Monday, September 26, 2016

Journalism and Conflicts of Interest

Kristopher Perez

Journalism: Ethics, Conflicts of Interest & More...

For journalists, being transparent and unbiased is very important in order for them to gain a sense of trust with their readers. Without this trust, a journalist has zero credibility to stand on, and without that credibility, a journalist can't be successful in his or her field... or so we hope.

Conflicts of Interest

Journalists have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure that every story they report on is free from any biases they may have. If we think about it, it's our duty not to influence the news, but to provide clarity for the general populous. Our job is to keep the public informed, the decisions they make are ultimately up to them. 

In fact, almost every journalism or public relations ethics code includes a statement saying that members should stray away from conflicts of interest.

SPJ: under 'Act Independently' - "Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts..."

PRSA: Core principle - "Avoiding real, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest builds the trust of clients, employers, and the public..."

ASME: Avoid conflicts of interest - "Conflicts of interest, including personal relationships that could influence editorial coverage, should be disclosed to the reader..."

PC: Moose Lake Cartoons (

The list goes on and on.

In each and every organization you look at, you'll find a lot of overlap. Many of these organizations state that their members need to be transparent and avoid writing stories or obtaining clients that will clash with their personal views or their personal lives altogether.

An article by the Columbia Journalism Review looks at several Rupert Murdoch-owned newspapers and how they admittedly often paid sources large sums of money for "exclusive" reports. Often, people leaking this information would "shop around" for different media organizations who would be willing to shell out large sums of cash to publish the story.

Getting a story should come from good reporting, not bribery. But it doesn't always involve money, either.

For some, it comes from family ties. Some journalists are married or have family members who work within the field that they cover. For example, if a journalist covers foreign policy and has a family member who works under the Secretary of State, it would be seen as biased if the journalist reported on that beat.

Staying away from these conflicts of interest and providing the reader or client with a sense that they can trust us is the base of the entire profession.

According to Pew Research Center,  22% of Americans trust the information they get from local news. As journalists, we're required to ensure the public is informed on a variety of issues, but the only way we can do this is to provide them with a transparent view- an objective look at what's occurring every day.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Media ethics revolve around the truth, and the ability to tell that said truth.

Whether it's a journalist or a public relations professional, it's important to stick to a code of ethics. That code can be modified and created over time, but it all has to start somewhere. The different organizations lay the foundation, the rest is up to the writer or professional to make sure they abide by these rules, and provide their clients or readers with true and accurate information.

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