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We Don’t Smoke in Airplanes Anymore

by on February 7, 2013

In the general discussion of ethics in journalism I see a direct correlation between making money and taking a more liberal (not Obama liberal) stance on ethical dilemmas. Traditional journalism is struggling, while new media and borderline journalism is thriving. Some say the problem is monetizing online content, but it’s not, it’s a matter of selling content. To do so involves changing the content and adapting to changing ethical standards. To do so we have to accept that there is no Socratic idea of ethics. The “truth” doesn’t exist.

Gawker Media is a good example of the change in standards. They sell biased, slanted, knee-jerk, borderline ethical, and downright crap “journalism.” They are not under the pretense that journalism is like it was 10 or a 100 years ago. They know they are selling a product, their product is junk, but that doesn’t matter to them. People are “buying” their product. With this the ethics are changing. Stories that would have been hushed as early as a decade ago by larger news outlets, such as the New York Times, are now rushed to the presses (and the WordPresses.)

We are not smoking in elevators anymore and we are not following the same ethical standard as a decade ago. Gawker comes across ethical dilemmas all the time and they lean against the standards of the past, and they get stories and hundreds of thousands of pageviews.

But back on subject. Does Gawker have to bow down to the advertisers that pay their rent? No, advertisers know what they are getting into when they pay them. They are paying for exposure.

Robert Niles, wrote about the problem of advertising in his blog post, “Sell ads into ad space and report news in editorial space. And make sure to show the reader the difference.”

Is there an inherent ethical problem with advertisers dictating content? Of course. But if the content is good and the readers are not tricked or misled there is no problem.

We are here as journalists, this is a job or a potential career. It is not a public service, we are not here to save humanity, we are here to sell our skill. Being genuine and honest to yourself, your readers and your advertisers is all we need to be. Being genuine speaks for itself in all aspects of life.

Niles goes on to elaborate on how we are humans, not writing machines that old (and dying) journalism hopes us to be:

What about conflicts of interest? Well, within the industry, I think your colleagues would be thrilled to see anyone in this field making money online at this point, so I don’t think you’ll hear much complaining from them. As for readers and advertisers, transparency provides the key. (See a pattern here?) Let your potential advertisers know that they are buying ad space, not editorial coverage, and stick with that. Let your readers know, through design or explicit labels, where the ads are.

-Joe Pereira 


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