Friday, February 19, 2010

This blog's standards

I've never tried to explain what standards I try to use on this blog but my piece yesterday provided a good prompt.

Although this blog (and my Africa blog Black Star Journal) consists primarily of commentary, I do have training as a journalist so I try as much as possible to follow the basic standards of mainstream journalism. At some point in the future, I'd like to try to syndicate my work, although obviously my pieces would have to become shorter.

As critical as I sometimes am, I am very conscious of trying to avoid libel, slander and defamation, which explains my sometimes prodigious use of words like 'allegedly' and 'apparently'.

I believe in disclosure and the full-as-possible airing of issues. For example, I've tried to get Will Doolittle's side of the story regarding my critiques of his recent series on the Adirondack Park Agency. I've pro-actively contacted him twice to try to get some portion of his defense of his pieces published here (the last time, it said he was out of the office but hopefully he'll respond affirmatively when he gets back). It's not something I an obligated to do but I'm trying to do so for the sake of fairness. I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to do a hit job on him or trying to suppress his explanation. This blog may be almost entirely commentary, not straight journalism, but I still want his side published here so readers can have the full picture and make up their own minds.

It's because of this belief in providing as much access to as much information as possible that I publish links as much as possible. If I'm criticizing a piece, for example, I always link to that piece if it's available. I explain why I think it's wrong but post the link so that people can make their own decisions based on full information, not simply my subjective paraphrasing of it. I do this for every piece where a link is available, whether I'm criticizing the piece, praising it or simply referring to it. I believe sourcing is important both for the integrity of my piece and to give readers the ability to make up their own mind.

As much as possible, I also try to quote from a piece or person, rather than paraphrasing.

I strongly encourage dialogue. My essays are ideally intended to be conversation starters, not the be all and end all. I like the back and forth of discussion. It doesn't have to be sycophantic, but please, let it be intelligent. This is why, despite my misgivings about completely unsigned remarks, I've removed all barriers to commenting (except one).

The only exception is that I approve comments before their publication. My current standard is that I will publish all comments except are those that I consider potentially libelous or defamatory toward other people or ones that are spam. I've been criticized for the latter but I refuse to let my blog be the vehicle for potentially illegal (and almost always anonymous) smear campaigns. There is no question of me reversing this policy.

As an editorial policy, I will not refer to as 'president' any leader whose rule I consider to be illegitimate. I will refer to them as a leader, a head of state, a ruler, a dictator or a strong man, but not president.

If any readers have additional questions about the standards I try to use on this, they are welcome to leave a comment here or to email me ( and I will respond in kind.

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