Old-school journalism ethics and standards don’t just apply to print journalism. Ethics in media also apply to writers who want to become authoritative bloggers.
Blogging news stories as they unfold is one of the most exciting and controversial applications of technology that bloggers have discovered, and today, citizen journalists are blogging news stories as they happen.
One feature that makes the blogosphere so active is the fact that it is possible to update a blog instantaneously, so the news on blogs tends to be more current than the news in the paper, or on television.
Unlike news delivered by mainstream media, news that appears on blogs does not have to travel through a series of editors and administrators before it reaches the public eye. This has some advantages and some distinct disadvantages.
- The Impact of Citizen Journalism
- Stemming The Spread of Fake News
- Journalism Ethics & Guidelines For Bloggers
- How To Become an Authoritative Blogger
- More blog writing tips & tools
The Impact of Citizen Journalism
One of the most notable cases of news hitting a blog before appearing in other media took place in July 2005 when terrorism struck London.
As passengers were evacuated from a subway car near an explosion, one man took several photographs of the scene with his cellular phone, and within an hour these images were posted online.
First-person accounts of the catastrophe began appearing on blogs soon after these photos appeared, and people all over the world learned about the events in London by reading the words and seeing the photos posted by bloggers.
The fact that these stories and images were being spread directly by individuals operating without the added filter of a reporter helped to make the crisis feel very immediate to people across the globe. When it comes to blogging, news often appears in a very personal context.
This is the beginning of an exciting new era of reporting, one that takes “New Journalism” to its logical next step by taking on the power to shape how the news is written and read directly into the hands of the public.
Many bloggers and cultural commentators who are champions of the citizen journalism movement feel that this growing trend of individuals getting their news from blogs is a good thing because it makes the flow of information more democratic.
By decentralizing the control of news, blogs allow more voices to enter the field of debate about important current events. However, many people are adamantly opposed to the use of blogs as news outlets, and there are plenty of good arguments on this side of the debate too.
Stemming The Spread of Fake News
Unlike newspapers or television stations, few blogs have fact-checkers, and there is little attention paid to citizen journalism ethics or journalistic accountability on many blogs.
This can lead to the rapid spread of misinformation, and more than one falsehood has taken the blogosphere by storm. No matter where you stand on the topic of citizen journalist blogs, you’ll agree that citizen journalism has already revolutionized how we get our news.
But the spread of fake news resulted in search engines and social media platforms implementing ways to stem the spread of content that can adversely impact people’s lives.
And in 2021, the spread of COVID-related misinformation led YouTube to block all anti-vaccine content, moving beyond its ban on false information about the COVID vaccines to include content that contains misinformation about other approved vaccines.
In an effort to stem the spread of fake news and misinformation, social media sites like Facebook hired independent fact-checkers to help identify and review false information.
Google’s E‑A-T guidelines that prioritize Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness – especially for content that affects Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) – are also a way to stem the flow of misinformation online.
In 2015, a study jointly conducted by BuzzSumo and Moz found that if you want your blogs to get more shares and links, you should focus on creating deep research or opinion-forming content.
In fact, the content sweet spot for achieving both links and shares online is “authoritative, opinion-shaping journalism on current topics or well researched and evidenced content” because it attracts more referring domain links.
“The content sweet spot for achieving both links and shares online is authoritative, opinion-shaping journalism on current topics or well researched and evidenced content.”
People share and link to content for different reasons, says the study. So while that baby animal video you posted might get thousands of shares on social networks, viewers don’t exactly consider it authoritative enough to link to (except clickbait sites like Cheezburger.com).
Journalism Ethics & Guidelines For Bloggers
“Journalism ethics is a field where old and new values clash,” writes Stephen J. A. Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While journalistic ethics are defined by professionalism, separation of news and opinion, verification of reports and news sources, a commitment to accuracy and objectivity and to minimizing harm, bloggers and social media marketers are not really bound by such rules.
Instead, what works in the real-time world of social media are immediacy, snark, anonymity and sharing of news, often without giving credit to the original source. According to the journalism code of ethics, such writing would never pass muster.
However, the study by BuzzSumo and Moz seems to indicate that old-school journalistic ethics are respected not just in the rarefied halls of publications like The Atlantic and The New York Post, but also on the internet, where readers are more discerning than previously thought.
So how do bloggers, content writers, influencers, and social media marketers apply this information to their own blogging rules and etiquette to ensure that their posts are seen as “authoritative and opinion-forming”?
The recommended way would be to familiarize yourself with the journalism code of ethics put down by the Society of Professional Journalists and adopt these as your own social media journalism ethics. In practice, here’s how it works:
1. Be accurate
Inaccuracy is inexcusable, especially when you have a research tool like Google at your fingertips. So, research your blog posts well.
Make sure that all your statements are based on accurate data and information that can be verified or linked to. Before you hit publish, verify all facts stated and link to the original sources of the information quoted.
Here, you can take a page out of Neil Patel’s book, because his blog posts are always data-based, thoroughly researched and include links and accreditation to every source of information that he quotes from.
