Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Was this ethics question all that hard?

Scott Libin's latest Leading Lines column from Poynter arrived in my e-mail today noting the case of an Arizona TV reporter who was fired for an ethical breach -- donating $100 to the current sheriff's campaign and then breaking the story of a 30-year-old rape allegation against the sheriff's opponent. According to the Arizona Republic:
The station does have an ethics code banning campaign contributions, but Koebel said he doesn't remember signing it because he rushed through employee orientation to cover a story. (Read the entire story here.)

Libin built a column off this and his personal experiences to both chastise news managers for the slipshod way they sometimes handle new employees (desk not ready, no business cards, rest of staff not knowing who you are, rushed through paperwork, etc.) and to urge them to do better.

But the central point gets lost: It does not take a Rent-a-Clue franchise to figure out that you don't make a political donation as a reporter, and then, assuming your newsroom has not seen fit to ban that, go cover the campaign where you've just taken sides. (Those are my words, not his. Libin doesn't really address this issue; that's not the point of his column.)

The heck with "I didn't have time to read the ethics guidelines." This reporter wasn't failed by a rushed personnel process or not perusing the ethics code. He was failed by whatever organization gave him a diploma without making sure he understood one of the most basic of ethical principles in this business.

Libin is right -- news organizations are too tempted to throw people into the deep end of the pool. Sink-or-swim is a lousy management philosophy. But that presumes the person has an idea of how to swim in the first place.


At 7/20/04, 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with you- this guy should have known better; especially if he were "an exemplary reporter" as he says in the Az. Republic article about his dismissal.

But I want to take this one step further: the reporter also says that "he's always given everyone a fair shake" and that "a journalist can hold himself to a higher standard."

Haven't we all thought that about ourselves? I agree with Koebel (the reporter) that sometimes the lines are blurry (vote, but don't contribute), but I think it's foolish for him to think that anyone would believe him when he says there was no impropriety. I'm not accusing him of anything underhanded or sinister; I'm merely stating that no one will believe him.

We've all thought at one time or another that "x" would have no influence on our decision to do "y," but can we be absolutely sure? I'm not- not in every case. I think enough of us know that about ourselves that we have a hard time believing Koebel when he says that one had nothing to do with the other.

So endeth the sermon.


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