Media Consumer Comments Aid Ethics Enforcement
By Heather Borgstadt
One of the major ethical codes of the Society of Professional Journalists is to be accountable and transparent. The internet and citizen journalism has presented multiple challenges to the world of journalism, however, in the area of transparency and accountability, the internet has helped immensely.
In times when gathering the newspaper on Monday morning was the best way to keep up on current events there was often a “letter to the editor” section available. Still, it was ultimately the editor that chose what to put into that column. With the introduction and expansion of the internet, news is now carried around in our back pockets and available with a few clicks. Even better, media consumer comments can now add multiple perspectives to the available news. Media sources that choose to include an open comment section for consumers are taking advantage of one more interactive way to ensure that they are held accountable for the news they share.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, Journalists should, “encourage a civil dialog with the public about journalistic practices, coverage, and news content” (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). Other factors of this particular ethical standard include rapidly answering questions about the fairness or accuracy of a news story and recognizing and correcting mistakes (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). The simple action of enabling comments on a news story encourages public dialog about content, coverage, and practice. Open commenting also allows for direct interaction with the media source so that questions can quickly be addressed in a transparent way without the arduous process of the “letter to the editor.” Recognizing mistakes can more easily occur as well. If a commenter brings up a mistake that the journalist didn’t catch that claim can be looked into and addressed.
Beyond the journalistic practices that can be addressed through commenting, consumer dialog can encourage new news stories as individual and cultural perspectives are shared. If the journalist is paying attention, he or she can identify trending and important topics that might not be getting the coverage they need. Using this method to identify what is important to readers helps the journalist to act independently. The journalist can easily avoid a conflict of interest, advertisers, and offers of “favors, fees, free travel, and special treatment” (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014).
Interacting with the audience through incorporating commenting on news stories is not practiced across the board. This is a useful tool for any media source to assist with maintaining transparency and accountability, as well as identifying hot new topics or alternate perspectives to add to a story.
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp