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Conflicts of Interest: where is the line drawn?

by on April 1, 2013

As we discussed in class this week, conflicts of interest come up in just about every story a journalist pursues. Ethical questions arise frequently. Journalists must decide when it is okay to use a source they may know, accept a gift from a source, or pursue a relationship with a source. I understand that certain circumstances are more clear than others. For instance, I know most of us would not use a family member as a source. However, as a journalist do you vote? Is that a conflict of interest? Where is the line drawn? According to Jay Rosen, as journalist, it is impossible to be completely objective. He suggests we notify our audiences of our background. I don’t think this means that he condones certain conflicts of interests, such as using a family member as a source, but I do believe he feels it is okay to let others know of your position on certain issues to give them a better background of where you are coming from. I think Jay Rosen would have no problem with journalists participating in voting.

What do you guys think?

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5 Comments
  1. People vote. Are journalists not people? Obviously there are certain standards such a being a U.S. citizen, etc. but there is no difference between a journalist and say a school bus driver when it comes to voting. Not allowing journalists to vote is simple suppression. However, if a journalist personally feels like he/she is doing something wrong to either himself/herself, the organization of employment, or to the public, by voting for a certain individual, then the person should not vote. It’s an overall personal decision, but nowhere should there be an ethical law stating that journalists can’t vote. It is unethical to give up your own personal rights for a job – especially the right to vote.

  2. I think to deny the journalist the privilege of voting is undeniably wrong. Voting is private for a reason. If journalists are going to enter the court and be treated as a private citizen like anyone else during certain cases (like Branzburg vs. Hayes), then they should be able to participate in everything that a private citizen can participate in. Just because a journalist votes does not make them biased. Journalists have to be trusted by the people to report the truth in an unbiased way, but the people also have to trust that the journalist is capable of having a life with rights just as the average private citizen does while being able to do their job.
    I think allowing journalists to engage in certain conflicts of interest, such as voting, creates a platform for journalists to relate to people in more ways than just truth-telling.

  3. Felicia Cohen permalink

    I believe one of the main roles of a journalist, when it comes to ethics at least, is being able to balance their life. Sometimes they are a journalist before they are an American, for example when we discussed being a reporter for the opposing side in a war. Sometimes, you are a journalist before you are a citizen of a town, for example, the case about running for the school board. However, voting is a right of every American citizen, and voting in small elections, one vote can really make a difference. I think it is okay for a journalist to vote, if done so discreetly and without broadcasting your support.

  4. Conflict of Interest – by far has been the most complicated topic to understand for me. I feel that what we believe a ’causes’ would only be one if we label it as such, isn’t it? Also a cause becomes politically and socially relevant only if the society and the culture we are in decide so… For example – there are people who don’t believe in marriages, but that is not seen as a ‘serious’ cause, like if one does not one to get married, ever, does that mean that he or she is participating in a cause hence opening himself to a risk in being in a conflict of interest if he or she decides to cover a wedding or even interviewing anybody who is married…? I know this is a very bad example but my point is, a cause is not a cause until our cultural surrounding decides so, hence, when would it be okay for one to be a part of something and when would it not be okay? Gay rights advocacy groups may be seen as supporting a cause, just because the issue is somewhat perceived as taboo… but how would it look like one day when gay marriages are completely normal and legal? Does gay parade then still has a function and does being proud of being gay and be vocal about it seem like injecting oneself into a “conflict of interest”?

  5. I think it would be a reach to expect a journalist not to vote. If we say they cannot vote, what else shouldn’t they do? It is one thing to be objective, it is another to have no opinion or personal preference in your own life. If a journalist covers the food industry and how bad some meat we buy in stores can be, should they never be allowed to eat that kind of meat? Should they have to eat organic food from there on out, or not even be able to have an opinion at all and become a vegetarian? I think that what a journalist does in their own time is their life and if their beliefs and practices don’t show through in their work, then they are doing a good job.

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