Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Always Conflicted

Katelyn Lemen

Why are conflicts of interest an issue in journalism? There are ethics codes in place that tell journalists to avoid conflicts of interest. Well, it seems these codes are not being followed.

In the Chittum article, he brings up the Rupert Murdoch situation. For those who don’t know, Murdoch is the current CEO of Fox News. He has been exposed for paying for news instead of investigating. There are statistics about Fox News and bias. Fox News is cited for favoring Republicans.

His papers, The Sun in particular, would pay cops and government officials for news.  This disregards key SPJ codes. One code states, “Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content outside resources, whether paid or not”.

Is Paying for News Always Bad?

Is there any instance where it would be acceptable for journalists to pay for news? There have been cases where journalists have paid for stories that were used for good. For example, the New York Times paid for the Titanic scoop in 1912 by giving a wireless operator $1,000 for his story. I believe it was important to get news on the sinking Titanic as soon as possible. In that case, paying the wireless operator is justified.

In the “Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope” article by Chittum, I sided with Kelvin Mackenzie’s quote:

“I suspect you, as the reader, will be pleased that newspapers report such scandals, even if They have to pay money to find out about them. HOW, OTHERWISE, WOULD WE DISCOvER WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING?”

On the other hand, I think paying for news is unethical, but may be practical. It would be corrupt for all news stories to be bought, but it is ignorant to think that it doesn’t occur. Investigating is part of the job, but sometimes journalists take the easy route. There are countless examples of how journalists have discovered huge news stories without paying.

In my opinion, paying off some sources in order to write a story beneficial to the public, may outweigh the ethical conflicts.

Bias in the News

Since 2016 is an election year, it is hard to ignore political bias in the news. Political affiliations in newsrooms are common. It creates a conflict of interest and leads to bias reporting. For example, Fox News affiliates with the Republican Party. Most of their reporters are “conservative” or endorse republican candidates. Republicans aren't the only ones biased in the news. This article goes more in depth on this issue.

It is not an easy task to be unbiased while reporting through your own political lens. Journalists may have political loyalty or other influences when creating stories.

When to say "no"?

Before diving into the topic of special treatment and gifts, lets review this SPJ code:

“Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility. “

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Wrong.

                                                             Image: geomarketing.com

Would you let someone you’re interviewing buy you a cup of coffee? It seems like a simple, kind, harmless action. Most journalists aren’t making a fortune, so it’s easy to accept small gestures.

Accepting a coffee or any small gesture once in a while won’t ruin credibility in my opinion. Other than that, there is no exception on accepting gifts or special treatment. Avoid the temptation!

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