Bleeding the Black Ink |

Bleeding the Black Ink

For journalists, it's better to give than receive

Terrance Vestal

When it comes to receiving gifts, journalists often come off looking like Grinches because they don’t — and they shouldn’t — accept them.

Their ultimate responsibility is to give news to readers in an objective, accurate manner.

According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the primary duties of reporters is to act independently. This means that reporters must refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment. Reporters cannot take on secondary employment, political involvement, run for public office or serve in community organizations if these activities compromise journalistic integrity.

It’s fairly obvious — how much credibility can a reporter have if he or she is accepting gifts from sources? And the damage of that credibility is passed on to the newspaper.

So, in refusing gifts, reporters are not being rude. They are protecting their integrity, which is the most valued commodity in the world of journalism.

In striving to act independently, reporters must avoid conflicts of interest — real or perceived, disclose unavoidable conflicts, deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

Reporters must “be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable,” according to the Society of Professional Journalists.

Journalists have an obligation to hold elected officials to the highest standards when it comes to how those officials behave regarding public policies, the spending of public funds and the conflicts of interest of those public officials.

This does not mean a reporter cannot be professional, courteous and honest in holding those officials to those high standards. In fact, journalists should abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Under that same duty, reporters should be wary of sources offering information for favors or money so that the newspaper isn’t “bidding for news.” And if they do pay for information, publications, including radio and television stations, should be up front about it.

While journalists have a duty to be aggressive in upholding the public’s right to know, the Code of Ethics also points out that journalists must “minimize harm.”

This means reporters should show compassion for those who may be impacted adversely by news coverage — especially when it comes to children, juvenile suspects and victims of sex crimes. This also means that the private citizen is often given more latitude when it comes to news coverage than public officials.

The Craig Daily Press does not print the names of those accused of sex crimes until a conviction occurs.

Ultimately, the first and foremost duty of the journalist is to “seek the truth and report it.” So, when a newspaper uses an anonymous source, they should have an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do so because, in most cases, the public is entitled to as much information on the source’s reliability and the source’s possible motivation.

It also is the newspaper’s ethical duty to give voice to those whose opinions may be in the minority because these opinions, while not as popular, may be just as valid as the majority voice.

Ethics, in any profession, can be like walking a tight rope because, particularly in journalism, not every situation has been dealt with and variations on “textbook cases” creep up every day.

“Bleeding the Black Ink” is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at

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