Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Conflicts of Interest: Journalists are People too
Conflicts of interest are present in every profession, journalism is no exception. However, journalists work for the public and people are ruthless when journalists have biases. No one wants to have wrong information and no one wants to be tricked, so journalists are held to high standards. Journalists are the gatekeepers that stand between the public and information. The SPJ Code of Ethics clearly states, "avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts." Conflicts of interest are almost inevitable during a journalist's career so it is important situations are handled before a journalist loses a job or, worse, credibility.
In 2016 the United States will be electing a new president. Both of the candidates are controversial and the media has had close eyes on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for about the past 16 months. Many media companies have been accused of being biased or having allegiances to particular political parties. In the United States, any adult citizen can vote, including journalists. Journalists, the people controlling what the public knows about the candidates, will have their own interests in mind when they vote. However, these interests cannot let that show through in stories.
Recently, the New York Times published an opinion piece stating that Donald Trump should not be the next president. Even though this article is in the opinion section the New York Times' Editorial Board wrote the article. This indicates that the New York Times has a conflict of interest and jeopardises the integrity of their stories about the 2016 election. It is possible some journalists at the New York Times will be voting for Trump, but this opinion piece could make it impossible for readers to consider that. Anyone that supports Donald Trump or prefers fairly unbiased media may stop reading the New York Times or stop taking the publication seriously.
In June 2016 a man killed 49 people in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This was an attack on the LGBTQ community. Controversy in the media arose when Anderson Cooper, an openly gay journalist, interviewed Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General. During the interview, Cooper referred to Bondi as a "hypocrite" and their discourse was tense. Cooper and Bondi each have their own reasoning on why the interview went the way it did, but Cooper is the reporter and his biases were picked apart.
Cooper is an award-winning and respected journalist, however, Cooper is human and this interview clearly showed his conflict of interest. Cooper came out in 2012 because he wanted to be transparent with the public. Unfortunately, the Orlando nightclub shooting was a devastating and emotional event. Cooper is a great journalist, but it is possible he should have step away from this story because of a person conflict of interest.
In an ideal world, people would be able to separate their feelings from their professional careers. However, that is not the case. Journalists and their respective media outlets do have their own interests and biases. The only way journalists can maintain their credibility when it comes to conflicts of interest is to be transparent with the public and step aside before a problem arises.