Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blogger Ethics 101

I know, gentle readers. You're thinking "When will MCBias return with posts about actual sports instead of juggling videos and self-referential blogging tripe?" Ooh, that reminds me, this really good juggling video came out yesterday. Err, I mean, my knowledge of baseball nowadays is minimal. So I don't want to embarrass myself there or insult your intelligence. And I get the feeling my readers are even more annoyed by my WNBA posts. So, with due apologies, this blog is going to continue to be a little off-beat until the NFL and NBA start up.

One thing I never expected when I started this site were ethical dilemmas. Yet, in the past 8 months, I've had quite a few. I was wondering, what would you have done in these situations? Some are silly; others are rather important.

Dilemma: To what extent should I exploit athletes and fans?
1. While attempting to find photos for my "Superstar Be" series, I came across several photos of NBA players having a private party on a boat with some women. The photos themselves were fairly tame; the women were clothed, etc. But this wasn't that far removed from the Vikings scandal, and with the right post treatment, it would have attracted a lot of attention. To post or not to post?
2. I also found a picture of an NBA star visibly drunk at a wedding, another of said NBA player shirtless, and some videos and pictures of drunk fans supporting their favorite team and carousing. The fan stuff was borderline "R"-rated stuff, but nothing illegal. Do I post them here or forward them to some other blogger, or forget what I found? To post or not to post?
3. A friend told me he had met an NFL scout at a wedding, who proceeded to inform him about the drinking habits and homosexuality of two players in the league. To post or not to post?
4. On another photo search, I found some suggestively posed pictures of an attractive U-20 female athlete on her site. It was clear that she meant them for her friends to see to think she's hot (low self-esteem among young female athletes about their looks is a frustrating topic for another day). Should one post those pictures since no password was required to obtain them, or try to warn the athlete "Your swimsuit photos should probably be protected or hidden in some way."?
5. Often, news coverage makes it easy to bash athletes in a paint-by-numbers, stereotypical way; the young, rich arrogant minority male, the older, intolerant, white male, the unattractive, athletic female, etc. It requires a little fudging of the person's actions and personality to do so, as very few athletes fit the profile exactly. To what extent should one bash athletes sans nuance just for the sake of appearing strong and authoritative?
6. I was at a female sporting event and taking pictures of the players. One player's pose that she did for me would have made her look silly if I took the picture and posted it on the Internet. Do you tell her to fix what need fixed, or mutter "I'm not really media" and slip her your phone #, or do you snap the picture anyway?
7. Most male bloggers really don't know who the attractive female athletes are (I've noticed a sudden surge in this category recently, but not before now). Should one feature any female athletes on their blog as sex symbols (rather than as athletes or people) or send links to other male bloggers, knowing full well that this could cause the athletes stalking problems or unwanted attention?
8. An athlete who shares my religious beliefs does some scandalous things, and somehow most bloggers miss the full story. Do I break the full story (again, nothing illegal took place to my knowledge), knowing that it will give people ammo to bash his and my faith, or let the story die down?

Dilemma: To what extent should I exploit my fellow bloggers and other writers?
1. I noticed that an ESPN personality strongly hinted that she was not sexually straight around the time Meech's book came out. However, she wouldn't quite say it plainly. Force her out with a post, or let it go, assuming she wasn't ready quite yet to share the full truth?
2. Several times I have gotten in some small flame wars on rather popular sites. If I would really go after the person, and not apologize, it would draw a lot of attention to this blog. Plus it would make me feel really good. And I felt the people I was arguing with were vulnerable enough that I could also get the commentariat to turn on them. To flame or not to flame?
3. A fellow sports blogger shared my taste in females in his Myspace friends section. He didn't appear to have "real" relationships with some of them, either; I was pretty sure some of them were of the "search and add" variety. Is it right to shamelessly piggyback off his friend list or not?
4. The Ladies... Hot Blogger contest featured a lot of machismo, as you would expect. I quickly realized I had no shot at winning, and that I would really enjoy mocking some of the more pretentious entries via some tasteless posters. To humiliate male bloggers and get more traffic for my own blog at their expense, or not?
5. A female blogger caught my eye when I realized she was an attractive woman. If I was so inclined, I could use my blog as an excuse to "talk shop" and befriend her. Is using a sports blog as an excuse to get closer to pretty women shady or not? (Oh man, I'm a little afraid to read just how enthusiastically some of you bloggers will say there's nothing wrong with this. I'm baiting you!).
6. Criticizing big names in blogging tends to cut down my chances of getting a link from them. On the other hand, criticizing small names in blogging looks petty and cheap. Kick up, kick down, or never kick at all?
7. Do you comment on sites that you disagree with their mission or style to increase my own hits from new visitors, or not? If I secretly think that your writing and thought processes rival that of someone on the cusp of puberty, do I still leave a "great blog, man" comment, or just leave the site alone?
8. In general, to what extent do you make clear to bloggers and readers your biases in religion? politics? sexuality? Those things make a difference in what stories you choose to cover and how you frame them. Is it fair not to lay out the facts up front?

