5-1: Oconee County Observations

photo by Peter Demko

OconeeCountyObservations.com appears to be a legitimate and often updated blog – true to its description; News and comments about developments in Oconee County, Georgia. The site’s owner and author, Lee Becker, is apparently a very well educated man, and although Becker does not refer to himself as a journalist in his blog, his education background and credentials in the field of journalism are significant. In the right-hand column of the blog, Becker provides personal information about himself, his purpose for the blog, and what journalistic standards he strives to embody through his reports. The side column also contains descriptions of several awards and honors Becker has received. While announcing such accomplishments might appear to some as boastful, their mention is not posted front and center on the site. Becker’s inclusion of his personal background and important milestones is very helpful in determining whether or not visitors are reading the work of a credible individual. He clearly provides answers to many – if not all – of the systematic questions Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) present when, “analyzing the content and nature of media” (p. 32). Virtually without exception, each of the posts on Becker’s site are composed in strict accordance to the SPJ Code of Ethics (2014). Clicking on the link to his complete profile on Blogger.com reveals that Becker has lived in Oconee County since 1997.

By virtue of the fact Becker’s reports include videos of Oconee County governance meetings, verifying the information in his reports is extremely easy. Becker’s site encourages public civil discourse and commentary, and unlike the negative and often offensive comments that follow the online articles of well-known professional journalists, those I read offered nothing but publically acceptable – albeit critical – remarks about the subject of Becker’s report. Even though the journalistic integrity of an online article cannot be determined by the number of inflammatory comments that follow, I believe the nature of the comments for Becker’s posts speak to his high standards of reporting.

As pointed out in Stephen Ward’s Digital Media Ethics (2015),

“… citizens without journalistic training and who do not work for mainstream media calls themselves journalists…”.

I think Becker’s blog is very much an exception to the always evolving, online media environment described by Ward (2012). The Oconee County Observation represents (ironically) a professional level of journalism presented through an amateur medium. This is not to say that the blogging platform used by Becker is illegitimate or obsolete, but that traditionally I would expect to find Becker’s caliber of reporting in a nationally recognized news publication, and not representing one man’s self-proclaimed hobby. In other words, Becker is clearly a well educated man whose education level suggests his having made a major contribution to field of journalism. There is an inherent characteristic of humility to be found in the unsponsored blog of an individual with a doctorate in journalism who never refers to themselves as a professional – let alone a journalist.

The rise of citizen journalists and bloggers presents many advantages and disadvantages. Using citizen-sourced information, the reach of News media agencies is increased, but so too is the potential for erroneous or biased reports. The value of eyewitness accounts of unfolding events can be substation for local news stations whose reporters are unavailable. For individuals aspiring to become professional journalists and who have dedicated themselves to the study of journalism, distinguishing oneself from the growing population of online content creators may prove frustrating. This potential dilemma for professional journalists may be caused by what Stephen Ward suggests is the “blurring of the identity of journalists and the idea of what constitutes journalism” (2015).


References

Becker, Lee. (2015, March 15). [Web log message]. Oconee County Observations. Retrieved from http://oconeecountyobservations.blogspot.com/2015/03/jimmy-daniell-road-rezone-likely-to-be.html

Kovach, Bill and Rosenstiel, Tom. (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury, USA.

Society of Professional Journalists. (2014). SPJ code of ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Ward, S. (2015). Digital Media Ethics. University of Wisconsin: Center for Journalism Ethics. Retrieved from http://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/digital-media-ethics/

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