“Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.” That’s part of the ethical standard on conflict of interest set out by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Does that mean that journalists can’t contribute to political campaigns? Can’t participate in parent-teacher organizations? Can’t belong to civic organizations? Should, in fact, be detached from the life of the community? Many people would say yes to all of these questions.
Writers at the Daily Planet are involved in our communities. Instead of detachment, we offer transparency. Our intern, Lolla Mohammed Nur, brought us a story about pro- and anti-CAIR factions within the Somali community. After we workskhopped the story, she went back to make sure that the voices of the organizers of the anti-CAIR protest were included more prominently.
At some point in the process, Lolla told us that she was an intern at CAIR, as well as at the TC Daily Planet. Does that mean that she is disqualified from writing the story? Under the traditional rules – probably. But she did a good job of writing a story that we otherwise could not tell. Our answer: transparency. We use the “Full Disclosure” statement within the story to tell readers that she may have a particular point of view. Knowing that, they can evaluate her story for themselves.
Detachment versus transparency – we may not always strike the right balance, but we know this is an important question, for us and for our readers.