This Is Not For The Cajun Tomato: Blog Ethics Thoughts

Follow me on Twitter @RayLegend or like me on Facebook at The CajunTomato.

From time to time, I blog about people I know and conversations I have had with them. I don’t consider this blog a journal, but occasionally it touches upon aspects of my daily life.

With that in mind, I was talking with a friend the other day when he told me something in confidence. This is not for The Cajun Tomato, he started the story. That made us both laugh. I had not considered anything in our conversation blog fodder, much less the most intimate details.

What he told me was certainly not something I would consider writing about. But his blog-referencing comment brought up a few interesting questions in my head.

Where does one draw the line in terms of what they blog or put on the Internet? Does that line change when it involves friends or is it across the board? Also, should you ask friends if you are going to blog about something that could be potentially embarrassing to them? (What you might not find embarrassing they might find so yada yada yada.)

As a professional journalist, people have told me things in confidence that I did not repeat nor write. But there have also been times when what they told me was impactful to the community, and therefore needed to be reported. Granted, I made sure to get this information on the record, as opposed to off record.

Of course my friend’s aforementioned remarks don’t count nor would 99 percent of the things I write on this blog. This blog doesn’t break news. It is not a news source.

There are rules to the journalism game that seem to be lacking in blogging, in general. That’s not to say that blogging or the people who do it are of a lower register. The concept that bloggers are typing furiously from their parent’s basement is a tired and false stereotype, for instance. Many are talented and creative people.

That said, it seems like it would be easier to throw standards out the window on a blog, at least a small one with one or two writers, than at a newspaper. Why? Well, as compared to a newspaper, you might not be writing for a certain community, and therefore would not be as accountable. The newspaper is also going to have written standards and practices, whereas a blog like this one does not.

My stats on this web site tell me that people find this blog by searching for terms that don’t necessarily have ties to a place. Odd Future, the hip-hop collective, does not have a direct link to Tucker Max, for instance. I just happen to have written about both.

I am accountable for what I write here, but not as accountable in something I write for a newspaper. Don’t get me wrong. Libel is still libel. There has to be some standards. But if I misspell a word or someone’s name here it isn’t the end of the world.

Sticking to this topic, I met a woman a few months ago who told me she blogged about sexual experiences she had. She fashioned herself a character from “Sex and the City”, apparently.

I disagreed with her need to blog about such an intimate topic. What about the guys being mentioned on the blog, I asked. She explained that the guys she had sex with would not know the blog was about them. I assume she changed their names.

Maybe the guys would not recognize themselves, but what she spoke about sounded insulting if it were true. However, it sounded like fiction. If your intent is to write fiction that’s great. But don’t pass it off as reality.

That’s another thing. Where is the line in the blogosphere between truth and fiction? What’s to stop someone from writing something about someone else that is patently untrue? It’s hard to say. I realize this sort of thing can happen just as easily in journalism (Jayson Blair) or a memoir (James Frey) as a blog, but it’s a question I’m intrigued by.

These aren’t ideas that are unique to me. I’ve spent a good deal of time reading theory on blogging and bloggers, mostly to satisfy my curiosity and fascination with how we will get our information once printed newspapers go extinct. Admittedly, that could be a long time. But the shift has already begun.

I read an interesting column by former Miami Herald sports writer Dan LeBatard recently wondering where sports journalism was going in these days of web sites Deadspin and TMZ Sports, both of which see no qualms about posting a picture of an athlete’s penis or myriad indescretions if it nets the site a suitable number of page views.

Perhaps we are diving into the gutter to fulfill our lowest instincts. Perhaps we were always in the gutter but chose to look skyward. Or perhaps newspaper types are freaking out about what they see as the death of ethics because they see the light of their careers, which they went to fancy journalism schools for, flickering out.

I am not one of those people who worries a great deal about blogs defeating newspapers in the race to inform the masses. I am more concerned with how we, as news providers, will make a dollar off our services in the days ahead.

The New York Times just announced it would start charging again for its online content. I don’t see this working. There are so many other avenues to get national news. Unless you value the New York Times’ take on national and world events above all others, you can go to any number of other web sites or surf any number of television channels.

So the dollars and cents question remains unanswered. So too do a few of the questions I wrote earlier in this post. Let me tie up those loose ends.

When writing about friends on the Internet, I would not recount drug use or sexual depravity. That sort of thing might work for Tucker Max. But I am not Tucker Max. Neither is anyone else blogging except Tucker Max.

There are times when I write about experiences and change the names of people or the locations where we were. For instance, I wrote about an experience I had with a stripper in Portland. I purposely left the club’s name out, in case someone from the club happened across my blog. Stranger things have happened. No need to bring myself or anyone else grief, considering the post recounted an awkward experience I had.

Lastly, I would side with asking friends about a particular post if you think it will embarrass them. You have to evaluate what you hope to gain from blasting items on the Internet. A few extra page views? That’s not worth losing a friendship over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>