Let me know your own ethical dilemmas in the comment section. Look, we're not going to create a class or 10-step program. Everyone blogs for fun and makes their own ethical decisions. But I think that it's good to realize that there are more ethical dilemmas out there than you would think, and it's good to know your own policies and morals before you run into a dilemma.


  1. I probably wouldn't do a lot of things on your EXTENSIVE list (jeez, save a little for the next post). But they would probably be more personality based decisions than ethical. For example, I wouldn't have a problem with anybody else doing some things I wouldn't do.

  2. Ok Professor MCBias, I am ready to answer your survey...

    Exploiting Athletes and Fans ----
    1. Don't post. Don't make up stories that aren't there.

    2. Don't post. I get drunk at weddings and people take my picture too. It's not a big deal.

    3. Don't post unless you can get the scout, or another source, to tell you the exact same thing.

    4. Don't post and send me that website immediately.

    5. Write what you feel, that's what works best. Everything doesn't have to be PC all the time.

    6. Snap the pic, thank her and either delete it or send it to her in an email with a funny subject line.

    7. Athletes first, sex symbols second. He's hot, she's hot stuff gets real old, real quick.

    8. Your call. I would report it as unbiased as I could, but that's not always easy to do.

    Fellow Bloggers and Other Writers --

    1. I saw this as well and it seemed that it was clear what she was doing. She reported it herself so you were free to do what you wanted to do.

    2. Don't be a flamer on purpose.

    3. Don't piggyback.

    4. Respect, yo.

    5. Extremely shady

    6. Kick up and kick down

    7. leave the site alone. you comment to add something to the discussion, not to increase hits.

    8. It's your blog, it is representing you. If you feel ok with telling/not telling people things then that is your decision.

    ok, now I'm tired....

  3. The hcic, I don't believe I'm going to get anything like consensus for this post, and that's not my goal, so much. But I do think it's good to think about those things ahead of time. And yes, ha, it's extensive because I don't want to do it again. Enough of this "Part 1" junk from me, where it takes a month between parts. It's dumps for me from now on.

    JC, wow, way to go through them all. Good stuff. You're right on 6. for athletes that you can always go "off the record" so to speak and get rid of things later. I should have thought of that option.

  4. Let me add one: how do you respond to personal insults or aggressive arguments in the comments of your own blog? As a pacifist I try to be peaceable and avoid conflict, but I get annoyed by personal insults or baseless and aggressive arguments, and am usually tempted to respond in kind.

    As a blogger I want to encourage comments, but I also want comments that involve reasonable discourse. So responding to people looking to flame you and your blog can be tricky. I really think passive-aggressiveness is the way to go.

  5. Ok, as Cobra said, Prof. MCBias, Jordi here with my number 2 pencil at the ready.
    Question A:
    1. Depends. If you posted "Hey, I want to party like an NBA'er", and made a joke about it, there is little wrong with that. But if you are malicious and clamor for attention, that's not so cool.
    2. Here is where I curse the profileration of camera phones. 99% of the time people whip out their camera phones, it is for a dumb reason or to try and be funny. When in doubt, but you still want to let people know, forward them to Deadspin, With Leather, The Big Lead, etc. That's their schitck.
    3. No. Heresay is not admissable in court, and not cool in the blogosphere. The horribly named Nyjer Please blog got in a lot of trouble by citing an unnamed source for a sports article he thought he would "break". Bad.
    4. I say post them. Not just because I want to know, but if she is willing to post her pics and is proud of her body, doubtfull she would mind the attention.
    5. Don't bash athletes. Critize their actions, but they are people too. Rich, dumb people sometimes, but aren't there poor dumb people too? You could write as much about them, but we don't.
    6. Don't post. Or if so inclined, let Will Leitch make the call.
    7. As long as it is innocent oogling (such as The Big Picture's Would you do?) be fan of beauty. She's probably heard it before, to be honest.
    8. Let that die, man. Don't drag someone's religious beliefs through the mud. Faith is personal.

