Sunday, September 22, 2013

Crossing the Line

Megan Carnahan

Conflict of Interest and Checkbook Journalism
A conflict of interest occurs when decisions are influenced by just that, personal interests. Checkbook journalism occurs when an individual or company pays money for rights to material for their stories. These two concepts have been corrupting journalists' credibility and integrity for years. And we still have yet to learn from our mistakes.

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But, why?
In regards to conflicts of interest, the article, "Maybe It's Not So Obvious" by Deborah Potter of the American Journalism Review states that in some cases "there's no written ban against investing in other kinds of businesses, and no specific mention of whether it's okay for an employee to report on his own business interests."

So, think about it. How easy is it to do something when there's nothing stopping you?

Checkbook journalism still happens today because there is so much competition from all aspects of news outlets and publications. Everyone wants to be the first to report. Everyone wants to be the fastest to report. And they will go to great lengths to achieve these goals.

ABC News and other sources are prime examples of this immoral notion of checkbook journalism. It is reported that they were paying large amounts of money to side sources and references in the trial of Casey Anthony.

That being said, when money comes into the setting, it has the possibility of altering journalists' reliability and trustworthiness. Why would you speak to a reporter for free when you can get monetary compensation from another one?

Like the article, "Checkbook Journalism's Slippery Slope" by Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review says, "It's like Gresham's Law, where bad money drives out good."

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Don't Forget Our Values
With negative actions and suggestions of conflicts of interest and checkbook journalism, it is easy to see that our core journalistic values are sometimes forgotten about.

I completely agree with the article "Common Ethical Issues in Public Relations" from the Media Ethics Resource Library at the University of Oregon when it says that their core values are to earn trust and respect with clients and employers and to earn the public's trust.

A good example where they did the right thing is the article of two judges who stepped down in the case of Trayvon Martin because of conflicts of interest. One of the best ways to avoid conflicts of interest is to avoid them entirely, and those judges did just that.

PBS ran an article titled, "Why We Need Radical Change for Media Ethics, Not a Return to Basics" that says, "Media ethics (and ethics in general) is, and always has been, a matter of constantly inventing and altering norms to meet ever-new social and technological conditions. Media ethics in a revolution, then, must be open to the future."

I believe that the same goes for journalists' careers. We must strive to reinvent ourselves and alter our work to meet the ever-changing norms of society. But at the same time, we must not forget to be ethical.

We have difficult jobs. We have to work through pressures, prioritize stakeholders, be moral, make justifiable decisions, be fair and so on and so forth. We cannot let competition drive us into paying for our news. We also cannot let our personal issues get in the way. But like I stated above, we must not forget to be ethical journalists and stick to our No.1 obligation, the truth.

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