The 2009 videos were dramatic, capturing several employees of ACORN, the housing-advocacy organization, apparently offering their help to clients on how to set up a brothel and evade any number of laws.
Using hidden cameras, conservative activists had gone undercover to capture conversations that led to a political uproar and Congressional action against the advocacy group. The creators of the videos made no secret of their goal: to “get” ACORN and expose it as a corrupt organization.
They called themselves journalists, and there was an element of journalism in their reports—though the videos were later revealed to have been edited in massively misleading ways. But when one of the creators of the ACORN videos was later arrested in New Orleans on charges that he’d attempted to spy on a Democratic senator, his journalistic bona fides disappeared entirely.
If you venture into anything resembling journalism, I hope you’ll be more honorable than that crowd.
This chapter addresses people who are ready to go beyond purely personal or speculative blogs or occasional appearances on YouTube and the like. It’s for those who have become mediactive consumers and now want to apply mediactive principles to their own creative work online, especially if their intent is to provide useful information to other people.
Important: What you’ll be reading in the next few pages may seem like it’s intended only for professional journalists. I’ll be happy if some of them do read what follows, because lord knows that too many have forgotten or abandoned some vital principles.
But even though I do plan to talk quite a bit about what they do—and will be quite critical about how some have done their jobs in recent years—I hope you’ll read what follows in the context of what you might be doing to create your own media now and in the future. These are universal principles, not just for people who call themselves journalists but for anyone who wants to be trusted for what they say or write. They are for all of us in a mediactive world, and the more you hope to be taken seriously, the more I hope you’ll appreciate them.
Like the active-consumer principles in Chapter 2—the bedrock on which these creation principles rest—they add up to being honorable. In brief, they involve:
Transparency is the most difficult principle for traditional media organizations, even though it’s relatively common among bloggers. In the end, however, it may be the most important of all, so I’m making it a major focus of this chapter. I find that I’m advocating it more and more ardently in all kinds of communication, from blogs to the BBC.
Let’s look at the principles in more detail. You’ll see that they blur into each other at times, just as the principles for media consumers overlap. As I did with those, I’ll flesh out some of the tactics to live up these principles in the next chapter.
You’ll notice that I don’t list “objectivity” as a principle for creators of journalism. It’s an ideal rather than a principle, and it’s impossible to achieve—no human being is or can be truly objective. We can get closer to this ideal now than ever before, in part because the Internet’s built-in capacity for collaboration makes it easier to find counterpoints to our own views and for our critics to find us (and then for us to respond). Author and Net researcher (and friend) David Weinberger calls transparency “the new objectivity,” but I believe all of the principles in my list help us approach the ideal of objectivity.