Reporter or Consultant?

I’ve seen it many times. Still, I remain dumbstruck by those who claim to be both journalists and media training consultants. Are these people not familiar with the term, “conflict of interest?”

I see this claim on numerous web sites and it just makes me cringe. It’s even worse when, during my travels, someone makes this assertion to my face. I try to remain polite and keep the cringing to myself. What I want to say is some variation of, “Are you nuts?!” What I try to do instead (patience willing) is segue into a broader discussion of ethics to see if the picture clarifies for them (so far, sadly, no winners). I might, for instance, ask them what ethical code they subscribe to. When that gets no reaction, it’s time to end the conversation as gracefully as possible.

Principles are important, and trying to play both sides of the fence is a clear-cut ethical violation.

Why is that? Let’s take the example of one of these ethically challenged hybrids leading a media training workshop during which the client discusses proprietary, legal, or personnel issues. This is hardly an uncommon occurrence. Media training often deals with sensitive matters.

Where does the hybrid’s loyalty rest? If she is a journalist, isn’t she duty bound to report what she learns? So much for the confidentiality of the client’s session.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about former journalists. Indeed, background as a reporter is a minimum qualification for one claiming media training expertise. Rather, we are dealing with individuals who call themselves active reporters while at the same time trying to make a living on the other side of the fence.

The next time you hear someone make a bogus claim to be both a reporter and a consultant, remain civil, but do try asking them about their ethical standards. You may not get much of an answer (other than that priceless deer in the headlights look). Still, you could help open their mind to a new and ethical way of thinking that is less dangerous to their clients.

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