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.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
No Free Drinks. No Drinks, Period
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.