    Essay question 2:
    1. Don't post. Unless it's Erin Andrews or Stacey Dale, wow the imagery ... kidding.
    2. Not cool.
    3. Isn't myspace a friends competition? Who can have the most friends? And if they become loyal readers, why not?
    4. Not cool. Make fun of me and I'll kill ya. (Shut up, Francis.)
    5. Don't think its shady, but as long as you are honest and forthright in being fellow fans. This coming from someone who thinks they are the perfect guy for Jenn Sterger, so take it for what its worth.
    6. Don't kick at all. You see the heat SML gets into sometimes. This isn't hip hop or high school, you get no credit for hatin'.
    7. Agree with Cobra, if you don't like it, leave it alone. Or email the person personally. Don't call them out publicly. I like using tact, some bloggers are a little more forward.
    8. Again I agree with Cobra. Establish your voice. Henry Abbott is successful because he lets the world know he is a Blazers fan. It's a fact. Admitting your biases, personal or sports related may even help you out. For example, if are Buddhist and believe Mike Vick should be reincarnated as a pit bull, say it. You might find common ground with other Buddhist sports fans who swing by the site.

    Whew, my fingers hurt. That was a post in and of itself. You make me think MCBias. I don't know if I like that.

  6. Wow, this was way too much for one post! I'm impressed. I'll take a shot at some of the ethical questions, though I will point out that my ethics are very much skewed because of my upbringing:

    1. Unless it relates directly to a story, I don't see why you would post the pics - I wouldn't. On the other hand, I'm not against posting them, either. If you want the attention, go for it. Personally I stay away from Flickr searches for athletes for this purpose; whatever pics I find are already in Google.
    2. Ditto (note: I have posted a shirtless Darko and Carlos Delfino on my site; Miss Gossip and Becky enjoyed. The pics were from a website, though, not from Flickr or other "private" photo sites.
    3. Interesting. I would probably want to post about it, because it would make for a discussion. On the other hand, it is heresy, so I would make it clear that it's not really official or anything - sort of like Deadspin and the Albert Pujols steroid thing last year.
    4. I hate exploiting women, and I hate exploiting college athletes or younger.
    5. I hate so-called "journalists" (including bloggers) who take the easy cliche route to presenting athletes. I try to avoid it, even if does on occasion make me look overly sympathetic to athletes.
    6. Would never be at a female sporting event! j/k. Like JC said, private pics are yours - you can do what you want with them (delete, post, whatever). The better question is this: If you caught a male athlete at a club cheating on his wife, or something even more newsworthy, do you post it? I would argue that if it's really newsworthy, maybe. Like an athlete partying to me isn't newsworthy (sorry Deadspin - that's 80% of your athlete photos). On the other hand, I do think if it's something newsworthy (like the A-Rod stripper thing), maybe you want to do it, because someone else would if you don't? I'm torn on this one.
    7 and 8 are sort of out of my range.

