Citizen Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘Webdiary’

Ethics overboard: How to promote integrity in the moment of choice

In Democracy, Fifth Estate, Journalism, Margo Kingston, Media on May 19, 2013 at 3:53 PM

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By Margo Kingston
January 14, 2003

MARGO: With all the talk about stronger shield laws for journos, I think we are edging ever closer to needing an answer to the question: What is a journalist? We cannot argue for special protections and exemptions from privacy laws unless we can distinguish ourselves from non-journalists. To me the essential requirement is commitment to a genuinely accountable code of ethics, yet this is still just a dream. I gave this speech to a 2002 corruption prevention conference in Sydney, and reckon my idea is still relevant to the debate. I will run several pieces covering different aspects of the ‘What is a journalist’ question in the hope of genuine discussion on this vexed and increasingly urgent issue given the rise and rise of new media.

Ethics overboard

by Margo Kingston, September 2002

When you think about ethics, by which I mean ‘professional standards of conduct’, your starting point has to be your own.

Just after I started work in the big smoke of Sydney many years ago, the Herald chief of staff told me in confidence that the paper was sending a reporter posing as a prospective student into a Sydney high school to report on the youth of today in today’s public education system. The editor was to pretend to be his father when enrolling him, but was too busy to do so. Could I pose as my colleagues aunt?

Weeks later, while the reporter was still at the school, another reporter stumbled upon the project and leaked it, resulting in political condemnation in the parliament and outrage from our readers and my colleagues. Thus I discovered that journalists in the journalists union were bound by a code of ethics.

This was the first time I’d heard of it. I had a duty, personal to me, to tell anyone I was speaking to for a story what my job was, unless the matter was of such compelling public interest that I was duty bound not to. Everyone in my industry believed that this was not a case where the exception applied.

The shock of the incident marked the beginning of my deep interest in journalistic ethics. I thought about my role in relationship to my readers, and my duties to assert my professional ethics to avoid abuse of power by my industry.

I was trained as a lawyer, not a journalist. I knew my ethical duties as a lawyer: My duty was not only to the client but to the court, and I should never knowingly use as evidence material I knew to be false. So I don’t agree with the idea that ethics are instinctive in all cases. Written principles are required, and they need to be vigorously communicated as a matter fundamental to your career.

I believe the principles should be general, not particular, as particularity breeds legalism and the dangerous belief that technical avoidance equals compliance with ethical duty. Every ethical code should include not only the principles to which adherence is required, but the reasons why. For ethics, in the end, is about ourself in relation to other individuals and to our society.

The elites are in relationship with the people, and professional ethics – by accountants, lawyers, engineers, clergymen, architects – are constraints on abuse of power by the elites. A sellout of ethics for money, power, or survival, weakens the stability of the polity itself.

Example

In the early 1990s, a construction company sued an establishment Brisbane law firm for its costs in a prolonged Federal Court civil action. The firm had acted for a developer, since jailed, who instructed it to resist and delay an action for payment of a debt due for building a shopping centre by alleging fraud. There was no evidence for this accusation. The ethical duties of solicitors and barristers forbid them from pleading fraud without supporting evidence.

When the developer went into liquidation, the plaintiff bought its legal files for a pittance and sued the legal firm. The barrister involved was Ian Callinan QC, since appointed a High Court judge.

So, a former leader of the Queensland bar and a partner in Queensland’s best connected law firm were caught red-handed with their pants down.

The Queensland Law Society, a body backed by legislation to police the ethical standards required by solicitors, would not say whether or not it was examining the solicitor’s behaviour. It was confidential. And the society implied that it only acted on a complaint, not of its own motion. End of story. Read the rest of this entry »

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Manifesto for @NoFibs

In AFHP, Fairfax, Journalism, Margo Kingston on March 1, 2013 at 11:12 PM
Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston – Photo credit Sarah Gross Fife

By Margo Kingston
March 1, 2013

It’s a funny feeling to be writing an introduction to the ebook of Still Not Happy, John!’, because after so many years in retirement I’m now back doing what I love – writing for and editing a citizen journalism website.

Back then it was with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Webdiary, created in 2000 and the inspiration for my 2004 book, Not Happy, John!. The book saw Fairfax turn its back on my work, and after a gruelling struggle to save Webdiary, I retired hurt in December 2005. A community-supported Webdiary finally closed last July.

Its successor, thanks to Twitter, is Australians for Honest Politics, created in December 2012 by former Webdiarist Tony Yegles, my AFHP co-publisher.

After seven years as an internet refugee, I’m now a Twitter obsessive, and surprised I’m still up for it. For me it’s ground hog day, but with the bells and whistles of technology making the process easier and more fun. And I’ve been given an armchair ride on Twitter due to the support of many former Webdiarists who’ve since become internet writers and activists.

What brought me back was a compulsion borne of amazement that the media had let Tony Abbott get away with claiming the AWU slush fund saga was a question of character for the PM (‘Australians for Honest Politics’ is the name Tony Abbott gave his own slush fund, detailed at length in the book).

My first piece back in action – which only Independent Australia would publish – was about Tony Abbott and his slushy character question.

Only Michelle Grattan, now a fellow escapee to online new media heaven, had the class to acknowledge a collective lapse in memory in the Press Gallery. No one took up my challenge to push Abbott on his unanswered slush questions, despite their ferocious pursuit of Julia Gillard on hers.

Having put history as completely back on the record as I could thanks to The King’s Tribune and New Matilda, I was set to resume my new life until I noted with alarm the extraordinary lack of mainstream media interest in the implications of the Ashby judgement. I wrote of the resonance between the old Abbott slush story and the Ashby scandal, then howled with dismay at the lack of Ashby follow-up.

Now, damn it, I’m hooked on journalism again.

Several tweeps asked for an ebook of Still Not Happy, John!, and Penguin has kindly obliged. I feel it’s worth a read, or a re-read. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking to past to prepare for future: Lessons of a Webdiary story

In AFHP, Fairfax, Margo Kingston, MSM on February 16, 2013 at 8:03 PM

by Margo Kingston
March 15 2006
Source: webdiary.com.au

Former Liberal Party federal president John Valder and Margo at a forum in the Blue Mountains, 2004.

Former Liberal Party federal president John Valder and Margo at a forum in the Blue Mountains, 2004.

18.02.2013: It seems I’m diving in again, so I’ve read about what happened last time. I decided to publish the past for anyone interested in the future of Australians for Honest Politics, as my beliefs about professionals partnering with citizens to do citizen journalism haven’t changed. This is an edited version of a speech I gave a few months after retiring due to burnout and ill health. Nancy Cato told me today there are no failures, only past experiences. Onward.

WHEN someone from the South Australian Governor’s leadership forum suggested I speak to it on ‘the media, democracy, citizenship and globalisation’ I asked if she knew I’d just failed – spectacularly – in making a go of my independent Webdiary, which I launched last August when Fairfax gave me the choice of ditching my vision or going solo.

Fairfax’s slow but relentless rejection of my work since 2001, when they made me leave Canberra and warehoused me in the backwater of the Sydney Morning Herald online, culminated, I thought then, in mid 2004.

The SMH editor Robert Whitehead vetoed the literary editor’s recommendation to publish an extract of Not Happy John! and pulled a piece on the book from the Spectrum section. Fairfax Sunday papers then picked up the rights, but the Sunday Age editor reneged on the contract with my publisher and refused to pay, while the Sun Herald would not have published the extract without the last minute intervention of the features editor. The Sun Herald also cancelled my weekly column as I was about to travel around Australia launching the book. I was told when I called to advise that my piece was on its way.

Naturally I saw the writing on the wall for Webdiary. The latest redundancy round had just closed fully subscribed, but they agreed to my offer to take redundancy in return for a contract to write for, edit and publish Webdiary for three years. I knew that three years would be it, and invested half my redundancy package in employing my brother Hamish to organise and launch Your Democracy, a website to experiment with citizen journalism with a view to moving Webdiary there when my contract expired.

But by early last year, the new publishing system which came with the contracted Webdiary, which enabled readers to comment directly through a comments box rather than by email, had overwhelmed me. Editing and publishing the ever increasing number of comments saw me chained to my computer seven days a week, unable to research or write my own stuff. So I asked for a couple of technical tweaks to cut down processing time.

From a detached viewpoint, this should have been no problem. I was on less than half my permanent employee pay doing the same job without the permanent employer add ons, a job I’d done without supervision or a writ for nearly five years. It was very popular and a unique feature of  the SMH online. It remained the sole mainstream media interactive political site, one which consciously and transparently sought to fulfil the journalist’s code of ethics while allowing anyone with something to say the opportunity to do so and to criticise me and question its framework and judgment.

Under Fred Hilmer, Fairfax was a short-term bottom-line-focused operation which saw journalism as an expensive and troublesome way of filling the space between the ads. Short term costs were the dominant factor in every decision apart from the size of mega executive bonuses. At first my request was dealt with by SMH online managers with no budget, so I disclosed my technical problems to readers, and lo and behold they came up with an idea I thought was breathtaking in its generosity and its advantages to Fairfax.

Readers offered to edit comments on a voluntary basis and to construct a new site with upgraded technical features, also for free.

Wow! Read the rest of this entry »