Norms and the Network:
Journalistic Ethics in a
Shared Media Space
Jane B. Singer
Journalists, embracing the Internet with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have gradually adapted to characteristics of the medium. Many of those adaptations have involved work practices, in particular those to accommodate delivery of multimedia content—text, audio, video, and so on. Although this “convergence” involves some ethical issues, it requires adjustments mostly in skills and techniques.1
Other aspects of the medium lead to more explicit reconsideration of journalism ethics. The Internet delivers information instantaneously, and there were concerns, right from the start, about how the need for speed would affect accuracy. Getting a story out fast and getting it right too often seemed mutually exclusive. Today, journalists are less bothered by this issue; they still want to get it right—accuracy remains a central norm—but they and their readers seem to have accepted that the “first take” need not be the final one. There is greater tolerance for an online story evolving so that new information simply replaces what, if anything, was wrong; depending on their nature, changes may or may not be flagged for readers.
But a medium that is faster and encompasses more modalities suggests differences only in degree from a newspaper or a television news show.2 The more fundamental difference involves the interconnected nature of a network. In their early days online, journalists adopted simple approaches to dealing with “interactivity,” most of them involving the use of links to other Web pages. They turned their bylines into e-mail links, making themselves more accessible to Internet readers, and they added hyperlinks from stories to selected online documents or other source material, offering evidence to bolster an article’s veracity.
Those adaptations are fine, as far as they go. But they are only baby steps toward carving out a role within a network, where both the media space and,