    Bloggers - my favorite topic lately:
    1. I admit that it might make an interesting topic, and I like having open discussions on interesting topics. I see no difference between the media asking if Mike Piazza might be gay, and someone asking if this reporter might be gay (Anderson Cooper anyone?). As long as it isn't laced with rhetoric or made to sound as if is fact, I'm okay with open discussion of such topics. Ed Koch is long believed to be gay. Half of most rappers are believed to be gay. I'm know more athletes are gay then reported. I would also probably seek some advice or guidance from a gay friend or writer....
    2. If you are a writer of a site, you should be willing to address criticism. I have to quite often, and sometimes I have to admit I'm wrong. Big deal. Nothing I write is etched in stone; I want discussion, and I'm willing to admit when I've missed something (JC and a few other got me good this week on a Deadspin post I wrote, made me reconsider some aspects of my post).
    3. Not really sure this is a blog question.
    4. Mocking athletes is how a lot of those bloggers get by. Why not open them up to the same treatment?
    5. Um, depends. If you are doing it without using your blog (off-work hours), fine. But here's a question: If you are blogger with high traffic rates, is it okay that you show love to a female blogger you are interested in, and build her audience up that way? Maybe you should ask that question to Yaysports, With Leather, and Deadspin!
    6. I think you know where I'm going to fall on this one. I've burned my bridges with Deadspin and the Fanhouse. I don't care too much - I may never get the audience that I would like, but I would rather work hard on my site than get lazy because I'm a "favorite" of those sites; some of those "favorites" have developed bad work ethic, and it shows in the quality of their work. Meanwhile, because I have to work twice as hard, I can at least feel good about my work.
    7. I don't. Again, this is why I avoid commenting on those sites I hinted at in #6; also, I often don't think they do great work, and I'm not going to lie just to get a link. If I want to go that route I would have a site with a blogroll that's three figures, and never criticize another site. I would do daily link dumps. I might build up an audience and be a second or third-rate Big Lead/Deadspin type site, but for what purpose? Those guys have already been here longer, and have their niche. I would just be an imitation, copy. And that's what offends me about a lot of bloggers today - they are just imitators. If you are really a creative person, you take pride in doing stuff no one else is doing, and writing stuff unlike anything out there. You don't get up in the morning and say "Hey, here's today's top 10 list that deals marginally with the topic being discussed heavily at Deadspin, in the hopes that they will link to me like they always do". You say "What can do that I don't see anyone else doing?".

    Anyway, great post MC Bias. Making me think about writing....

  7. pv, I usually try to find out how the person found my site. If it's a one-time surf based on a google search, that person is probably dropping such comments on many blogs. Thus, I intentionally refuse to respond until 2-3 days later; by then the person has gotten bored and stops checking back. If it's a long-time reader or the person really wants to debate me, then I too try a mix of passivity and aggression. But yes, it's very hard when the person is there just to pick a fight.

    Jordi, great point on hearsay. Even on the Web, that is not cool. For the female athlete, though, she had them up on a Live Journal type site. It was clear she was trying to have people see her as a pretty girl, not just an athlete, and didn't know just what she might be getting into. I sent her the Alison Stokke pole vaulter story as an example of how these things get out of control, and she was gracious enough to listen to my advice and make the pictures protected.
    The Big Picture's series sadly gets on my nerves because it's a little over the top. I like how they pick ladies who aren't obviously attractive necessarily and give them attention, but I don't like the whole "How drunk do you have to be" idea; sounds almost like drunk rape or something. I'm a prude, I know.

    Jordi, good comment about e-mailing a site to let them know how you feel. Would it really work, though? I can't see, say, Will Leitch responding to an e-mail of mine. Those guys are mad busy. So my blog is kind of my only outlet, it feels. Still, e-mailing first is polite; no one should be flamed in the back if other options exist.

    Phew, Jordi, I'm not sure I like that you've made me think either, ha. But still, this is very good. I don't know how other bloggers feel about these issues, so I don't know what I should be doing. Sure, I have my own beliefs, but I don't see many religious/philosophical texts on what to do with athlete pictures, ha. Your comments are helping me clarify what issues are actually at stake here. Thanks!

  8. SML, good comments. Jordi wore me out a bit, but your stuff is good too. I'm not touching 5. on your blogger list, but I am definitely Laughing Out Loud. Any ladies out there want to be my blogger girlfriend? I'll send you 10 hits a day. 10 hits!!! Come on, you know you want it! ha-ha.

    Bloggers shouldn't be afraid to burn a few bridges if necessary, when the time is right. I suspect that the mostly peaceful sports bloggosphere is going to get a lot more competitive once some of the growth dies down. Then you will see the big blogs go at each other more often, and a small blog or two will make itself big by attacking big blogs that have grown complacent. I think that time looks like March 2008 or so, by my calculations. We shall see. Look, I'm not necessarily excited to see that; I'm glad that most bloggers are nice and willing to answer questions and such. But it's sadly going to happen; just wait.

  9. This is some heavy-ass navel-gazing.

    There's no journalism degree required to blog, and there's no ethics class required before you get an account on Blogger, so the whole notion of "ethics" comes down to what kind of vehicle you want your blog to be. What's your target audience? What's the purpose of the blog? Media criticism? Drunk athletes? Hot athletes? Each of those will have a different set of rules for what flies.

