This week, I’m evaluating the quality and credibility of the Oconee County Observations website and blog which can be found here.
This site is authored by Lee Becker (2015), who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin—Madison in Mass Communication, as well as a Masters in Communication and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of Kentucky. Due to the amount of education Mr. Becker has, as well as his thorough work with the Oconee County Observations website, I would consider him a professional journalist.
This blog is one of Mr. Becker’s hobbies, as he notes in his Blogger About Me section. Having lived in Oconee County since 1997 with the expectation to retire there as well, Lee Becker has a vested interest in the area; so naturally, I feel there is the potential for bias. However, I feel he does a fantastic job of delivering a balanced perspective on county news and information, striving “to be accurate, fair and transparent (Becker, 2015).”
The writer of the Oconee County Observations website does well to adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of Ethics. Not only does the author take steps to verify information through multiple sources and references, he does so on a very professional level. Becker (2015) states, “I want to tell how I learned what I have learned and be clear about any role I have played in what is being presented.” To me, this is transparency and truthful reporting at its best, playing right in to the SPJ’s guideline of seek the truth and report it (2014, September 6). The author identifies sources clearly, takes responsibility for the accuracy of his work, provides relative context and access to source material, and does well to not distort the facts, making Mr. Becker’s contributions to the digital world professional, reliable, and credible.
There are unprofessional professionals and professional non-professionals. So do I think it really matters if someone reporting the news is labeled a professional or not? No. But I do think anyone who chooses to report the news, from Brian Williams to Joe Schmoe sitting behind his computer blogging, should still uphold themselves to certain ethical and professional standards. For instance Mr. Becker’s intention is “…to offer a balanced presentation that recognizes different points of view and portrays the people involved with respect (Becker, 2015).” Mr. Becker is guided by professional principals in his practice, and it most certainly reflects in his work.
To a point, I do think everyone should be held to the same ethical standards regardless of their professional classification in order to maintain a more “professional” and empathetic society. At the same time, could you imagine enforcing those ideals!? Those who do not adhere to ethical standards, I feel, will root themselves out eventually, ruining any credibility the author may have had.
The rise of citizen journalism and bloggers has indefinitely changed the way in which we send and receive knowledge. Freelance entity sources such as these can offer instant and/or differing perspectives on a given story, often without the agenda of large scale broadcasting companies like CNN or those in power, as well as touch on aspects of a story that may or may not have otherwise been considered.
I wouldn’t be surprised if twenty years ago the infamous inside joke of “Everyone’s a writer” existed. With the development of the Internet, now anyone with access can be. This capability affords a great amount of advantages, but also disadvantages. Often with new or “non-professional” writers, they can offer fresh perspectives, ideas, and resolutions. That’s not to say professional writers can’t do the same thing, but many new writers come to the table almost as a blank slate, especially those with no formal education in writing or journalism. While a blank slate can be great, it can also be a disadvantage as bad habits can be picked up just as easily as the good ones if not careful. I also think new writers may be more likely to push the envelope, reminding us that we are all human and make mistakes. In some cases, a little push is needed, but when not tempered by professional and/or ethical standards like those set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists, writers can just as easily go too far and dig a proverbial hole that can be difficult to escape.
Like starting out as the low man on the totem pole, establishing credibility is a climb. “Non-professionals” have the same choices to make as “professionals” in the realm of reporting, i.e., showing good judgment, assembling information for balanced stories, not biased, and following certain ethical practices that give authority to an individual. By avoiding amateur reporting devoid of conscious, the “non-professional” can quickly find himself or herself in the “professional” category.
Becker, L. (2015). Oconee County Observations. Retrieved from: http://oconeecountyobservations.blogspot.com
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014, September 6). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp