some things get better; some things get worse

The good news is that I have something interesting to which to look forward. In May, the New York State members of the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership organization will be meeting for a conferece at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, and I’ve been asked to be on a panel about blogging. I don’t have the details yet, but I expect it will focus on blogging ethics, connections to traditional journalism, whether it all needs legislative regulations to keep it civilized.

So, if any of my readers have any suggestions for online statements/opinions about any of those kinds of things, please leave me a link. I know of a few myself, including Rebecca Blood’s essay, Chris Nolan’s recent description of “stand-alone journalism” that I found via b!X’s Portland Communique, and also b!X’s Communique link-handy page about weblog ethics and elements of journalism.

PLEASE NOTE (ADDED 08/17): Most of the links above have disappeared, but here is a current link tot he history of blogging.
I’d also like to hear from “personal” (in contrast to political) bloggers, like me, regarding how they feel about government-imposed regulations on blogging. Please pass my request for comments around; I would love to be able to cite other “personal” bloggers’ opinions, not just my own.

And then, on the other front….

It’s 3 am and, again, the phone is ringing. This time it’s her pearls. You move the filing cabinet with all of her valuables into her bedroom so they are next to her all night. Then the robbers can’t sneak in when she’s sleeping and keep taking her things. This morning you find her cash-filled wallet in the bottom of the pillowcase of the bottom-most pillow on the made-up extra bed. It’s been missing for several days, but she didn’t put it there, she says.

And now back to an aspect of the panel discussion: is this the kind of thing that one should “ethically” be posting about. Is it an invasion of her privacy?

I would very much like to know what you think. What kind of guidelines have you imposed on yourself when it comes to what you post about and what you don’t?

Leave comments, please!!
What I should have stressed is that this is a panel at a YOUTH LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, so these are all high school kids we will be addressing. Some might already be blogging. I should have phrased my post to relate specifically to what adult bloggers would want high school potential bloggers to know. My fault for not being clear enough. Afterward, each panelist will have about an hour with a group of kids who are interested in the panelist’s “area of expertise.” I suspect the panel topic will be closer to “what can you do in your own life to take leadership and prepare yourself for leadership.” Or maybe “searching for and sharing the truth.” Or maybe not. I don’t have the specifics yet. I probably jumped the gun in asking for input. But I think I was wrong in assuming that the whole panel will be about blogging. I am the blogging person — that’s why I was looking for input. Sorry if, in my getting the cart before the horse, I indicated that the whole panel was about blogging.
This is a really good example how one should make sure she has all the facts before she blogs. Bad, bad Kalilily.
I said it better over here at BlogSisters because I took the time to think it through.
Kalilily Time is sometimes time out of whack.

18 thoughts on “some things get better; some things get worse

  1. hi, thanks for thinking of me and including me in your email list.
    as a blogger for, i guess, something like four years now, i hold to fairly strict ethical guidelines, especially regarding the fact that i often post about very sensitive and/or embarrassing subjects, and like to cut it really close to the bone as far as personal issues are concerned. that said, here are my self-imposed guidelines:
    1. regarding myself and my own life, anything goes, no holds [or holes] barred, let it all hang out, as far as subject matter, as long as it’s only information that affects me; however, as far as my identity goes, i keep cagey about it, not because people can’t figure out who i am [and have] through a little detective work or even just by emailing me, but because…i guess i’m…kinda shy.
    2. regarding others, no real names; as few as possible real or easily recognized situations; occasional comments about the wife, but in a very oblique fashion.
    3. even this feels like too much candidness most of the time. but i like to play it on the edge of my comfort zone, because i think that’s where the most interesting writing comes from.
    4. i mention my boss and my place of employment only in the most general and oblique of terms – i try very hard to not get too specific, because among other things, HIPAA regulations may be involved. [now there’s a clue. yes: i work in the healthcare industry. not for long though, maybe.]
    5. i am willing to talk about anyone or anything that is currently news. i don’t think there are any subjects one “should not” talk about. i don’t censor myself in any way topically. i figure if someone doesn’t want to read what i’m talking about – they won’t. this includes topics which are boring. to quote robert fripp, “i reserve the right to be as boring as possible.”
    6. do i feel any obligations in terms of fact checking, telling the unvarnished truth, or general honesty? none whatsoever, because that’s not what i’m selling – which is free stuff. it’s not even a lemonade stand. i’m just standing up on a soapbox spewing phony beat poetry. it’s not important enough for honesty. my readers aren’t my girlfriends and boyfriends. they’re just people rubbernecking at a train wreck. do i feel an obligation to demonstrate that my opinions as well thought out and researched and considered? again, no – because that’s not what’s on the menu. if you’re not interested in half-assed bullshit, then you should be reading – oh – say the agonist for instance, who works at it. very very hard.
    7. the purpose of my blog is simple: a window on my creative process as a writer and, sometimes, even thinker. there is no reason why you should care or find it interesting, much less try to use it as a source of facts, like a library database. however, for reasons that are difficult to explain, those of us addicted to bloglife find this type of window interesting. i’m curious what kofuzi had for breakfast this morning, or what conversation he had with one of his multiple personalities, or the fact that he trashed his motorcycle over the weekend, or the fact that he hates finnegan’s wake. i’m curious about kalilily’s experiences taking care of her elderly mother – regardless of the fact that, for all i know, kalilily may in fact be a 20 year old man who lives in auckland, and not have a mother at all. i simply don’t care. if i want truth and facts, i do the work: i go searching for them and then cross-check them against other data. it’s called research, which sadly is a dying art.
    my place is not a place for intelletually lazy people to find out anything useful. it is a playground for words. because we write, we need a place like that. it’s a fountain from the collective unconscious. unfortunately the news media have been derelict in their jobs for years now, catastrophically so – both the far right and the far left and even most people inbetween agree. so occasionally we find out things from intrepid bloggers we might not have found out otherwise, and of course then we are called upon to check up on background and see if these things are actually the case. if we don’t, we are intellectually lazy and should stay out of the facts business. just allowing somebody to spoon feed you something from the internet isn’t alternative media or new media – it’s just another form of consumerism.
    blog life is participating in the social process of the play of words, of conversation. writers find this interesting. putting too much store otherwise in it is, at best, tricky. getting all your information from just one source puts you in danger of being sold a bill of goods. sometimes, you can get far more useful information from a walk in the woods than from anything on the internet.

  2. metablogging on ethics

    kalilily sent me an email asking me to participate in a discussion about blog ethics. i didn’t even go into the subject of government controls [i don’t think this is a particularly new subject, so i am confused why it’s…

  3. About your Mom: I suppose it might be an invasion of privacy, but look at it another way — if your Mom were taking care of you, and you were the one doing these odd things, she would find it funny, just like you do. And she’d probably want to tell somebody. So keep telling.
    On blogs in general, the one thing I can never understand is when somebody jumps on somebody else in a mean way for expressing opinions. Why don’t they just go away without venting spleen? People like that are people who KNOW they’re right, and I CAN’T STAND PEOPLE LIKE THAT!!

  4. Truthfully, I don’t think of how I manage or govern my writing in terms of “ethics,” though I suppose ethics informs some of those choices.
    When I was on active duty in the military, I was much more comfortable writing about my work. I was confident that I could write whatever I wanted to, and I was confident enough in my superiors’ trust in me that if I had stepped out of bounds, their response would not be something I couldn’t live with.
    Now, as a civilian employee, I write exactly nothing about my work. I have little authority in the position I hold, and I don’t think my employers have the same regard for me that my navy superiors had. It’s not that I think they don’t like me, or that they don’t value my service; it’s just that I think expedience rules the corporate workplace, and they’d just as soon fire someone as endure any potential discomfort were I to say something someone didn’t like. Besides, my work is pretty dull and I don’t find it interesting enough to write about anyway.
    I write a fair amount about my kids, mostly in relation to parenting or cheese sandwich type posts. I don’t happen to think they read my weblog, but I try to write things that wouldn’t embarrass them if they or their peers did read it. I sometimes worry about a predator using the information to gain my children’s trust, but I’ve tried to educate my kids that anyone they don’t know who seems to know a lot about them is someone not to trust, to not let them get near them, and to tell either me or their mother about anyone who approaches them in that fashion. Is that enough? I don’t know. I suppose we could live our lives in fear and not share the experience of parenting online.
    I don’t write a great deal about my spouse, from whom I have been separated for many years, and from whom I’ve been seeking a divorce for the last year. I do write a little about her, but mostly in the context of a related story. I’ve seen others trash their spouses online, and I think that’s not a good thing.
    I do write about my experience of my marriage, though I obviously omit certain experiences. I write about the emotional experience of a failing marriage, and the new insights that experience brought to me. I write about seeing a mental health counselor, because I’m excited and enthusiastic about the experience. It’s the best education I’ve ever received, and I believe the stigma against receiving counseling prevents too many suffering people from seeking help that is readily available. But then, I realize that it isn’t all “stigma,” and a lot of people are simply unwilling to believe that they might not have a lock on reality. So I try to point out my own surprises in that regard.
    I try not to exhibit the behaviors I find most offensive in other webloggers. That’s probably the hardest thing to do. There are just so many pompous asses abounding in the “blogosphere.” I think ego is the biggest driving force in the growth of bandwidth. I ignore the worst ones, and I try to engage the ones who have some merit. I mostly fail in that regard, which is my problem. I shouldn’t expect the “blogosphere” to conform to my expectations, but I try to point out stupidity when I see it. And I see it a lot. Especially from folks regarded as among the leading lights of this new phenomenon. But who says I’m so smart?
    Do I think there ought to be government regulation? Hell no. It wouldn’t work anyway.

  5. How far will you go to blog?

    Elaine of Kalillily asked for my contribution on the following : I’ve been invited to serve on a panel on blogging at a youth leadership conference that’s going to be held here in Albany at the Legislative Office Building. I suspect that a legislator o…

  6. Every article you write should EDUCATE someone!
    Blog nothing about the employer. No Porn.
    Respect requests for anonymity. Link to bloggers mentioned, refer to other correspondents by first name only (and country, so the cultural context becomes clear). Give credit where it is due.
    respect privacy of identifiable non-public figures. Public figures are fair game though 😉
    Ridicule incompetence, especially in public figures (e.g. Bushwhacking). Point to any (latent) fascism, totalitarianism etc and ridicule it.
    Oppose violence. Peace not War. Castigate idiots.
    Reduce government interference and burocracy(sp?).
    Try to be entertaining. Write for those with the average 90 second attention span. Pun, to get people’s brains working. No Flaming! Ignore all trolls. Be aware of cultural differences in your maybe international audience, respect them.
    Is that what you wanted, Elaine?

  7. So far, all of the above are helpful. Yes, Stu, that’s what I’m looking for. If there is any “advice” you might have for high school bloggers and/or potential bloggers, please feel free to add another comment. Thanks.

  8. You asked for comments, particularly from “personal bloggers,” about self-imposed ethics or guidelines. I suppose a “personal blogger” is a bit of a diarist and a bit of an essayist who is adapting this electronic publication medium to share her or his work with the public. The genius is in the adaptation. From quips and clips to full formed essays, from impassioned political pleas to rants and diatribes, personal blogs shout out or whisper personal reflections and concerns.
    Web publishing, or “blogging” if we must call it that, brings to mind A.J. Liebling’s old saw, “Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” Americans have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression. Exercising that right has often been difficult. The legal system sets some boundaries to free speech… shouting fire in a crowded theater is prohibited if there is no fire. Presumably shouting chocolate is protected regardless of the actual presence of the chocolate.
    What began as a largely undifferentiated rush to pixelation, has over the years stratified into distinct blogging genres. “Personal bloggers” lack the attention span, discipline, and focus to develop consistent work in one of the more professional genres. “Political bloggers” write from a point of view generally informed by an ideology. “Tech sector bloggers” surface their own perspectives and share information on the information technology world. The “stand-alone journalist” has been described and is gaining some currency with those who no longer favor the catch-all label of “blogger.” “Blawgers” emerged early as a professional sub-group writing about the legal system and the practice of law. We think Denise Howell invented the term.
    Denise is a polymath. Her blog is personal and reflects interests that vary from motherhood to intellectual property, podcasting to California plein air painting. But Denise always maintains her professional poise. This doesn’t detract from the authenticity or personal aspect of her work because her professionalism is simply founded in an honesty and discretion that is fundamental to the ethical practice of law. Denise is a successful blogger because she blogs with a clear voice. I wrote a little about Denise here because I wanted to elaborate the complexity of fitting bloggers neatly into genres. Those who fit best, blog worst in my estimation. But there is a breadth of talent and subject matter on the web that guarantees that every reader’s interest will be served.
    Unlike dead tree publication, there is an immediacy and an adjacency in the world of blogs that permits meaningful and not so meaningful dialog. If I find something silly or offensive and I remark on that in my blog, it is possible for the person I’m criticizing to come straight back to me with a rebuttal or an explanation. (See my recent quick exchange with Shel Israel for an example of how daily low-thought output can sometimes offend the more thoughtful amongus). As a highly opinionated person whose socialization lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, I’ve often been guilty of ad hominem remarks and personal slams. My apologies haven’t always been well received. Perhaps the most important rule of blogging that I’ve had to work out for myself by observing others who practice it, is this:
    I write in a small neighborhood and I intend to write here for the foreseeable future. It therefore behooves me to get to know my neighbors and treat them with civility and respect.
    On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we have to kowtow to the disingenuous, the graspingly ambitious, the intellectually dishonest, or others whose views conflict with our own.
    (cross posted at Sandhill Trek and Listics)

  9. The primary ethic I impose on myself is not to cause anyone harm. If I write critically about something, I try focus it on the person’s (or company’s) actions, not who they are as a person (or a company)–especially if those actions has consequences to others.
    As for connection to journalists, I am a writer, not a journalist. Many times I write stories about my hikes that have some fiction mixed in with the facts and I do not specifically differentiate the two. I try to mark the category of the writing as a ‘story’ and it should be taken as such.
    I have written about family, especially my relationship with my mother and father and my father’s recent death. I am ambivalent about how much to write about and not, and have pulled a post after writing it, feeling uncomfortable with the amount exposed.
    I have thought on writing about some very significant events from my past, but have decided against them–not just because of the ramifications of writing about them, but also because doing so would change other people’s perceptions of me and I’m not ready to go that route.
    Stu wrote that every post should educate someone and I disagree with that — ever post you write, no matter what you write on, and what kind of writing you do, should be something that you want to write, and something you enjoy. It shouldn’t have to entertain or educate. It should bring the writer satisfaction, and if it also entertains and educates that’s a bonus.
    As for laws to keep this civilized — piffle. To many people throw around ‘freedom of speech’ incorrectly, but in this case, this is freedom of speech. The government has no legal right to intervene. There are some laws that will already apply to webloggers, such as liable laws, plagarism, and the like. Outside of that, and this so-call keeping things ‘civil’–are we children to be minded by some adult because we can’t be let loose on our own?
    Stu also says, “No flaming!” but even that has its use at times — a righteous fire of indignation can be a thing of beauty at times.
    Aside from the whole idea implying that we’re taking ourselves too seriously, there could never be a legal base to legislate ‘civility’ into weblogging.

  10. My primary advice is this, although it will apply differently for different kinds of bloggers: Consider deciding what your personal policies and/or ethics are, and then post them to your site where readers can find them. Then they can decide if or how to hold you accountable to your own policies.
    (Parenthetically, I’d like to hear more from Shelley about Rebecca’s ideas other than just that she disgrees with them.)

  11. Great discussion, Elaine, thanks for the invitation! Trying not to duplicate other advice:
    1) Lisa Williams has a fine blog-ethics policy:
    2) Write about stuff you enjoy and/or care about–and link with enthusiasm to people whose blogs you enjoy.
    3) Word of caution: anonymity can easily get broken–and things that get onto the web stay public forever.

  12. Interesting question, Elaine… I’ve been drifting away from my blog a lot lately, and it has to do with being more enmeshed in day-to-day concerns that involve people in the “real space” communities I’m part of, which seems to be doing two things to me: it’s taking up a lot my time, thereby taking away from time I might otherwise have to write and to follow different bloggers; and it’s made me aware that “virtualising” something/ someone is different when there’s a chance of running into him/her/it on the street. I feel really comfortable voicing my opinion on matters that are “common ground” (theoretical, intellectual, whatever) and/or clearly ethical or moral or just something I feel really strongly about, but I feel less comfortable about voicing my opinions about issues that are local, where proximity becomes an issue. Perhaps that’s part of the concern of every query about “allowed” topics: writing about your family, about your employer, challenging “experts” (if they’re in your industry or field and nearby), etc. One tends to settle into a status quo, and it can get choppy rocking the boat. That doesn’t mean there’s a hard and fast rule about it, though.
    I guess blogging (and writing) is in some ways about effecting change … in me, in my community. But I have run up against some “discomfort zone” boundaries. I generally haven’t blogged about my husband, or about my kids, except obliquely, and I’m very careful not to blog about any public committee I’m on or about anyone’s affairs or about my criticism of how people I deal with daily are carrying out their jobs (there are a couple of cases where this affects me, my kids, etc., but it’s not [yet] for publication).
    On the other hand, deep emotional issues told in narrative form help people. I think it helps others in situations similar to yours if you blog about it. In your case it helps others who have a comparable plight when you blog about your mother’s mental confusion and your stress in caring for her. That’s the “effecting change” piece again: it does help people to realise that others have been on this road, and to know they’ll get through it somehow. I’ve blogged about my kids in that oblique way, when I thought it might be useful for someone else to know about trying to homeschool (or distance ed. school), for example. But you have to find that line, know when it’s not a good idea to cross it. Maybe it comes down to respect, which is certainly not packaged and easily commodified. You respect those in your community, those you love, those you have to live with, because you respect yourself. The problem is that you also have to know that you can kick some ass, too, and that sometimes it’s a good idea to do so, which is interpreted as disrespect by some people — but false respect isn’t a panacea anyway. I’ve had local critics in my comments board who think I’m a stupid cow for dissing Victoria restaurants, Canadian farming practices, or Victoria sewage disposal policies (among other things), which makes me step back and wonder whether I’ve been disrespectful. The alternative (not to criticise) was worse, though. With my kids’ homeschooling and distance ed. situation, it’s a different matter because, getting personal in my account could infringe both on their privacy as well as on their work-in-progress. (Don’t know how much longer I can hold back, though…)
    Re. the high school panel/ audience: Betsy Devine makes a good point that blogs are public, which means it can be a good idea for kids to blog anonymously or pseudonymously. But I also think blogs can be wonderful instruments for modelling understanding (eg., when you blog about your mother and your situation of being cast into caregiver for her). You are working something out for yourself, vs. simply assuming that you already know and projecting the “expert” image. As a homeschooling mom, I’m interested in how people (kids and adults) learn, and found a recent re-read of Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind useful. He writes that we can believe that children’s brains are tabulae rasa, with nothing on them, and then set to work furiously scribbling them up with morals and ethics and precepts, or we can assume that every mind is already “furnished” or structured with powerfully held, if often flawed, theories. Part of educating for understanding is to find ways to “raze” these powerfully held theories in order that the learner (and this is a life-long process, not restricted to “kids”) can continuously “construct” new learning (which is the classic Socratic approach, asking questions, making the learner assess and reassess). (It was actually interesting to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink immediately after Gardner….) I think what happens in some of the blogs I read — Shelley Powers comes to mind — is that you can see understanding being modelled in the entries, and that many times her comments board wonderfully amplifies and expands — through affirmations, criticisms, and questions — that modelled understanding. The very worst thing that can happen is a flamewar in the comments boards (and it happens), but in the best cases you see this back-and-forth which inexorably moves toward greater understanding. (Although sometimes the comments, which can start in or spawn another’s blog entry, become so hair-raising in their tabula rasa certainty of inscribed thinking that it’s physically painful to follow the thread. I think the Burningbird should get a medal for often being the main course, roasted and charred by those cocks who still think that it’s not about WHAT is right but about WHO is right, but that’s another issue… ;->)
    I’d ask the high schoolers to think about why they want to blog, and what that means. If they want to broadcast, evangelise, disseminate, whatever (“teach”?), it makes sense to think about the medium: you’re creating a particular kind of space, which gets linked to other spaces (or not), and it’s a lot of work to travel in those spaces. Not for the faint of heart; I know I often just drop out, from sheer exhaustion. It’s not like having a conversation over coffee, it’s not like being in a classroom, it’s not like writing for a newspaper, it’s not even about having a platform which you control from on-high. I’d tell the high schoolers that blogging is for people who want to keep asking questions and who don’t mind leaving home and travelling around the world and back in 80 minutes. Seconds. Whatever. And then I’d tell them that it can be Socratic, …and that Socrates was supposed to have been really ugly, haha! Forget about attractiveness! 😉 Blog, and break the “beautiful society”‘s last taboo!
    As for government regulation — what’s that all about? Joke, right? Or is it?

  13. One True, Elaine sent me an email and I responded to her with more clarification.
    Rebecca seems like a very nice person, who is well meaning. But she sees this all as quiet civil experience, where webloggers never edit after they post, post frequently, uses a specific format, and so on. She’s loosened up from her original discussions on ‘what is weblogging’, but she still wants to categorize and compartmentize our experience.
    The fact that I mix fiction into fact with some of my stories would most likely appall her–but it’s some of my best and ‘truest’ writing. It is the writing that comes from my heart, but it isn’t journalist and it certainly doesn’t fit her idea of what is weblogging.
    As for acrimonious debates on issues, these happen. People get pissed and people get passionate, and write accordingly. And not just male type people–women, too. This also serves a purpose, and this also can be excellent writing, and even useful exchanges.
    Nothing is typical in this environment. The only thing we share is that we’re online.

  14. Thanks for including me in your e-mail list. First let me say that I agree whole-heartedly with Old Horsetail Snake: “On blogs in general, the one thing I can never understand is when somebody jumps on somebody else in a mean way for expressing opinions. Why don’t they just go away without venting spleen? People like that are people who KNOW they’re right, and I CAN’T STAND PEOPLE LIKE THAT!!”
    Second, the beauty of the blog is the “anarchistic” unregulated-ness of it. Freedom of expression completely and utterly. That being said, I think that bloggers have to reach into themselves and take some personal responsibility for what they write. This needs a level of maturity, empathy and compassion to know what and when to self-express. My personal rule of thumb is that I can write anything personal about my *self* – if I have to write about how others influence me or affect my life, I do so from the point of view of how *I* feel about it and not as a judgement of others. All this to the best of my ability with a lot of self-regulation, I guess.

  15. I don’t know if I’ve ever codified a personal ethic for my web-published writing. I would say the following guidelines tend to come into play when I post:
    1. My website, my space, I make the rules.
    2. I try not to post in anger. I can use my anger to fuel my writing, but if I’ve written something about which I’m particularly angry, I wait before I actually publish it– edit, revise, make sure I’m saying what I really want to say. Usually this is just because anger makes me rather incomprehensible. This often does not apply to comments appended to someone else’s post.
    3. I try to make public when I stand corrected and own up to factual mistakes, even if they’re trivial.
    4. I try not to post for the sake of posting (as is evident by my occasional posting black holes). I have to feel like something needs to be said.
    5. I try not to post anything concerning an individual I wouldn’t say to their face. Phrased without a double negative: I try to keep my online persona ethically consistent with my real life one.

  16. Great discussion, Elaine. There’s much to agree with, and I don’t think there’s much I can add to what’s already been said–except for one point. I didn’t notice any mention of linking practices, which is not to say that it wasn’t touched on somewhere in all the above commenting. If it was, I missed it, and now risk redundancy.
    Anyway, I feel that the bloggers need to be scrupulous about linking to all sources, and that
    they reciprocate with a link to those who link to them–unless they really dislike the blog where the link is coming from–or if they’re a super-blogger who has hundreds of incoming links–but very,very few of us fall into that category–certainly not high school kids.

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