Thursday, September 29, 2011

Question: Is it ethical to write a news story on a topic that you previously wrote an opinion piece for?

My answer: Definitely not. This is a conflict of interest. Even if the reader of the news story had no prior knowledge of the opinion piece, the journalist should know that this is a breach of media ethics. If a journalist's main objective is to be objective, then this dilemma convolutes the boundary between objective reporting and subjective opinion. Once your opinion is published and floating around the interweb, people know your stance and that can distort the accuracy of your reporting from the reader's perspective. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe a professional journalist is fully capable of writing an objective news story after having written an opinion piece, but capability is not the issue, it is fairness to your readers so that they have no way to be skeptical of your objective reporting. In an age where readers are skeptical of the news already, it is important and ethical to set these boundaries in the newsroom.

-Stellar Cassidy

1 comment:

....J.Michael Robertson said...

My gut reaction is yeah, you're right. But New York Times reporters are an excellent example of working journalists who do seem to have the right to pontificate and keep reporting. Many of them write books on topics on which they have become experts - reports from Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples - and then go back and report some more. I suppose it depends on the issue and on exactly what their opinion was. Was it couched in the language of deep reporting and careful analysis? Was the op-ed an effort to extract deep insights? We now retreat to our fallback position: It would depend on the specifics of a situation. But let's return to our NYTimes example. These journalists have been vetted. They have earned the status of journalist/experts. A young inexperienced reporter without a deep clip file and a heavy resume probably would compromise her/his ability to effectively report if his/her name were attached to some superficial analysis. And even a respected pro would have a keen sense of where informed opinion might cross the line. If a respected TV news anchor wrote an op-ed for or against Obama's re-election:

Dead meat.