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Where is the ethical line nowadays?

07.17.2009 by André Natta · → 1 Comment

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This post has nothing to do with the current state of our public officials here in Birmingham or the standards that we may be unrealistically attempting to hold them up to (at least, not yet).

It begins as a response to an ever growing debate on the blogosphere and the newsrooms, both physical and virtual, about what it is that the people want and if we as bloggers and mainstream media should give it to them.

The decision by TechCrunch to publish some of the documents that were stolen from Twitter has led some to want to cast stones about where “the line” is that should not be crossed.

Personally, I’m not quite sure that the line’s moved from where it was; I think we’ve just chosen to ignore it more often.

I do feel that we’ve become more accustomed to getting whatever we want whenever we want. This leads to voices becoming lost in the digital wilderness of finger pointing and innuendo. It is also not limited to the digitial world as we become frustrated with terrestrial radio stations and political representation – despite the fact that our choices have helped lead to what we’ve received, whether intentionally or not.

No one is immune from this, but it is possible to tone down the rhetoric just a little and see if we can’t get folks to think of solutions instead of dwelling on the doom and gloom.

Andrew Keen’s column in today’s Daily Telegraph about the situation, published while most of the metro Birmingham area was asleep in bed but just as our morning anchors started their days, said as much. According to a Tweet he sent out around 3 a.m., it cost him just a couple hundred followers. I’ll be interested in seeing what my comments cost me.

Earlier this year I spoke to a college class about the challenges and excitement associated with running what is essentially a modern gateway to local information. People all look at the world through their own lenses and I sincerely appreciate those of you that continue to look to us as one way to begin that journey on a daily basis. I had one student tell me that she didn’t trust blogs because they weren’t always filled with enough facts. I should point out that each student was required to maintain a blog as part of the class.

I challenged her to do what she wanted other bloggers to do if she felt that way. There are millions of blogs that exist, with topics ranging from favorite foods to photo journals to political pundits and those that want to pretend to be one. I told her that she had a voice and that she should take advantage of that voice and follow her own standards; others would follow what she sets as a precedent. I told her not to give in just because there are those trying to convince people that sensationalism is all they should be seeking from bloggers and mainstream.

I do realize that there are shades of grey but I do believe that we dwell on bad news while good news becomes an after thought. We’re a community locally that believes in casting the stone first instead of taking a good hard look inward and having a healthy dialogue. We’ll try to do our part to aid in the conversation, but part of it is holding all of us that share information with you accountable.

There is one warning I would offer as this shift in mindset continues:

As Birmingham prepares to move forward, I would challenge those who attempt to threaten behind a supposed veil of protection to realize that it may not exist for much longer. Perhaps the days of making sure folks are truly aware of all sides of an issues are here and we are ready to have a true conversation and not just shoot arrows at each other from our silos.

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Todd Hornsby
Todd Hornsby

For me, it all comes down to responsibility. Whether you are tweeting, typing an email to a friend, publishing a blog post or writing for a traditional media outlet, the writer has a responsibility to keep the reader informed of intent and provide accurate information. And it's not just the writer. The reader has a responsibility to engage in the subject enough, from as many angles as possible, to understand what is being said before forming his/her own opinion - whether the reader is writing a comment or just establishing their own personal opinion that influences their choices in life. Personally, I read things for many reasons. Sometimes I like the sensational (guilty pleasure), but most of the time I like to read things that will inform and educate me. I want the truth as much as possible. The truth can hurt sometimes, but I would rather be pained by the truth than coddled with lies. I'm a non-fiction reader. I want to learn. When I want fiction, I seek it out. My biggest complaint comes when I read fiction that is labeled non-fiction - politics is ripe with this type of example. Just so you know, I practice what I preach! In my job, I produce documentary video profiles of corporate award winners. The videos tell a story about the award winner that helps the audience understand why the recipient deserves the award. My ultimate goal with each project is to have the award winner respect the story I told about them because it was accurate to who they are and how they got to this place in their life. If I don't have their trust after they view the video, then it is very possible future award winners will know that I stretched the truth too much for dramatic effect and they will not let me into their lives for fear I will portray them in a less than truthful manner. All this to say, from all sides, we always need to know where the line is and only cross it when it's morally imperative to challenge the status quo - and never for the sake of sensationalism.