An Already Tainted Profession
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Keeping something secret? You’re probably doing something wrong.
Maybe it isn’t so obvious of what constitutes as a conflict of interest for a reporter, but an overarching theme in every article I’ve glanced over regarding the topic is secrecy. Full disclosure is something a reporter should do to avoid tainting his or her credibility, as well as the medium he or she works for.
It’s no secret that journalists have a bad reputation. Years of lying or being subjective in an objective field has put journalists so far down on the list of credibility right out of the gate. We have to build from the ground up to establish individual credibility as journalists and once we are revered, we’re scrutinized so closely to make sure we keep it that way. The minute we keep a secret from the public, the minute we go back to square one. How do we avoid this? DON’T KEEP IT A SECRET!
Beat Them to the Punch
Secrets are meant to be found out, and they will be. Hiding something means you’re deceiving someone, and once you’re seen as deceitful, say goodbye to respect. So, if you truly believe you are not doing something wrong—there is no conflict of interest—then why not fully disclose it? The Jerusalem bureau chief of The Times, Ethan Bronner, was under fire last year by his readers because his son enlisted in the Israeli military. Bronner, who had fully disclosed this to his editors (who gave him the OK to keep writing) had been publicly criticized for writing about a topic with such a conflict of interest. Bronner had followed The Times ethics code and fired back with an incredible quote.
“Either you are the kind of person whose intellectual independence and journalistic integrity can be trusted to do the work we do at The Times, or you are not.”
Some may say that there will be some sort of conflict of interest in almost any journalists’ career, and the public will be the first one to slam you down because of it. Are we, as readers/viewers, too scrutinizing when it comes to calling journalists out? I don’t think so. Not only are we deserving of the full truth, but we demand it. John Morton, American Journal Review writer describes why such scrutiny is a good thing.
“Our sensitivity about such things [scrutiny] is one of the reasons our newspapers do a better job, in my opinion, than newspapers elsewhere in informing the citizenry…”.
Moral of the Story
If doing something you don’t want the public to know about, it’s probably a conflict of interest. If not, beat them to the punch and tell your readers what’s up. Nobody likes a secret.