Let’s Get Ethical; Ethics in New Journalism

Abstractions: Ethics, Facebook and “The People Formerly Know As The Audience”

In the new age of journalism and accessibility, many questions arise in regards to who is a journalist and what journalism is. Along with these broader boundaries brings up the issue of ethics as well. The world of journalism is now one where both professionals and amateurs can prosper, but where does that leave the traditional journalism ethics of accuracy, verification and pre-publication in this new culture of immediacy and transparency?

Jay Rosen introduces this new group of people in journalism as “The people formerly known as the audience” in his article, defining them as being the “writing readers, the viewers who picked up a camera”. Rather than sitting back and letting mass media control them, they have turned around and started making their own media.

Rupert Murdoch speaks about the shift that the people formerly know as the audience want as: “They want control over the media, instead of being controlled by it.”

But with this power shift in media, what does this mean for ethics?

A prime example of this shift can be seen with Facebook. The BBC’s Alfred Hermida stated that “this content is both private and public at the same time. It is private in the sense that it was intended for a specific audience of friends. But it is also publicly available online. This is a new ethical area for journalists.”

Along with this new ethical struggle for journalists, the issue of free labour and the notion that ‘anyone can be a journalist’ online arises. Free labor is defined as excessive activity not typically seen as work, that is performed on the internet, in this case Facebook, creating value for capital. The simplest thing as filling out a Facebook profile or sharing a story on your timeline are prime examples of this free labor.

Because of this, more people have access to reaching wider audiences. All someone has to do is start a Facebook page and suddenly they have the same agency as any other newspaper or company to get information across.

A good example of this can be found by looking at the Facebook page ‘Humans of New York’.

To give you a sense of the impact that a simple Facebook page can have, if we look at Humans of New York, they are currently standing with 17,353,860 likes on Facebook (and growing more and more everyday) and has been expanded into two books ‘HONY Stories’ a #1 New York Times Best Seller) and ‘Little Humans’. The page started out as a simple blog in 2010 and has since gained worldwide recognition.

But with the ease of being able to make a Facebook page and this new wide-spread access to sharing information, where does the role of ethics live if at all, in this new platform?

Since information on Facebook is public and no longer belongs to the person who wrote it, does that make it ethical and acceptable to use their information without consent in articles etc?

Siobhan Butterworth, reader’s editor of the Guardian stated that:

“the fact that information is more or less publicly available may not be a complete answer to all arguments about privacy. Privacy is about intrusion rather than secrecy and the question is whether you have a reasonable expectation that something is private, rather than whether you have done or said something in public. These concepts are not easy to apply to social networking sites where the point of the exercise is to share information with others”

It seems as though in this new age of both professional and amateur journalists using the platform of social media to write and publish content, ethics is no longer a top concern. Objectivity is often compromised, along with awareness as to what kind of harm can come with publishing certain information. These core ethical practices which are used by professional journalists seem to have not made their way entirely to the work of the online amateurs.

With that being said, with a new platform comes a new set of rules. The traditional ethics of journalism simply won’t fit with this new platform of instant media and little privacy, but to what extent can we compromise these ethics and what will the new set of ethics consist of?

Jay Rosen closes off his article, “The People Formerly Known as the Audience” with a simple statement, informing the mass media of the inevitable power shift between them and the audience;

“You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us.

The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, media people. But whether you do or not we want you to know we’re here.”

Only time will tell what set of ethics this new platform will bring, whether traditional media likes it or not, they are in for a big change…

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