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Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Where Is the Line?
For many media professionals, conflicts of interest arise naturally on the job. Whether it’s being given tickets for a show you’ve reviewed or working for a news outlet that is owned by a big name company, the conflicts are endless.
As journalists, we know from the various ethics codes that advise our profession that we should avoid conflicts of interest because they can lead to unethical decisions and a loss of credibility.
But when do journalists draw the line? When do conflicts of interest become too big? And how do journalists attempt to avoid conflicts of interest all together?
This week for class we read two articles that described two very different levels of conflicts of interest. One article discussed thecodependency that ESPN and the sports world have.
ESPN makes a huge amount of money by holding a monopoly over many sports broadcasts, particularly for college football. Without those broadcast contracts, ESPN would lose billions of dollars annually. Conversely, without ESPN’s coverage, many sports teams would also lose revenue.
This codependency is dangerous. ESPN is doing business with the teams it is supposed to be covering in its journalism. It can easily create a system of blackmail in favor of ESPN: if the company decides it isn’t gaining enough revenue from a certain team, it simply pulls the plug on their coverage, thereby coercing the teams to up their spending on broadcast coverage.
If a team or conference pays more than another, it is automatically given the most—and best—coverage. This creates a cyclical toxicity that shouldn’t be welcome at a news outlet.
On the other end ofthe spectrum is the story of Anna Song. Song was a reporter with KATU in Oregon City, OR. Song covered the kidnap and murder of two teenagers, and then proceeded to speak at their memorial service.
Howard Rosenberg, the author of the article about this story, claims that Song was out of line. He states that once you cross an ethical line, it becomes much easier to cross another one.
According to the article, Song and her news director discussed the decision at length before they both agreed that it would be okay for her to speak. Rosenberg claims that Song was not at fault for wrongly deciding to cross an ethical boundary because she had only been a full-time reporter for two years.
But as inexperienced student journalists, how can we decide what is ethically okay?
Recognizing and Avoiding Conflicts of Interest
The Department ofJournalism at New York University provided a list of potential conflicts ofinterest that all journalists should look out for. The two biggest signs of a conflict of interest deal with receiving gifts or hospitality as journalists or giving special treatment to sources in return for a reward.
As journalists, it’s important for us to consider whether it’s worth losing our credibility in order to get a reward or reporting about our family or friends is.
If you wish toavoid conflicts of interest, don’t accept gifts, avoid politics and avoid financial and familial conflicts. If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to avoid conflicts of interest all together.