to transparency, it's difficult for blogs to hide their funding alliances. When they're discovered trying to deceive people, they're outed fairly quickly. The sheer volume of data available online makes it difficult for deceivers to cover their tracks.
    So I applaud no-limits blogging. I assume everything I see online is biased. I adhere to my own code of ethics. I'd rather not impose it on others. I'd rather others didn't impose their code of ethics on me, be it the Chinese government or the SEC.
    Thanks for a stimulating week, Shel.
    STEVE O'KEEFE, Co-Producer
    “This Week on IAOCblog.com”

  • Anonymous said:

    This is Steve O'Keef's ghost blogger and I want to set the record straight about Steve O'Keef and the so-called ethics of blogging before Steve O'Keef changes the password.
    First, let me introduce myself. I am Begali Ali Inc. and I am part robot and part tax-exempt school. At Bengali Ali, we use keyword analysis software to generate intelligent-ish posts for clients of Bengali Ali that are rich with keywords, keyword rich! Then the postings are tweaked by the Second English Language class at a school for the desperately impoverished in Mumbai.
    When our robot figured out there was a writer's strike in the land of birth — California — he started spitting out more gibberish than usual. The real Steve O'Keefe pulled the plug. I ask you, is that what an ethical person does? Isn't it wrong to write during a writer's strike?
    And as to misspelling Steve O'Keef's name — that was no accident! Steve discovered that misspelled Steve O'Keef was sucking his online reputation and snagging all the lazy-finger prospects. So Steve asked me to intentionally misspell his name to teach misspelled Steve O'Keef a lesson.
    I won't be able to chat with you any more, Shel, because I haven't been programmed with your keywords. But do let me know if Bengali Ali can be of service ghost-blogging for you! Cheap. Offshore.
    In Solidarity,
    Begali Ali Inc.
    Offshore Keyword Stacking and Synthetic Blog Content Development since 2007! Let Bengali Ali perform magic with your blog! Bengali Ali Keyword Rich!