Welcome to what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about emerging best practices in digital journalism.

Like many other journalists who’ve worked for a range of very different media outlets over the years, I’ve become intrigued by how traditional ethical principles such as accuracy and transparency might best be realised in a rapidly changing mediascape. And how can journalism best reach its potential as a useful resource for its audience?

Many core ethical principles might be fixed, no matter what the platform of publication. Most journalists would agree, for instance, that errors, wherever they occur, should be corrected. But how should the time-honoured “we were wrong” confessions of newspapers be presented in an online environment? And what factors should determine how interactions with audiences are best managed?

For all the considerable challenges faced by journalists in the digital era – 24/7 deadlines, fewer resources, the ever-shifting behaviour of audiences, increasing uncertainties about the future – the changes we’re experiencing also present opportunities to improve the practice of journalism. One of these is that emerging technologies can facilitate journalism that’s more accountable and informative, and that builds new kinds of relationships with audiences.

Just how all this might be achieved is being considered in a broadening series of discussions. Of particular interest here are a range of initiatives that have cropped up over recent years that explore emerging best practices in digital journalism. I’ve examined some of these initiatives in this paper that I presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas in April 2012. The six reports discussed were:

The (mostly) common characteristics of these best practices initiatives were that they:

  • Identify emerging situations – in each instance the case studies are attempting to address moving targets.
  • Share findings – The guidelines, and in all cases here, the rationale behind them, are accessible by the public.
  • Foster collaboration – none of these projects could have been realized solely through the expertise of a single group.
  • Suggest rather than prescribe – problems are being addressed and discussed rather than solved.
  • Consultative – all of these projects use expertise and engagement with communities to develop guidelines.
  • Enhance media literacy – the reports are designed to provide guidelines to journalists and other content producers that will improve interactions with their users/audiences.
  • Regenerate – the case studies connect back to the practices linked to tradition by exploring emerging practices.

There have been other attempts to develop best practices guidelines in different areas of journalism practice. Together these initiatives are contributing to a more open form of journalism ethics in the way outlined in this 2010 article by by Stephen Ward and Herman Wasserman. Furthermore, I believe that the formulation of best practice principles is essential if traditional ethical norms are to be successfully extended and integrated into online media practice.

This blog’s mission is to help facilitate this process by tracking best practices initiatives, and providing a forum for discussions about them that I’m hoping will involve students, journalists, journalism academics, and anyone with an interest in the media.

One topic, of course, will be the “best practices” to be adopted by this very blog. As a starting point, we’re going to be following the guidelines outlined in upstart’s Notes for Contributors page. This includes adhering to Australia’s Media Alliance code of ethics and the La Trobe University plagiarism guidelines. But in the coming months (perhaps years), we’re going to explore through examples some different approaches to emerging best practices in everything from transparency and attribution, to moderating discussions and making the most of social media and user-generated content, to correcting errors and hyperlinking (and more besides).

About Lawrie Zion

Lawrie Zion joined La Trobe University in 2006 where he is an Associate Professor of Journalism and editor-in-chief of upstart.

He graduated in History from the University of Melbourne in 1981 and went on to write a PhD thesis at Monash University examining the pop music scene in Australia during the 1960s. He then began his media career with a nine-year stint at ABC radio, where he was based at triple j.

From 2004 to 2006 he was a journalist at The Australian, prior to which he wrote for a range of publications including The Age, the US-based trade paper The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone Australia and HQ. He was also a regular guest on the Ten Network’s The Panel, and worked as a writer, researcher and interviewer for ABC TV documentary series Long Way To The Top and Love Is In The Air He continues to appear regularly on ABC radio and on ABC TV’s News Breakfast.

During 2006 he joined forces with Princess Pictures to write and research a one-hour documentary about the Australian accent called The Sounds of Aus. The program, which was presented by John Clarke, was broadcast on ABC TV on November 8, 2007, and subsequently released on DVD. In 2008 The Sounds of Aus won Chicago’s Hugo prize for best international documentary and was nominated for a Logie. It was also a finalist in the category Best Documentary Social & Political Issues in the 2008 Enhance TV ATOM Awards.

Contact me on l.zion@latrobe.edu.au or @lzion on Twitter

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