An Interesting Conflict
Today Keith Olbermann was suspended indefinitely without pay from MSNBC for donating money to Democrats. While it comes as no surprise that Olbermann donated to Democrats, it’s still a violation of MSNBC policy.
Olbermann’s suspension got me thinking on The Eagle’s ethical policies and how, in many cases, decisions are made at the discretion of an editor.
Sure, we have guidelines. We specifically try to adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, a classic, time-tested document.
But the code doesn’t answer questions specific to AU and specific to college journalists. By the very nature of our job, we are biased reporters. We all go to school at AU, therefore out in the real world, we wouldn’t be allowed to report on AU.
More specifically, should a dorm resident/reporter be allowed to report on the Residence Hall Association? Should someone still using meal swipes be allowed to report on the Terrace Dining Room?
Over the last four years of my employment at The Eagle, we’ve dealt with these questions mostly on a case by case basis. Editors make judgment calls about the motives of reporters based on facial expression, vocal inflections and other ephemeral, flawed criteria.
“Should she be allowed to take the story?” Editor One will ask.
“I’m not sure, did you see how excited she was to stick it to (INSERT AU DEPARTMENT OR PERSON)?” Editor Two might answer.
“You’re right, let’s find someone else,” Editor One says.
The rule of thumb, and one that works pretty well, is that as you climb The Eagle leadership ladder, your outside associations should dwindle and eventually vanish.
I am the editor of The Eagle, I have no other associations with AU beyond class.
Junior reporters are generally allowed more leeway as they find what does and does not fit into their interests.
Editors and assistant editors might be allowed to join certain clubs, but it is expected that they don’t do certain things that could compromise their credibility.
In general, Eagle staffers are not allowed to join the leadership of clubs or organizations outside of class or school councils and religious groups.
The system is, of course, far from perfect but it has served us well. What do you think? Are we too strict or not strict enough?
Posted in Hail to the Chief