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Do you have a website? Is there a way you can put content on it so that it can be seen by the general populous? Congratulations, you're a publisher!

It’s quite a responsibility when you consider the Royal Charter on press regulation currently being debated by the media powerhouses and the upper echelons of Government.

Having followed the debate closely, the only conclusion I’ve been able to come to is that the charter agreed by a cross-party parliamentary group and the rival proposition put forward by the newspaper industry are poles apart.

It’ll take a miracle of mediation to get them to agree on a compromise.

I’d love to see an online brand or industry display the kind of maturity our politicians and media moguls lack, standing up and publically stating their own set of standards: “The traditionalists can continue to squabble amongst themselves; we’re the publishers of the future and this is how we do things”.

Few disagree there should be a set of ethical content principles that publishers adhere to. If you want your website to be seen as a credible, valuable and dependable source of information, committing to a robust code of practice and incorporating this into your online editorial guidelines and processes is a definitive sign that you mean business.

The Leveson report was incredibly light when it came to discussing the web, calling it an “ethical vacuum” and implying that information consumed via the internet was considered less trustworthy by those consuming it.

That might be so with some hyperbolic blogs and forums, but in many cases, news appears first - and most comprehensively - online.

There is still much ambiguity around how blogs, forums, overseas websites and social networks would be covered by any legal revisions and besides, there are already many rules and regulations that govern what you can and can't say on your website: copyright and defamation legislation to name two of the most poignant.

An integral part of your brand’s digital strategy should be based around creating meaningful content for your audience that the intended viewer might consider ‘newsworthy’, whether that’s tapping into key customer issues or providing insight into the past, present and future of your industry.

‘Brands as publishers’ is a buzzphrase that has been increasingly evident on the conference circuit over the past few years, but rarely is the topic of responsibility brought up.

Traditional publishers are fully aware of the risks and rewards involved in controversial content; online publishers should no longer be playing dumb to the power they pertain.

Going down a ‘hard-hitting report’ route with their content approach, fictional travel website hoolydee.com uncovers an underhand timeshare operation and puts together an expose video warning their customers to steer clear. It’s a great piece of collateral and gets a few million views within a couple of days.

But what happens when it turns out the perpetrator featured is falsely accused, getting harangued on Twitter with an angry mob turning up to beat down his villa door?

Is Hoolydee responsible as the content originator? Are YouTube responsible as the content host? Should Reddit take the blame as they directed a large chunk of traffic? Should the editor of the media website that featured it on their homepage be held accountable?

If there was an independent Travel Industry Publisher Code of Conduct, this would all be clear, from the initial complaint procedure all the way through to possible financial sanctions.

When Google purchased YouTube in 2006, it set aside $200m to cover potential court action costs. How’s your legal battle budget looking these days?

Anyone can pick up a CMS and put a piece of content live, but publishing is more than that. If you want to thrive in a content-led world, you need to understand what it really entails.

Don’t let your right to a publisher be tarnished by people who have their head in the sand when it comes to the digital world; act now and act responsibly.

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Published 23 May, 2013 by Danny Chadburn

Danny Chadburn is Content Strategist at iCrossing and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

17 more posts from this author

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