Oconee County Observations
Evaluating the quality of a blog is a critical skill for understanding the credibility of information available to the public. Examining the information found within a blog helps determine if the author(s) adhere to the ethical standards found in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Investigating the content found within the Oconee County Observations blog is an exercise in evaluating the quality and credibility of a blog.
Professional Journalist of Oconee County Observations
Lee Becker, Ph.D. is the author of the blog entries on the Oconee County Observations. Becker has a B.A. in Journalism, an M.A. in Communications, and a Ph.D. in Mass Communications. He is a citizen of Oconee County and anticipates retiring in Oconee. I would consider Becker a professional journalist as well as a professional communicator because he has multiple degrees in communications and journalism. His extensive research work in communications is reflected on his Vitae. Additionally, his involvement as a blogger for Oconee County indicates he is subject matter specialist for Oconee.
Purpose and Bias
The purpose of the Oconee County Observations blog, “is a news blog, following in the established tradition of the newsletter” (Becker, n.d.). After extensive clicking, a bias does not appear to exist. However, Becker states in his Blogger profile that the Oconee County Observations blog is one of his hobbies (Becker, 2006.).
Verification through the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
After reviewing the Oconee County Observations blog, I determined Becker adheres to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Becker states that his goals for the blog are accuracy, fairness, and transparency with the intent of offering balanced views for the people of Oconee (Becker, n.d.). My immediate observation of his blog is the volume of links for videos, websites, and backlinks provided to readers. Providing multiple source of information is compliant with SJP’s Code of Ethics, which states
- Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014, p. 1.).
- Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014, p. 1.).
- Label advocacy and commentary (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014, p. 1.).
In his entry Oconee County Withholds Information On Budget Prior To Hearing On Tuesday, he provides nine links; five that reference previous posts and four that reference the Oconee County website. Additionally, Becker provides a list of Other Blogs of Interest.
Accountability and Cognitive Bias
Expressing a professional opinion is an exercise in scholarly competency. The cognitive bias Dunning-Kruger Effect indicates, “skills that engender competence in a particular domain are often the very same skills necessary to evaluate competence in that domain—one’s own or anyone else’s” (Kruger and Dunning, 1999, p. 1121). A person claiming the label of professional in any subject means that person has gone through some kind of system of validation. Every person who is asserting the title of professional on and offline should be held to a standard in the field in which assertion is made. Somewhere, someone with expertise and authority endorses the competency and experience of the person claiming the title of professional. The verification and validation process of becoming a professional in any field can take years but credibility is built through repeatedly demonstrating ethical standards in authorship. After performing a Google search on the credentials of Becker, I find that his years of experience, quality of education, and life long commitment to communications makes him a professional.
Becoming a Professional and Recognizing Shortcomings
The affordability of a home computer, the relatively low cost of maintaining an Internet service provider, and the array of free social media sites has shown that every person can become a blogger, a writer, and a journalist online. However, the drawback to citizen journalism is that opinions become mixed with fact. Thomas Nichols (2014) writes, “To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly” (p. 1). Not all opinions are valid or credible nor should all opinions be given the same weight and bearing. Amateur journalists can develop the skills necessary to enter into the world of professional journalism by recognizing the established methods of communicating facts. Kovach and Rosenstiel identify a process for future, current, and amateur journalists to examine information called the skeptical way of knowing. “It requires discipline. It means adopting an empirical state of mind – and an open one” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010, p. 30). Becoming skeptical is a skill and a test in overriding comfort of processing information.
The Oconee County Observations blog is an excellent website for examining the process of citizen journalism. Becker’s hobby provides readers with quality and credible information as well as ethical standards of reporting information. His expertise as a mass communicator is visible in his research work and seen clearly in his posts on the Oconee County Observations blog. Becoming a professional journalist takes time and practice and following the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is one step in that direction.
Becker, L. (2006). Blogger Profile. Retrieved from https://www.blogger.com/profile/01090575389824190943
Becker, L., (n.d.). Oconee County Observations. About Me. Retrieved from http://www.oconeecountyobservations.org/
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T., (2010). Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Bloomsbury.
Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121-1134. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2061
Nichols, T., (2014, January 17). The Death Of Expertise. The Federalist. Retrieved from http://thefederalist.com/2014/01/17/the-death-of-expertise/
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014, September 6). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp