Monday, September 26, 2016

Conflicts of Interest: A Conflict in Itself

Gabby Hollowell

As we continue to discuss the plethora of ethical issues news & information and strategic communications journalists face, conflict of interest is largely important.

Conflict of Interest in Journalism

What is conflict of interest? It is when journalists accept favors or pay sources to obtain news information. To me, it seems like an easy way out. I get it -- oftentimes, if I’m trying to make a deadline for my publication, Backdrop magazine, I’m tempted to go to my friends and roommates to use as sources or to get a quote from. But if I do that, I don’t feel like I’m being a true journalist and doing my job correctly. Since we share similar interests with our friends, that can lead to bias (which is a no-no in journalism). Writing about friends and family members is one of the NYU journalism handbook's potential conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest can be easily disguised, but this is not an ethical way to act. 

When I was reading  Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope” from the Columbia Journalism Review, at first I thought The Sun’s editor, Kelvin Mackenzie made, a good point:

"I suspect you, as a 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?" 

And then I stopped and thought about how unethical that actually is. There are plenty of instances where newspapers can get stories by using conventional reporting methods

Last week in class, we discussed the events that produced the movie “Spotlight.” The Boston Globe didn’t pay anyone to find out that information. This is an example of investigative journalism. If a source comes to you saying they have information about a story but won’t tell you anything further, you now have an opportunity to investigate for yourself. If a source wants you to pay them to talk, they are more than likely not worth your time, and these type of stories end up being “gossip” stories.

The biggest question I have is what happens if there’s a conflict of interest that would cause you to lose business or a potential story? If another news source publishes the big story, but paid for their information, that makes them less credible and honest, which is what journalists need to be. It comes down to finding a balance between your publication's best interest (saying what needs to be said and informing the public), and keeping your ethical values (honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, etc.). We need to find the balance between what's best for the publication without outweighing its ethical values.

Conflict of Interest in Public Relations

In the case of public relations, conflicts of interest can occur when a PR professional has interests that may conflict with the work they are assigned.

The University of Oregon’s school of journalism used an example of a PR firm taking on two competing cell phone companies (let's say T-Mobile and Verizon). Can the PR firm spend equal time and effort and have equal concern for each company and still maintain confidentiality? That would be hard on the PR person, and if I were the CEO of T-Mobile and I found out our PR firm was doing work for Verizon, I might be a bit concerned.

If a PR firm does not avoid conflicts of interest or properly handles them, that could result in loss of business and loss of trust. PR professionals need to make good judgments about the work they're doing, and, like news and info journalists, need to avoid bias.

In order to mitigate conflicts of interest from occurring, it is best to avoid them, even if there is a slight implication that one could occur. As journalists, whether strategic communication or news and information, we can't try to cover up our tracks and disguise conflicts of interest.

No comments:

Post a Comment