Reporting on your own organization

This question addresses these ethical issues:

Sometimes it becomes necessary to report on your own organization. When it’s good news, there’s rarely a problem, unless your coverage exalts your news outlet out of proportion to what it has accomplished.

When it’s bad news, however, practices vary.

Some outlets assign a reporter to the story and let her call company officials, develop sources, etc. The story is then edited like any other and not shown to senior executives. The theory here is that your organization should take its lumps like any company in the news, and the integrity of your news operation depends on straightforward reporting of your company’s own problems without high-level interference.

Many organizations, however, stop short of this approach. Whether it’s from a desire to protect the organization or a belief that senior managers really can provide useful guidance for the story, they expect stories about the organization to be vetted at a high level. There’s also the argument that a story about your outlet, by your outlet, will be viewed as an official statement about the issue, so it should be handled as such. Some publications also are uncomfortable with anonymous sources in stories about their organizations, even when their organization accepts anonymity in other stories.

One compromise is to have stories about the organization vetted by a fairly senior editor, but not by the outlet’s top news or business executives. Such an editor could be senior enough to make sure the story has proper perspective, but not so involved in business or executive concerns that he loses sight of the essential news the story needs to convey.

If an ethical lapse or some other event within a news organization is so major it requires extensive reporting and transparency, some organizations have hired outside journalists to investigate and issue public reports.

The main author of this section is Thomas Kent.

See also the “News Ventures Launched by Companies and NGOs” section in this project.