Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Questions of ethics, questions of temperament

The good doctor has asked me to throw a few ethical quandaries on y'alls radar - dilemmas I encountered working for the alt-weekly in Houston for a few years. Maleshefski's set the bar fairly high, so I modestly offer these for your consumption...

1. You're doing a story on those who take jobs for Halliburton-KBR to work in Iraq. The company hosts a job fair at their facilities where they're accepting a good majority of applicants on the spot. When you show up, do you have to identify yourself as a reporter? If not, on the application they give you, what do you put down? Is it ethical to approach other applicants there for interviews?

2. You're doing a story on a Muslim version of The Onion and young Muslim comedians. You hit it off in an interview with one of the comedians and, on the way out of the interview, he asks if you want to smoke up. Do you blaze? Do you include that in the story? (Knowing that, in all likelihood, the kid didn't realize that you, in the reporter and not "new friend" role, might consider including a detail like that.)

3. You're doing an investigative piece on a woman who ran a wolf sanctuary and all the wolves died due to incompetence. You know the evidence in the piece is going to hammer her pretty hard (after the story runs, you get an email from her that contains, among other things, the phrase "ruined my life"). During an interview at her home, you realize she is keeping two wolves as pets, which is against city codes. Later, before the story runs, she begs you not to include that detail as they are her "family" apparently and they'll be impounded. There's plenty of other damning material - do you run the wolves at home bit?

4. It's Super Bowl week. Your paper has sold the front page as an advertisement to Budweiser. Not just any advertisement, but an ad that's made to look like the real front page template of your paper - sort of teasing stories/hype about Budweiser inside. It will wrap around the real cover of the paper. Your best friend at the paper wants to quit because he thinks they've violated a sacred space. Is it that serious of a transgression? Is there a difference between selling the back cover and inside front cover and the front cover itself?

Hope all is well in Cali.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Have you ever just picked up your stuff and walked out of your job?

Well, that's what I did today. No two weeks, just four heavy bags on my back, full of schwag.

Why did I quit? Is it 'cause I work with twats?

No, I need a change. So I'm a free agent, looking for work, either full time or freelance. Will write/dance/go-the-distance for food.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

No Free Drinks. No Drinks, Period

I cherry-picked some items from the San Antonio Express-News ethics code, which I found at the ASNE website.


The Express-News and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources and newsmakers, avoiding even the appearance of conflict of interest. They should:
· Not allow a source to pick up your meal tab - Exceptions include a lunch meeting in which you regularly pick up the other person's tab or a routine arrangement to share the bill.
· Avoid free food. If we attend events where meals are served, we should make every effort to pay for our own meals.
· Not use free tickets or passes for events open to the public for an admission fee for personal pleasure or that of family and friends. (The exception are ones that come from Human Resources or Marketing with prior approval from newsroom management.)
· Not drink alcohol at an event that you are covering unless you are a food/wine writer, and only in moderation.
· Not invest in companies or mutual funds that you cover or are likely to cover as a reporter, columnist or photographer. Editors should not let their stock or fund holdings influence news judgments.
· Not promote events in the paper you are a part of. As a general rule, if you are part of an event (emcee, organizer), you shouldn't write about it.
· Know membership in professional journalism groups is approved, as is serving on the boards with supervisor approval. Clear membership in groups that could create conflicts for the E-N, or leadership roles in any group, with your immediate supervisor. This provision does not apply to your spouse unless the activity could be construed as your activity as a couple, i.e. a yard sign.
· Not make contributions to or work for political parties or have direct involvement with political issues. Not participate as an activist in public rallies, marches or demonstrations.
· Not take freelance assignments or appear in other media without first consulting your immediate supervisor. Participation in chat rooms and as a blogger also must be cleared by your supervisor if you identify yourself in any way as an Express-News employee. Do not do freelance work on company time or with company assets.

I am somewhat startled by number four, though it makes sense. Anyway, here is my own personal bottom line on taking gifts, freebies and perks.

