Media ethics

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on July 27, 2009

On Friday, Instapundit Glenn Reynolds linked to this blog post from the Asheville Tea Party organization revealing that the Asheville Citizen-Times reporter covering local health care issues was also speaking at rallies in support of Democratic health care reform efforts while at the same time taking pictures for the paper.

But it's not just reporter/activist Leslie Boyd's ethical lapses that are at issue. While the paper has repeatedly covered pro-Democrat reform rallies, it has ignored opposition rallies and protests.

As I've said repeatedly before, I'm one of the few (now former) journalists who believe that reporters should be up front about their beliefs and biases while at the same time striving to provide fair and objective coverage of the issues. Under the Hoy journalistic standard, Ms. Boyd's activism would be acceptable -- as long as it was publicly disclosed as it has been. Ms. Boyd, however, would be prohibited from taking photographs or writing stories about the organization she's an integral part of.

Unfortunately, the American media landscape doesn't operate under the Hoy journalistic standard. Instead, it has an ethics policy that explicitly prohibits Ms. Boyd's activism.

A “conflict of interest” exists when a person’s private interest interferes in any way with the interests of the Company. A conflict situation can arise when a director, officer or employee takes actions or has interests that may make it difficult to perform his or her Company work objectively and effectively. Conflicts of interest also arise when a director, officer or employee, or members of his or her family, receives improper personal benefits as a result of his or her position with the Company.

Appearance of Impropriety: Directors, officers and employees should take care to avoid any appearance of impropriety and will disclose to their supervisors or, in the case of directors and executive officers, to the Board of Directors, any material transaction or relationship that reasonably could be expected to give rise to a conflict of interest.

Influence: An impartial, arms’ length relationship will be maintained with anyone seeking to influence the news.

Outside Interests: Directors, officers and employees will not have any outside interest, investment or business relationship that dilutes their loyalty to the Company or dedication to the principle of a free and impartial press.

Under this standard, Ms. Boyd is in violation and her editors at the paper who obviously know of this ethical breach too have failed.

Typically these sorts of breaches result in some level of reflection among the keepers of American media norms.

Not this time.

Romenesko's Media News: Nothing. (And I sent him an e-mail tip on this situation myself.)

Media Matters for America: Nothing. (Wanna bet that they'd be on this if the reporter was in the Tea Party movement?)

Columbia Journalism Review: Nothing.

Editor & Publisher: Nothing.

And people in the media wonder why they aren't trusted.

On a related note: While poking around the media sites above, I came across this New York Times story on how some former Gannett employees are getting the shaft from their former employer. (I'm counting my blessings on that one.) What caught my eye was this tidbit buried deep in the story.

Jennifer Johnson, who was laid off from her job as an editor on The Republic’s Page 1 team, quickly found a new post, working for the Arizona Democratic Party.

One of the editors for the biggest newspaper in Arizona's front page -- where all of the most important political stories run -- got a job one week after being laid off with the Democratic Party. But don't you dare suggest that her now-obvious politics may have slanted any of the Arizona Republic's coverage ever.


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July 2009



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