By Kevin O'Keefe

Legal Bloggers The Equal of Journalists Notwithstanding Journalism Code of Ethics

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A reporter with a state legal publication asked me what I would say to someone who questioned the legitimacy of law bloggers as journalists as they are not beholden to the ethics of journalism and the objectivity that is the hallmark of journalism (or supposed be). A law bloggers first-hand knowledge could include biased views.

The reporter agreed with me that blogging lawyers are providing the best legal information out there. But are lawyer bloggers constrained by ethics rules, credibility, reputation?

I am not a traditional journalist, I was handed a printing press and distribution channel when the Internet and, particularly, blogs, arrived.

My take is that  journalism, like everything, changes and oftentimes dramatic change comes when we realize greater value from innovation. Think of Amazon for books, Uber for rides to the airport and much more. 

When our oldest graduated from journalism school a decade ago, the dean, in addressing the graduating class, said there was never a more exciting or better time to get a journalism degree. “When else in time had an industry been turned upside down dropping out all those in authority so that everyone was free to play a role in shaping the future?”

As a practicing lawyer I was regularly called by journalists who were required to to have a couple different sources. And they sold news by controversy. I said it was light outside, and another lawyer said it was dark. That was news.

With the advent of the Internet and blogs, news was democratized. I could report, without waiting for a call – a call that may never came because someone decided not to report what others may have called “news.”

If someone wanted to differ with what I said, they could jump online and opine. People could decide what and who they believed, without having a reporter who had no domain expertise write it up for them.

We have more news from more reliable sources as a result of the Internet.

Want to find out what is causing a disruption downtown in any community, jump on Twitter or Facebook and get first hand reporting with pictures and video. No one says I need someone bound by the ethics of journalism before this is news I can rely on – it is the news today. 

It’s the same for other forms of legal publishing. Peer reviewed law journals and law reviews were historically reviewed as the source of secondary law. No more.

Law blogs published by practicing lawyers, academics and other legal professionals with niche expertise blog are viewed as the equal, if not superior, to law reviews. 

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics provides:

Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

  • Seek truth and report it
  • Minimize harm
  • Act independently 
  • Be accountable and transparent

Legitimate law bloggers already abide by these principals. Maybe more so than a traditional journalist – try getting one of them to be accountable and transparent in a Twitter, Facebook or blog discussion. Heck most legal reporters don’t even use Twitter.

Acting independently references getting paid to do a story or doing advertising in the form of a story, the later I’ll confess lackey law bloggers do and some companies do for them.

We are in the age of citizen journalists, worldwide, law bloggers included. Whether traditional journalists may think we’re a lesser journalist is irrelevant, society has already spoken. 

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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