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14. Responsibilities of Newspapers (1869)

14. Responsibilities of Newspapers (1869)

Last segment we looked at ethics in broad stokes, at the “purpose” of newspapers and what place they have in the public conversation. This time we step forward a year to 1869 and look at responsibility. If a newspaper gets something wrong, who should be held responsible?

“…whom is the public to hold responsible for the conduct of a newspaper? Upon whom is the censure due to its betrayal and degradation, to be visited by the community? Is it the Editor,–who has supreme control of its conduct, — or is it each of the subordinates whom he may employ in his services? Which of the parties is really responsible? Which fixes the policy of the paper, and directs how it shall be carried out?”

These are the same questions we ask today as news has shifted to the web. If a blogger publishes something that is discovered to be incorrect, who should be held responsible? In a world where comments exist and people the ability to cross check sources at an unprecedented rate, how much weight should we put into the hands of a single source?

Bodies of journalistic standards and ethics rose up to answer this question 150 years ago, the big question that we face is whether a similar standards body will do the same for the new and more importantly, whether it should.

Once again let’s look at two perspectives – above, Dan Rather speaking out against the ethics of mainstream media in 2008. Below, Ellen Hume on the importance of New Media ethics.

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