1) Follow the rules of whoever employs you. Otherwise, you might get scolded. You might get fired. But think of the flip side of this, i.e., a situation not where you want to take more than the rules allow but where you want to take less. So fine a feeling might put you in the position of behaving insubordinately if you thought your personal ethics required you to turn down something your employer wants you to take so that you can write a story about it.

1a) Whoa, you say. In what instance might your personal value system be more stringent than that of your employer? That sounds ... unlikely. Right? I can imagine it happening if, as I do, you conclude that certain gifts actually do cause warm and fuzzy thoughts to arise toward the person, place or thing that gives the gift. I am of the opinion that you always have to compensate for the natural feelings of good will that intrude when you accept a freebie other than the trivial and/or the abhorrent. That doesn't mean I haven't accepted small gifts of food and drink and and once a very nice ashtray from the manager of a porn star. I'm saying I don't think most of us are as bulletproof when it comes to blandishment as we think we are. And -- let's get subtle -- what if you think that accepting a small something might cause a source to think they had put you near, if not actually in, their pocket and thus accepting the gift was a way of putting them off their guard and making them more likely to open up and trust you? Now we are in a very different ethical frame, that of practicing some small deceits in an interview to draw out information.

The class is writing a paper on that very theme. So more later.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

All We Are and We Hope to be We Owe (This Week) to Tiffany Maleshefski

Which is to say that distinguished USF graduate Tiffany Maleshefski supplied the dilemmas below, all based on her own experience. She will be monitoring the comments and will make a final comment.

In the future, I will be asking other friends of USF journalism to moderate this blog for a week.

Volunteering is allowed, of course; actually volunteering is encouraged.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Your Starting Salary Will Probably Be Less Than $30,000 a Year

Here are some dilemmas:

• You are a theater critic for a big-city newspaper. You have built relationships with publicists, especially those at the smaller theaters where the companies are struggling to make ends meet but are really trying to give young directors, young playwrights, young actors a chance. One of these companies presents a play that is really terrible; it deserves to be ripped apart. But a city needs small independent theaters. Also, the publicist has made sure you were at the front of the line for various premiers and galas related to this, and other, theaters. She has put you in the best seat in the house for the past five shows by this particular company, and you have panned four of them. And here’s another stinker. What do you do?
• You are a lifestyle writer at a big-city newspaper who has been assigned to do a story on day spas in San Francisco. Your budget for the story is limited – and then seven out of the 10 days spas you are writing about offer you a free day of treatments. If you don’t take the treatments, you are going to have to write a story that’s based on the spa websites, on the spa press releases and on the spa PR people. What do you do?
• You are a lifestyle writer etc. etc. doing a story on chocolate shops. When you visit the chocolates shops, each one offers you samples. What do you do?
• You are etc. doing nightlife stories. You tour four or five hip new bars and attractive bartenders in tight-fitting garments offer you free cocktails. Seriously, three of the bars give you first-class treatment, generous with the Grey Goose martinis, while the other two offered you only a glass of ice. What do you do?
• You are a writer/editor at a music magazine that has a limited travel budget. The magazine is repeatedly offered free junkets to see a new violin shop open in Italy or to follow a famous performer on tour. As part of an invitation to review a summer jazz camp, you are offered a luxury cruise to Alaska. What do you do?
• You are a writer for a music magazine etc., and you are offered free tickets to many local musical performances, far more than you could possibly review. What do you do?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Put Your Head under the Blanket. Turn on Your Flashlight. Discuss.

From the Financial Times:

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, said he believed “freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions”.

The dispute began on September 30, when Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s biggest newspaper, published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, a move considered blasphemous in Islam. One of the cartoons showed the Prophet with a bomb under his turban. The Danish newspaper later apologised but the row escalated this week after several European newspapers reprinted the cartoons to assert the right to free speech.

Here's a link to the cartoons.