Journalists and public relation specialists are in the business of selling the truth. That seems like an easy enough task. However, the truth becomes tricky when journalists are not transparent about their actions. That can include things like video news releases (VNRs), being paid to talk about certain issues, or covering people, topics or organizations that are too close to the reporter. The SPJ Code of Ethics states journalists should "be accountable and transparent" and "act independently." All the things previously mentioned go can lead to a deviation from the fundamental principles that separate journalists from a giant advertisement to advance agendas.
VNRs and the print equivalent are content created to look like real content. However, special interest groups companies, political parties and other groups, strategically designed this content to further their own agendas. Many people do not have an issue with VNRs and the print equivalent; they have a problem when media companies are not transparent about the origin of content. The Radio-Television News Directors Association states, "News managers and producers should clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by corporate or other non-editorial sources." Failing to accurately identify where paid content comes from jeopardizes an organizations credibility and independence.
Journalists, like everyone else, need to make a living. However, journalists have to be careful about what they do for money. Telling a story or talking about an issue in a specific light can jeopardize journalists' creditability. Armstrong Williams was paid to promote No Child Left Behind. He claims it was "something I believe in." While this may be true, it leaves room for public doubt because he was paid to promote the law. If he believed in it he could have talked about it for free. That could have reduced public criticism.
In a light, but insightful, article about journalism ethics, "Peter Parker and Clark Kent: Very Unethical Journalists," it is shown how difficult it can be to be a stakeholder past the journalistic capacity. The emphasis of transparency in the media has been applied to comics. The article stated, "in the new millennium, the tension between super-person and alter-ego has been explored in a few interesting ways, hinting that fans aren't as comfortable anymore with their selfless spandexed crusaders moonlighting as deceitful newspapermen." The University of Southern California faced a similar situation when the university's athletic department published an untrue article. Being a stakeholder in this capacity allows room for temptation that could lead to a journalist providing dishonest or doctored news. Covering oneself completely destroys any notion of independence or transparency because people tend to look out for what they hold close. In situations like Peter Parker, Clark Kent or USC it's best to pass the story to someone who is not a similar stakeholder.
Journalists should be transparent about where their content comes from and should not be paid extra to report on specific issues. Journalists should also be upfront about all potential conflicts of interest. Journalists and PR specialists already struggle enough with public trust issues so it is crucial everyone in these fields is independent and transparent.