To accept, or not to accept…

24 Apr

by Nick Foutrakis

Ethics are a big part of anyone’s life, especially that of a professional journalist. Often times, ‘the ethical thing’ may get in the way of breaking the big story or even choosing to not run the story at all.

Ethical codes were put in place for journalists so they can complete their work fairly, efficiently, and without bias. The Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics that is used widely among journalists.

  1. Seek Truth and Report it.
  2. Minimize Harm.
  3. Act Independently.
  4. Be Accountable and Transparent.

Tony Abraham is currently working as a professional journalist in Philadelphia, Pa. He, like any journalist, has to hold himself and his work up to the four codes of ethics. However, when one of his sources offered free box seats to a professional sporting event, it might be easier to just forget ethics, just until after the game…

“My rationalization was that the profile was one of the last stories I wrote on that particular beat,” said Abraham. “His company was also sponsoring one of our events, so I wasn’t the only person to receive tickets… he offered them to a few folks at the company.”

It turns out that a few of Abraham’s coworkers attended the event, disregarding the company’s gifts policy. However, Abraham later stated that since his (The one who gave out the tickets) company was a major sponsor the gifts policy did not apply.

“It was all ethical on paper but regardless, sponsors can make things feel slimy sometimes,” said Abraham. “But also, we need to find ways to fund journalism, especially local journalism. Sponsored events and content are two ways to do that.”

Of course, there was no backlash from the company after writers attended the event, however this situation is just a slice from the pie that is ethics in journalism.

In this same exact situation, I would have also attended the event. Free box seats? Yes, please! However, journalists have to be careful when accepting these offers. Often times it is not a company sponsor offering the gift. It is often someone that may try to sway your judgment or maybe try to get on a journalist’s good side.

As a sports fan, I will always accept free tickets. However, as a journalist you have to really think, “Is this acting independently?” or even, “Is this going to make me think differently about someone/something?”

Just like everything else in journalism, ethics mostly revolves around the context. The context always matters. Is it a company sponsor offering a gift or is it someone on the bad end of a long investigative journalism piece? Is someone offering you a gift because you have been working together for a while, or is someone offering you a gift so you might forget to include his or her name in the story?

These are all things you must consider before accepting a gift. Tony Abraham and his coworkers did not cross any ethical lines when they attended the sporting event. However, often times today these lines are completely blurred to some journalists. Practicing good ethics within journalism is the perfect and only way to get the public to ‘trust’ the press again.

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