While the first amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, journalism ethics require journalists to use that freedom wisely and only publish stories which can be verified as truthful. However, as consumers depend more upon the media for awareness, issues arise in knowing which publications adhere to journalistic standards and which are more opinion- or advertising-based. Both sides of the media, journalists and consumers, bear responsibility for the use of informational content.
Consumer awareness refers to the knowledge consumers have about products or services and their rights as consumers. At the basic level, this means developing an awareness of products or services, and understanding the rights a consumer has regarding a malfunctioning product. As consumer awareness increases, the consumer may become familiar with ways in which to use a product or service, the benefits or drawbacks of a specific product or service, or reviews or recalls of a product or service. In large part, this awareness comes through the media, both by advertising and through news stories about products or services.
The types of media which can influence consumer awareness are more numerous than ever. Older media platforms, including newspapers, radio and television, are still available but have lost popularity since the advent of the Internet. Within the category of Internet media, a consumer finds respected sites such as web versions of print newspapers and government websites alongside opinion-based sites such as blogs and message boards. Advertising exists on nearly all media platforms, whether print, television or Internet, further bombarding the consumer with information that may or may not be accurate.
As consumers turn more frequently to Internet sources for purchase advice, they're able to keep up with recent developments faster than ever. This means, for instance, that companies have the ability to use Internet media to distribute news of product recalls almost as soon as they know a recall is necessary. It also means that unfounded information can be distributed before reliable journalists have a chance to confirm it.
Journalists have the responsibility to practice the same ethics when publishing online that they use for print media, including double-checking facts and reporting without bias. Even though online media may seem less permanent than print, it actually reaches more consumers in a shorter time. Consumers have the responsibility to ensure any website they take advice from practices journalistic standards rather than simply publishes opinions. Government websites or online versions of print publications are good starting sources.
Since online publishing is still new to many journalists in 2010, journalists are moving through a transition period as they learn to balance the techniques used for newspaper reporting with the new demands of Internet media. For example, in previous times, when a journalist found an error printed in one of his newspaper stories, he would run a correction in the next edition. Online, he has the opportunity to change the fact in the story, but he may be left wondering whether he needs to point out the change. Adding links to stories is another gray area, as journalists have to decide how much responsibility they bear for the accuracy of the websites they link to.