I had a conversation with my wife recently about a conversation that she had with a mutual friend about an incident that happened to this friend. The incident involves a powerful topic that I think needs to be discussed. Its a topic that fits the context of this blog well. To explore the topic, though, would involve my re-telling the story, even if in the most vague of terms. And, in fact, I drafted just such a post this week. It will remain unpublished for the time being, however, shrouded in an ethical uncertainty that, as it turns out, makes for a pretty good discussion in its own right.

I contacted my friend on Monday about the story. She liked the idea of presenting the issue in this space, but was uncomfortable with relating the story in any form, because others were involved. This is a huge reason that it remains unpublished here, because I’m still working through where the ethical boundaries lie.

I’ve had friends make references before to how their conversations with me end up being told here, sort of half-joking that they should be careful what they say around me. I suppose the problem with being friends with a blogger is that we write about how we encounter life, and that, by necessity, involves our friends and loved ones. Typically, it isn’t an issue, because the conversations we’re telling on the blogosphere, while thought-provoking, are innocent enough. And, generally, I can tell the conversations with enough anonymity that an individual couldn’t be identified through my discussion. I make every effort, in fact, to do so. And, honestly, I don’t usually ask permission.

During my brief dabbling in journalism, I learned very quickly that there’s really no such thing as “off the record.” Similarly, because I blog about the way I encounter life and because my friends and family necessarily play into that, there’s really no such thing as a conversation that has no chance of being referenced in a post here at some point. The difference, though…and this is huge…is the nature of what is being published.

Whether or not blogging by those of us who aren’t journalism professionals can be considered true journalism isn’t a new debate. Its been discussed since blogging was in its infancy, and the concept of user-generated content became the norm. However, what I’m blogging here isn’t news, and so the ethical weight of communicating what the public has a right to know isn’t a burden I currently bear. I write about ideas, trying to contribute them to the pubic sphere. However, if a friend asks me to not publish something they’ve said, or to not write it in such a way that they are connected to it, then I do my best to respect that choice. They have a right to privacy.

There are a handful of legal obligations that govern blogging, but not many. I think there are more ethical obligations that govern blogging, and I’m sensitive to those. I don’t think that I needed the legal consent of anyone involved in my friend’s story to discuss it here, but her story was still hearsay in as far as it involved them. That is to say, from a journalistic perspective, I couldn’t have confirmed her story through two independent sources.

Still, the conversation would, I think, spark great thoughts and debate if I put out there.

Ultimately, protecting the best interest and confidence of a friend and her colleagues wins. Perhaps I can eventually find a way to present the issue here without connecting it to my conversation with her, but for now I can’t, so I’ll keep it in my file of thoughts.

What do you think are the ethics of blogging, whether or not you write one yourself? I’m interested in your perspective.

Photo Attribution: KaiChanVong

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