Should a publication run advertorials? Is it wrong to accept travel compensation to cover a company’s event?
During our discussion on ethics in journalism led by Owen Roberts, held Monday morning, Aug. 13, these and many other questions were discussed and debated by IFAJ Boot Camp and Master Class participants.
Owen Roberts, IFAJ, says a triad exists in ethical journalism between the publisher, the advertiser and the reader/listener/viewer.
“If the ethics of any participant are off, we have a problem,” he says.
However, he says, when ethics are met between all parties, everyone benefits.
“If the publication has credibility, it’s better for the publisher, as it will be considered honest and ethical,” Roberts says. “It’s also better for advertisers, because they are advertising in a publication considered to be of high standards. And it’s better for the reader, because the reader is served with better information.”
Relevant ethical issues varied greatly by participants, based on their home countries.
And, for some participants, including Mendy Sang from Gambia, the topic of ethics is just developing.
“We are just creating an agricultural writing guild in Gambia,” he says. “In Gambia, we are not opportune to have journalism schools. Most people don’t know what works well. Some companies will invite writers to cover events. When they write the stories, they are given some money, and that money is worth our monthly payments. We earn very little as journalists. Sometimes, I question if these writers are simply writing for the money. As time goes on, we must look at ethical values in our members.”
Following ethical standards can have potentially challenging effects on journalists, as well, says Kakoma Kaleyi Calvin, Zambia.
“We were invited to cover climate change in Mexico, and the trip was sponsored partly by the government,” he says. “I covered it exactly as I perceived it. And when the publication printed, the government was not happy. During the next event, every journalist was invited except for me, so my institution covered the expenses and I went. At the end of the day, I provided the right message.”
The topic of publications “borrowing” stories – sometimes without the writer’s or publication’s consent – is viewed differently, depending on the person and circumstances. Holly Spangler, USA, says sometimes this can be negative for a publication or writer.
“I had written a blog, and one of the American commodity groups picked it up on their blog about six weeks after I wrote it,” she says. “They copied and pasted the writing to their blog, not understanding it wasn’t appropriate. This did not allow the reader to come to our page and get the ‘hits,’ which can benefit our publication. Our content is our product. If it is taken, that is illegal.”
However, Stefan Nimmervoll, Austria, says this practice can be a positive experience for a smaller publication.
“I once had a larger national paper refer to my article, and I thought it was great,” he says. “It provided a little more exposure.”
And for some writers, the reprint of material is the goal, says Nelly Romero Jara, Ecuador.
“We have a group of independent journalists who work for radio stations and publish bits of audio on a green economy, and food safety and security,” she says. “They want these items to be downloaded. They want their message to be heard, to counterweight large media who gets subsidies from companies that produce agricultural chemicals.”
Regardless of nationality or experience, one idea rang true to all: developing and following journalistic ethics is critical, in order to preserve the integrity of the industry.
Mendy Sang, Gambia.
Christy Couch Lee, USA.