Here are topics for Tuesday's monthly meeting of our ethics board:
I. The wall between church and state, i.e., news and advertising.
- We had one subscriber cancel because of the end-of-the-year wrap by an auto dealer. Not exactly an outcry, but it raises the question anew of how we make sure we don't go too far in our quest for increased revenue during this soft economy. We also had a reader complain when one of our high-impact ads -- made to look as if they're in the middle of news copy -- inadvertently obscured some actual news copy. Finally, we've had a couple of issues about advertising wanting a heads-up about stories we're working on that may be of interest to them for advertising, including a bank asking about our "Focus on Banking" Your Money section and Marketplace.com wanting to be sure the small businesses we're featuring our listed in our online directory.
Our current procedure for any unusual advertising, including the holidays wraps, is to have the ad director clear them with the editor. That happened in this case. Any changes to this procedure necessary? Perhaps it's just a good idea to discuss the topic, even if we don't change anything. (See related story here on the New York Times accepting front-page advertising.)
This is the section of the SPJ code of ethics that applies:
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
II. Reporting on ourselves.
- Our multimedia editor proposes creating a charticle on how a story happens from start to finish. This seems like a good way to be transparent and accountable to our readers, but Robert also asks the question of how fair we can be when reporting on ourselves.
III. Outside board members.
- I haven't made any headway in finding two outside members for our ethics board. Our board seemed a bit mixed on the idea anyway, so a brief conversation about how or whether to proceed might be helpful.
IV. We're cracking down on trolls online.
- Any concerns that in doing this we're squelching our readers' free speech?
V. Other topics?
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