By Bailey Berg
As journalists we encounter numerous situations that test our morals as professionals, but one often overlooked is accepting gifts from sources.
The biggest case of journalists accepting gifts was in 1986, for Disney’s 15th anniversary of Florida’s Disney World, the theme park invited more than 10,600 journalists and their families to enjoy the free, no-strings-attached, four-day event.
Editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Michael G. Gartner said in a Los Angeles Times article, “My view is, if your bosses feel it’s worth covering, they should pay their way. My quarrel is not with Disney, it’s with the people who took it.”Gartner and numerous other journalists argued that the vacation given by Disney was unethical for journalists to accept. Not only was it worth a considerable amount of money, but the journalists who went were more likely to paint Disney Worlds anniversary in a more positive light.
Others argued that it was perfectly acceptable for the journalists to let Disney dote on them – they probably couldn’t have afforded to go and cover the event otherwise.
There are so many things that can be construed as gifts, but might not be the intended purpose – where do you draw the line?
Can you accept token items such as pens and key chains that advertise the business? What about a sample copy of a writers book?
What if you’re a food reviewer, can you let the restaurant foot the bill? What about a cup of coffee in an interviewee’s home?
What about gifts post story? Can you accept a painting from an artist you wrote about? Or how about a gift card from a business you talked about in an article?
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) states that writers should “refuse gifts, favors, fee, free travel and special treatment” so journalistic credibility won’t be compromised.
What do you think? Is it ethical as journalists to accept gifts from people your writing a story about? What’s ok, and what isn’t?