October 21, 2009

Aiming Low

The various codes of ethics you’ll find in journalism are very clear: Journalists should not accept freebies from news sources (that also ought to include those press box hot dogs at ball games, but never mind).

What about freelance writers? Are they, or should they, be subject to the codes of their client publications?

Quick easy answer: They can be if the client makes it plain in writing, as The New York Times does.

Another answer: Freelancers are responsible for their own behavior.

We can see the tensions caused by accepting freebies in a recent situation involving a free trip to Jamaica offered to writers recently. As Jeff Bercovici writes about the problem for DailyFinance:

But a careful reading of the paper’s [NYT] stringent ethics policy suggests that Albo transgressed the spirit, if not the letter, of the guidelines. The policy expressly forbids accepting “free or discounted transportation and lodging” and “gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other benefits from individuals or organizations covered (or likely to be covered) by their newsroom.” Those passages are directed at staffers, but further down, the policy decrees that freelancers “should accept the same ethical standards as staff members as a condition of their assignments for us. If they violate these standards, they should be denied further assignments.”

First, let me be thrilled that DailyFinance is keeping ethcial tabs on the news media. Way to go! I’m happy to see this.


There’s so much more to cover than swag. So much more of much greater importance to our civic discourse.

Swag is easy. News organizations will blush, pay for the swag, and move on (to the next ethical transgression).

What about the ethical lapses pointed out by Jon Stewart damned near every night on television? Here’s my latest, favorite example.

We discussed Stewart today in my media ethics classes. One of the points I submitted for their (dis)approval: Since the smackdown at CNN, the news media have done their best to ignore and ridicule Stewart.

Submitted for Rhetorica readers’ (dis)approval: The ethical lapses of the news media (not just the easy ones) are news.

And, just for fun, here it is again:

3 Responses

  1. Tim 

    Hey Andy, want to help promote Valour-IT? It’s kinda like the 1-mile solution but less pedaling!

  2. Tim 

    Andy, and I mean this sincerely, you are one of MY heroes!

  3. Tim… Thanks! I’m always happy to give to a good cause.