Monday, September 21, 2015

Conflicts of Interest are Ill-Advised, but not Entirely Wrong

Chris Yangas

The last two weeks, a key topic we've been discussing in our media ethics class has been the evolvement of a journalist's need for independence into one's need for transparency. As a result, I would hope that journalists would look into dealing with conflicts of interests with more of an open mind. 

I would hope that many of us would take a step closer to making transparency habitual by approaching conflicts of interest with an open mind because they are neither unilateral nor one-dimensional. They come in all sorts of forms and it's important that journalists in the U.S. -- where, I believe, the maturation of collective thought is slowly being anchored increasingly by the establishment of forced principle -- understand that we don't come closer to reaching ultimate enlightenment by mentally severing ourselves from any particular way of thinking without first evaluating our own thoughts.

My point: Not all conflicts of interest are bad. I'd say at least 90 percent of them are ill-advised, but not all should be avoided without consideration to embrace them.

An example cited by the Public Relations Media Ethics Resource Library that I disagreed with concerned a PR professional who is assigned to take on a client for a company "he knows to be a notorious polluter."

If he is environmentally conscious and has staunch personal beliefs, than it simply comes down to weighing out his values. After all, professionalism simply comes down to being mature about your job, and maturity is about having the emotional intelligence to evaluate a situation and weigh out one's option for the best result possible.

Once that conclusion is reached, the individual has the responsibility to take action, and, if needed, confront whatever's ailing the progression of a situation.

Is it simple?


Is it easy?


This person's options include:

Option 1.) Request a different client.

Option 2.) Cover the company and understand that his or her job comes first.

Now, I personally prefer Option 2.), but if a customer does pick Option 1.) and the boss denies this request, again, one has two options.

Option A.) Quit one's job for the sake of one's beliefs.

Option B.) Suck it up and understand that one doesn't have the power to halt the development of a situation by simply dissociating with it; especially, not professionally, knowing one's company will simply assign someone new to the polluter client. [Why I would 90 percent of the time go with Option 2.) in the first place.]

No, Bobby Boucher's mom, not all conflicts of interest are the Devil.

Now, one has my support if one feels the acts of pollution are truly, egregiously despicable enough to dissociate from the company.

But the point about this situation is that there is an Option 2.), and while there's a possibility that that client can be misrepresented (why I do feel like conflicts of interest are still ill-advised), I disagree with the general journalist's mentality to completely shun them.

No matter what, the professional always has the responsibility to be transparent, so that the client and the boss know who they are associating with if  a factor.

But being transparent and confronting this dilemma rather than simply abstaining from your involvement in it is the best, most courageous route. Most conflicts in life encourage growth in some form when people discover new ways of finding them correctly. And people learn from one another by communicating: You never know if your boss or client might even learn something new from you once you defend your thought process.

So why simply abstain from the process instead of being transparent and taking it head on?
Whether we like it or not, humans are social beings and we associate to stuff out of habit, even controversial stuff. The best thing we can do is own up to it and say, "Yeah, I'm an environmentalist, but that doesn't matter right now" or, "Yeah, I'm a Browns fan, but my team still sucks."

At the end of the day, we should live and make known of how we live, and the best judge of humanity is the one who can live life and defend one's own actions; perhaps, even an"I was wrong, but I thought this because.." will suffice one day.

Then, we will all stop severing ourselves from conflicts of interest and simply learn to mature into professionals who will do the job, regardless, holding what we truly aspired to do for a career in the first place above that conflicting interest.

(Note: I do see some conflicts of interest as entirely unacceptable, including the acts of paying sources for information -- as Ryan Chittum from the Columbia Journalism Review refers to ironically disreputable quotes from former Sun editors about why paying whistle blowers isn't disreputable -- and using your image to represent falsely.)

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