The desirability and feasibility of a journalistic code for the Internet

Christel van de Burgt, Richard van der Wurff & Klaus Schönbach (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

The emergence of online news media has raised concerns about the quality of journalism within and outside the profession. Journalism outside mainstream news organizations (for example, citizen journalism and weblogs) has given a new impetus to the debate on codes of conduct as formal expressions of journalistic ethics. Scholars, experts and media professionals have raised the question as to whether a specific Internet code of conduct is desirable and feasible – to define, promote and control quality journalism online and (perhaps) to defend journalism against outside interference. But have the century-old norms for the accountability of journalists and their social responsibility (and the ways in which those standards are enforced) really changed? This paper addresses this issue by means of interviews with Dutch stakeholders in the field of online journalism. The results show that journalists are thought to face new ethical challenges, such as how to handle anonymous contributions and the protection of sources’ privacy. Most questions raised, however, invoke traditional ethical issues. The experts interviewed form three groups: those who solely rely on existing (traditional) codes of conduct; those who opt for existing codes but, if necessary, adjust them to digital contexts; and finally those who state that the internet is a medium with its own logic and in need of its own ethical rules.

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