If you write for online publications today, you are a citizen journalist. There are probably 150 million blogs out there, to say nothing of news Web sites. So you are not alone.

With caution, I am going to recommend a resource: Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age: A Model/Open Source Syllabus, which offers many articles that might be of value. For example, from one module:

Class 1: Cases of misconduct


Sheila Cornel, Steve Coll, Derek Kravitz, “Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report,” April 2015.

Janet Cooke, “Jimmy’s World” (fabrication, retracted), Washington Post, 1980; Richard Prince, “Janet Cooke’s Hoax Still Resonates After 30 Years,” The Root, Oct. 2010.

Hanna Rosin, “Hello, My Name is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry,” The New Republic, Nov. 2014.

Ken Auletta, “Sign-Off: The Long and Complicated Career of Dan Rather,” The New Yorker, March 2005.

Dan Tracy, et al, “Sentinel Finishes Report about Oxycontin Article,” Orlando Sentinel, Feb. 2004.

Dan Barry, et al, “Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception,” New York Times, May 2003.

I would recommend any guidance that comes out of the journalism trade today only with caution, for several reasons. The internet, which has totally reshaped the media world, is new, so we are all just finding our way. There are few real experts.

Second, professional journalists are overwhelmingly progressive. For example, the vast majority think that abortion is pretty much okay. See, for example, “So what if abortion ends life?”  It’s a good thing these people didn’t live when slavery was legal.

Media freedom is also in decline everywhere today. Many traditional media sources survive by tacitly liasing with government. In the Western world, that usually means liasing with progressive governments.

That’s because progressive governments are more likely to have grand plans such as healing the planet or transforming their country beyond recognition. Thus they need journalists to sell their message in a way that people who are simply carrying on a viable tradition do not.

These traditional media are very hostile to traditionalist/conservative governments in part because those governments do not need them nearly as much as the progressive ones do.

One outcome is that increasing numbers of people look to non-traditional sources for news, which is both a challenge and an opportunity for those of us who provide it.

Recently, Canada has seen a sudden sharp rise in layoffs of traditional media personnel, layoffs that had probably been humanely put off as long as possible.

The huge local media company Rogers Media is to cut its workforce by 4%, affecting 200 TV, radio, publishing and admin jobs. Rogers cites changing consumer habits, leading to declining ad revenue.

The iconic Toronto Star (Superman’s “Daily Planet”) has just laid off 300, La Presse (francophone) 158, and Bell Media 370. In Canadian terms, those are big numbers in the former media elite, and there are many others, less heralded.

Things are similar in the United States:

There remain only two print newspapers in the entire country (the Wall Street Journal and New York Times) that sell more than a half million copies per average weekday, only six that sell a quarter of a million copies and probably [correction: not many more than] 22 that sell more than 100,000.

And in Britain,

The Guardian will cut costs by 20 percent, and could make some of its journalism available only to paying members, after a sharp fall in print advertising hit the newspaper’s financial performance.

The sharp fall in advertising is principally due to the fact that most people are not getting their information from print media any more. Also, it is difficult to charge for information on the internet, for the same reasons as it is difficult to charge for seawater in the ocean.

It is a reasonable guess that many laid-off journalists will shortly be using their communications skills in government or industry, which means that they are not using them to give the rest of us an independent view (if they had been doing so before).

So if we are going to be citizen journalists, we should bone up on technical and ethical skills, and if we are news consumers we must “choose the news we will use.”

Note: Some people claim that journalistic ethics have always been poor. I’m not sure. I recall that, decades ago, people depended on big media for news and thus ethics mattered more—in an everyday sense. Today, one could just manufacture news, and as long as the internet remains free, people can find out the facts anyway if they really want to know. Thus, the sense of responsibility may have declined.

All I ever say is: When in doubt, doubt. And if it sounds unbelievable, don’t believe it.

See also: Print media are now officially a coffee table item


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...