Reporters should not undertake a public affairs or public relations role. Similarly, communications consultants should not pretend to be journalists. Yet as the Toronto Star writes, one Canadian anchor recently tried to get away with this unseemly melding of roles.
There is so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to begin. To be sure, the case at hand is an in-your-face type of ethical transgression that merits an ashes and sackcloth punishment.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that less astonishing yet equally unethical transgressions go on regularly with individuals who try to straddle both sides of the journalism/communications fence. You can’t be both a reporter and a communications consultant. It is a very bright line. If, for example, one claims to be a freelance reporter, one cannot accept project assignments from corporate clients. There is no gray area. Sorry, there’s just not.
The number of individuals who claim journalist status while also writing speeches, blog posts, etc., for corporate clients — and do so with a straight face — astounds me. Anecdotally, I can testify that there is plenty of this going on. I understand the need to put food on the table and shoes on the baby. And I suppose there comes a time when one is desperate enough to compromise ethical principles to feed one’s family. Just please don’t look me in the eye and try to convince me this is above board.
As one who has had feet firmly planted on the communicator side of the fence for 20+ years, I’m curious how (and if) journalists can help me understand this ethical rationalization for playing both sides of the fence. Seriously. How do you explain away such behavior? Comments encouraged.