- How, if at all, should a news organization restrict staff members’ involvement in community activities?
- When a staff member’s community activities relate to stories that person might cover, should you assign those stories to other staff members?
- When a staff member’s community activities relate to stories that person covers, should you disclose the connection?
- Is it acceptable for staff members to handle publicity for a community group?
Depending on the decisions you made about whether your organization favors independence or involvement, you may want to restrict or encourage staff members’ involvement in community activities.
Most news organizations that value independence don’t heavily limit staff members’ involvement in community life (outside politics), but use a mix of assignments, disclosure and common sense to address potential conflicts. For instance, news organizations don’t restrict journalists’ involvement with their children’s sports teams and other activities, but probably wouldn’t allow a parent to cover his or her children’s team. Your education reporter may encounter conflicts if he or she has children, because the children’s school is bound to pop up in the news occasionally. You can handle that either by assigning those stories to another reporter or by disclosing in a story that the reporter’s child goes to the school in question. Similarly, a religion reporter might need to pass a story to a colleague (or disclose affiliation in a story) if a story involves the congregation to which the reporter belongs. Most traditional news organizations provide coverage of community fund drives such as United Way, while still participating as an organization and encouraging employees to contribute.
If your organization favors involvement, you may still want staff members to disclose involvements to supervisors and, in relevant stories, to the public.
While many independent newsrooms don’t limit journalists’ involvement in such community activities as religious organizations, schools, sports and charities, some bar staff members from being responsible for publicity in any organization. In other words, you may be able to direct the community theater play or star in it, or run the spotlight. But you can’t volunteer to be the one that asks your news organization to run a feature story, photo, video or review promoting the play.
Some journalists, including independent bloggers, use disclosures to help readers/viewers understand their experience, expertise and bias. You might consider a detailed disclosure in the “about” page on your site and consider whether specific stories merit brief disclosures about the involvement relating to that story. For instance, a stay-at-home mother who’s blogging about parenting issues in her community might have an “about” page disclosure telling the ages and genders of her children and the community activities that she and the children are involved in. And a Q&A with one of the children’s music teachers about how to foster young children’s interest in music should disclose that the teacher is giving piano lessons to the blogger’s child.
The main author of this module is Steve Buttry of Louisiana State University.
See also the “Political Activities by Staff” module in this project.
Community involvement poses ethical challenges for journalists, Steve Buttry