4th estate, 5th estate values differ

It's important for people to have discussions about the difference between traditional journalists and citizen journalists, but those discussions aren't happening around the country, a Connecticut newspaper editor said after an ethics workshop.

During the workshop, Poynter Institute ethics group leader Kelly McBride and former Seattle Times editor Mike Fancher said ethical values are changing and journalists must decide which values to leave behind, which to keep and which new values to adopt.

McBride outlined some of the differences between traditional journalists and what she dubbed the "fifth estate" -- citizen journalists, bloggers, activists and non-profits. She said that traditional journalists value truth, while the fifth estate generally values truth as they see it.

Tim Dwyer, executive editor of The Day of New London, Conn., disagreed with McBride's opinion that the fifth estate has more influence than traditional journalism. He also argued that "truth as you see it" is not truth at all.
But he said it is important to have those discussions, and that editors must listen to and learn from the fifth estate.

Dwyer's paper recently launched a redesign of its Web site, moving from moderated comments to unmoderated. Initially, they were "terrified" of the kinds of comments that might go up, he said.

But the paper decided to raise the bar as high as possible, and made sure reporters policed the comments for the first few weeks, reporting inappropriate posts. Commenters who had three or more comments flagged as "inappropriate" were eligible to be banished, Dwyer said.

There was pushback, but eventually the level of discussion was raised and readers started policing the comments themselves, Dwyer said.

"It's a painful experience, but so far for us it's been successful," he said.

McBride said she sensed some defensiveness in the workshop -- a hurdle she said she often faces.

"I'm not suggesting we have to compromise our core values," McBride said, but it is important for a news organization to know its values so it can work with the fifth estate and explain to citizens the difference between their values.

Dwyer agreed.

"It's a great discussion to have," he said. "I think we have a lot to learn."

By Jennifer Hlad