morality in a new media

There have been a lot of recent articles (Google “Agency Spy + Paul Tilley”) about advertising blogs and discussion of whether or not they are good or bad. Most journalists, as you would expect, played up the negatives. However, on the whole, the top-drawer blogs aren’t bad (and certainly aren’t immoral), especially when they keep any personal criticisms to public figures. Public figures, whether they be politicians, sports stars, businessmen or even advertising executives, are open to public scrutiny, criticism and attendant commentary. They do things that matter, and whenever people in power are doing things that matter, transparency is a good thing.

Transparency keeps people honest, rewards those who are at the top of the heap with recognition and praise and criticizes those who do criticizable things.

The internet has empowered a new form of transparency through commentary in the form of anonymous blogs and anonymous comments on those blogs.

Though most of the scoops and commentary are materially no different than the leaks that might uncover Congressional corruption or a brand asking agencies for work behind the back of its agency of record, the blog platform allows them to go directly to readers with the truth.

It also lets anonymous posters go directly to readers with opinion.

I can understand, because it is obvious, that nobody enjoys being railed against on advertising blogs. And perhaps it makes it worse not to know who is railing against you.

But public figures get railed against, especially when they do things that are criticizable.

This is not a post about Paul Tilley (it is time to stop the conceited act of presuming what did or did not affect him before his death and to let the man rest in peace). This is a post about the moral demands on bloggers when the post and allow comments on their blogs.

The first demand is that bloggers only target public figures.

Were a blog to post negatively about someone like Alex Bogusky, it is unlikely to be particularly affected (though, like Bob Garfield, his feelings might be hurt and, if he did something dumb, he would likely be embarrassed) either by the post or the fact that it lives, cached, in the online world for a long time to come. Bogusky has achieved much and his work stands for itself. His position is secure. He is a public figure and criticism of public figures is fair.

A Junior Art Director, on the other hand, is not so lucky as to have an impressive body of work logged and a negative post about that person, whatever the truth or motivation behind that, could be career damaging and reputation ruining.

Hand in hand with that, it is incumbent upon bloggers – your favorite blogger included – to manage the comments section the same way they would manage their posts.

Bloggers are not journalists. But they do have the same demands of integrity. Will I suddenly start writing under a by-line? No. It is unlikely that I would be able to blog freely and interestingly if I had to worry about what potential clients or employers might think, not to mention my own employer. It is even less likely that I would be able to support myself as a full-time blogger, and I wouldn’t want to anyway because I love what I do.

My integrity as a writer is not jeopardized by my not using my name. I cite and link to facts where relevant, explicitly say what is rumor and what is not, give my opinion is as engagingly as I can and otherwise try to be as fair as possible in all that I say. If you have an issue, you can comment or e-mail. When I comment on people, they either don’t get named or they are public figures. Oh, and if I say things that aren’t true or am grossly unfair, this blog’s credibility is hurt and people stop reading. Just like a journalist (except, strangely, for former Enron advisor Paul Krugman).

Maybe all of this is morality in a new media, maybe it’s not. But it is the operating procedure on this blog and working off of those principles lets me sleep soundly at night.

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