2. Provide context
Don’t oversimplify, or if you have to for the purpose of keeping things simple for your readers, provide links or resources within or at the end of the post, that they can use to read more information and educate themselves further about your topic.
Wikipedia does this brilliantly, both by linking to other articles within the site and with a comprehensive list of references at the end of every article.
3. Keep your posts up to date
When you provide a source of information that readers know is kept up to date with the latest developments in that field, it becomes authoritative and the go-to source of information on that topic.
An example is Brian Dean’s Complete List of Google’s 200 Ranking Factors that he keeps updated and has become a widely-shared and linked source of information on SEO.
4. Have a clear stand on anonymity
When quoting from anonymous sources, it’s especially difficult to distinguish whether the information is true or false. It’s common for journalists to use false names to protect victims of violent crimes.
In the online world, anonymity is very easy to implement and the issue is still up for debate, given that sites like Wikileaks make it very easy to post confidential information without the vetting process that any information goes through in an editor’s office.
As a publisher, you need to decide if your site is going to allow anonymous sources of information or not. If you do decide to allow them, remember that this sort of information is very hard to verify, so it’s wise to have safeguards in place to avoid legal issues.
5. Stand up for what is right
If you’re a political blogger or commentator, this is a hard act to keep up, especially because anonymity makes it so easy for people who disagree with you to try to threaten and intimidate you online.
However, if you’ve taken a stand, it would be seen as courageous to refuse to get intimidated by threats. Remember that (in most countries) the law is on your side and that you have the right to express your opinion.
6. Don’t do the Photoshop
It’s so easy today to use image editors to touch up parts of the image that don’t fit into a story or narrative.
The ethics of photojournalism may not matter when you’re creating a meme, (because everyone knows better than to take those seriously), but when it comes to sharing images of real-life events, don’t be this guy.
7. Never plagiarize
Plagiarism is the cardinal sin of blogging and content sharing. Whether you’re “inspired by” or quoting from another source of information, always provide attribution to those you quote or gain inspiration from (the way I’ve done in this post). If you don’t want people to plagiarize your work, do unto others…
How To Become an Authoritative Blogger
As a blogger, you are not bound by the code of journalism ethics. But, considering the benefits quoted in the BuzzSumo study above, bloggers that do abide by journalism ethics and standards and create well-researched content will be seen as more authoritative than others, and get more links and shares than their peers.
Here are some of the ways you can become an A-list blogger:
1. Publish less often
In the world of old-school reporting, it would take weeks or months to put together an authoritative feature or report that could make a journalist’s career (and sometimes win them a Pulitzer Prize). In the world of blogging, it often takes just hours.
However, there’s evidence that publishing less often can be beneficial. Brian Dean has only around 31 posts on his site and is close to breaking 100,000 visits per month. So the key is not posting more often, but doing a darn good job of it.
Brian publishes expanded list posts (ELPs), case studies and other authoritative information that is immensely useful to his audience and gets an insane number of links and shares.
2. Write “10X” content
As I wrote in my post on Blog Content Creation And Promotion In 2015 and Beyond, the time when you could get away with writing “fluffy” content is gone, especially if you want your content to stand out from the clutter.
In these times of content shock, “good” content is no longer good enough. With so much great content out there, anything you create has to either be 10X content or the “best in its category” or it won’t get results.
3. Write long-form content
According to the study from BuzzSumo and Moz, long-form content (over 1,000 words) consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content. Once the word count exceeds 1,500 words, it’s in the golden share zone.
Long-form content (over 1,000 words) consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content.
The average web page that ranks on the first page of Google has over 2,000 words of content. This is the incentive you need to stop holding back and write to your heart’s content.
It does not give you the license to ramble and bore your readers, but it does mean that a “Definitive Guide” that provides comprehensive information on a topic in 2000 words or more, will get more links and shares than a list post of 500 to 700 words.
4. Study SEO copywriting
You don’t have to become an SEO guru (although that helps), but if, in this day and age, you’re a writer who hasn’t brushed up on her knowledge of keyword research, SEO copywriting and on-page SEO, you’re seriously handicapped, because everyone who does understand these principles has an edge over you.
There are lots of free SEO tutorials and ebooks out there to help you learn the basics of SEO copywriting. You can start with the ones below:
- Best SEO Content Writing Tools To Write SEO Friendly Articles
- Heather Lloyd-Martin’s SEO Copywriting blog
- Neil Patel’s SEO Copywriting Tips
- Nelson Dias’s SEO Copywriting Tips
5. Promote your post
As this infographic from Crazy Egg shows, content promotion is as important (if not more) than content creation. You could have a great piece of content, but no one will notice if you don’t promote it.
Bloggers like Derek Halpern recommend that you spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% promoting it.
Spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% promoting it.
Reaching out to influencers is an awesome tactic for building those oh-so-important links and shares to your post. Brian Dean and Neil Patel send at least 250 outreach emails for every post that they publish, which is how they manage to get so many inbound links.
These influencer marketing platforms will help you find and reach out to influencers who can promote your content.
I hope you’ve found these tips on digital journalism ethics useful. I’ll leave you with this funny video on the phenomenon of Clickbait from Jon Oliver.
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