Wick Communications

Just don’t take it

In Ethics on March 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm

If you are on a beat for any length of time, you are likely to make friends with some of the people you cover. It’s a natural, human thing. When we’re put in a room with five other people, we’re going to like some more than others. Only in the world or journalism is this considered a problem.

The trick is knowing appropriate boundaries.

Those boundaries were apparently crossed long ago at the Statesville Record and Landmark, in Statesville, N.C. (Actually, I haven’t verified what I’m about to relate. For the purposes of our blog, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not; I intend it as a cautionary tale and something to keep in mind as we go about our business. Apologies to the R&L if some details are incorrect.) According to the Gatton Report, a police reporter for the R&L long ago accepted a cell phone from the local Sheriff’s Office. Allegedly, the phone, which was paid for by county taxpayers, was to be used in the reporter’s other role as public information officer in the event of emergencies in the county. She is also integral to the county’s crimestoppers organization.

Uh-oh.

Hopefully, you know better than this. It is only natural that someone covering a beat for 25 years would become tight with some sources. But you can’t accept things of significant value – and I would say a cell phone to use for months on end qualifies – from the people you cover. That should be especially obvious if you know taxpayers are footing the bill…

As I say, I don’t know about the particulars of the R&L case. Just consider it something to remember if someone you cover ever offers you something like this. Ask yourself what a Society of Professional Journalists executive would say about the arrangement.

— Clay

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