    I write for three different blogs (and have guest-posted on at least two others), and I use a different ethical approach and writing style for each, depending on the target audience and purpose of the blog. To me, it only makes sense that other people with other blogs would have other approaches.

    SIDE NOTE: I'm amazed that when bloggers bring up what's right and wrong to write about, I see the word "ethical" a lot, but I NEVER see the phrase "freedom of speech."

  10. I don't think anybody would debate we have a right to blog about whatever we want (I've written quite a bit about free speech on my blog, and I've worked as a research assistant on books about censorship: it's an issue near and dear to my heart). But I don't think the only authority we follow on how we act/write is "can I legally do this." I can legally call anybody I want all sorts of nasty names, but I can consider ethically and practically whether I should.

    This brings up another ethical/legal issue for bloggers: will bloggers ever face consequences for the WIDESPREAD violation of copyright law? Very few blogs have permissions to use the copyrighted photos they do; this is a clear violation of copyright law. Yet every blogger does it, and as of yet, there have been few cases where anybody has been called on it.

    Here's an ironic example of the problem: when people wrote posts criticizing Colin Cowherd for plagiarizing a website, those bloggers often included a picture of Cowherd--a picture I'm pretty sure they didn't take themselves and didn't have permission to use. Bloggers get pretty self-righteous about plagiarism, yet engage willy-nilly in copyright infringement every day.

  11. MCBias,
    Funny and also very cool you had Cpt. Caveman comment. Although I don't read With Leather or KSK as often as I used to, he is really smart when it comes to this stuff and I try not to miss when he cameos with some heavy writing. And he is another guy I had that writer vs. blogger discussion with.

    Anyway, you questioned whether Will Leitch or anyone would write you back? You would be surprised. Like I mentioned with Ufford, no one has been "too busy" to write back. Not Will, not Henry Abbott, not Dan Steinberg, no one I've emailed in reference to their blog.

    Continuing side notes: Another problem people have, in my opinion, is their acceptance as a "minor" blogger. That "pro" full time bloggers are somehow better because they do it all the time. There is no blogging pecking order, contrary to ballhype's ranking. My guess is that this originates in the fact that a lot of bloggers are college students who are using this as a way up and see Leitch, etc as their aspirations. Personally, I am the exact opposite. I use The Serious Tip as casual writing practice because I write professionally on monotonous stuff 40 hours a week. Does that make me less of a blogger than anyone else? Not in my opinion.

  12. PV: I had a discussion with Jack Cobra a while back about photos/images on a site, and ended up taking it up with a lawyer friend to get some more info. Bottom line: FreeDarko and those guys who use only Flickr photos are in better shape than most of us legally.

    On the other hand, since most ESPN/Yahoo photos (related to games, for example) are actually owned by the AP, and available to anyone who wants to pay a fee (which the large sites - ESPN, Yahoo, etc - pay), then the only people who would sue would be the AP. In other words, it's doubtful anyone would take action on you for using a widely available image.

    The most likely scenario therefore is another blog sueing a blog for using a privately held phote/picture, i.e. if I used one Yaysports' photoshopped images.

  13. Captain Caveman, I do like what you said about having a different ethical approach for each blog. Again, I'm not saying that everyone will have the same answers. Once this post is done, I'll be curious to see what dilemmas, if any, everyone agreed on. But whatever your (and I speak the plural you here, not just for CC) answers are, just make sure you can defend yourself if people get in your face about a particular post. And fair point about free speech; it belongs in this conversation too, in a big way. But if we just said "free speech" and stopped I couldn't write long posts with wonderful opportunities to navel gaze. Oops, missed some lint. Pardon me for a minute...

    pv, I've been getting guilt attacks a bit about this. It is true that those photographers are working hard, probably for not a lot of money, to take those sports photo shots. But on the other hand, it feels like the music industry debate. I can't even get one photo for free to go with a story? etc. SML has a good point too; Flickr is still ok, and they have some interesting photos of pro athletes. That's where a lot of my best athlete photo collection material comes from.

    Jordi, I decided to test your hypothesis by e-mailing some of the "pro" bloggers and asking if they'd drop by and comment. So soon enough we'll see who will come and who won't. (That's how CC came, to be honest with you). But not all bloggers are created equal. I think I'm a little better than my sitemeter count might say, but I also know that I don't have the interests, time, and style to ever be a top 20 blogger. And that's more than ok with me, as long as some people will comment.