Monday, September 26, 2016

Conflicts of Interest Come in Many Shapes and Sizes

Nathan Lors

Conflicts of interest are something that all journalists should avoid, regardless of being news and information or strategic communications professionals. Particularly with the growing discontent that audiences have with the media in today’s world, now it is more important than ever for journalists to be transparent and impartial in what we write.

There are countless factors that can affect the agenda or angle that a journalist or public relations professional takes when they are writing their content. It is difficult to not bring past experiences and preconceptions into our work, but it is important to not let these interfere with our obligation of bringing the public neutral and fair content. This is crucial to a society so they can inform themselves and make their own conclusions.


Political Conflicts of Interest

Political affiliations in the newsroom are a common conflict of interest when it comes to having unbiased reporting. Whether an individual just has a political loyalty to a certain group or a relationship to a prominent leader in government, these factors influence reporting regularly. We can see in today’s media that entire news organizations are founded on different political associations.

Conflicts of Interest in Blogging

One area of conflicts of interest that is particularly relevant in this case are blog posts. There are entire blogs dedicated just to the topic of conflicts of interest. Several journalists who represent some shape or form of a news organization also write personal blogs where their ideas and opinions are not conformed to some organizations agenda and image.

These blog posts that journalists write for their personal audiences could absolutely raise questions of ethical complications. Writers have to take their objectivity very seriously and use caution so that they do not show any conflicts of interest to their organization in their blogs.

Blog posts, if not handled correctly, could damage the credibility of a journalist and expose their lack of an ethical compass when they are not under the jurisdiction of a news organization or a specific editor. Bloggers are becoming a big part of what makes up the online public discussion in this world.

Blogs can form strong opinions and heavily influence others to think the same way that they do. Audiences see blogs as impartial because it is written by an individual and is not influenced by an organization, but this is not necessarily always true. Bloggers can have opinionated ideas and conflicts of interest just like any other journalist.

This is a lot of power and responsibility for an individual with a large, loyal following. Conflicts of interest can influence and hinder a bloggers body of work. Readers will have access to this material any time in the distant future, it will live on the web for eternity. So when a blogger is writing it is important for them to distinguish between what is a fact and what is an opinion, and whether that opinion was influenced by some gift or preferential treatment.

Gifts and Special Treatment

Accepting gifts or special treatment from those that we are writing about should also be avoided in the world of journalism, it can easily create conflicts of interest. Treatment of this nature can create bias in the work of a journalist, public relations professional, or advertiser.

Even when accepting a gift for testing or a trial period, journalists or bloggers should make that relationship known to the reader so that they are conscious of the fact that a bias is possible in the writing.

Organizations such as Ethical Journalism Network work to ensure that journalism as an institution stays at the forefront of credible, unbiased information. They do a great job of clearly explaining conflicts of interest and why and how they should be avoided in this video below.

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