Brian Sandford: Ethics prevent journalists from accepting gifts
January 5, 2014
I recently assigned a photographer to take pictures of a noteworthy and interesting event, and I found myself regaled with gifts from the subject of the photos. Among them were shirts, a hat and a book I really wanted to keep.
But I couldn't. I couldn't keep any of it, so I gave it to my co-workers in other departments.
I've written before about bias being a journalist's ultimate enemy, and accepting gifts invites the not-unreasonable suggestion that a reporter or editor is trading favors. This prompted thoughts about the contract I have with you, our readers.
I will never allow people with a political agenda to buy me — or anyone on my staff — lunch. We journalists are trained listeners, and I'll hear anybody out. But I listen with a skeptical ear, always considering what's in the best interests of the public. I've lived in three state capitals and have found that the most ethical lawmakers tend to have similar standards.
I don't accept gifts worth more than $5. That's standard practice among journalists, and again, we expect lawmakers to similarly not be in anyone's pocket.
When readers criticize what we do, I listen. I care about what you think, and your opinions inform my decisions.
I will never take a job with a competing media outlet. I'm learning tons about Carson City via my job, and those lessons will only ever benefit the Nevada Appeal. I am a Nevada resident solely because of my association with this newspaper, so the paper obviously is extremely important to me.
I don't favor any political group; good journalists are professionally agonistic. The Democratic Party in Carson City invited me to speak, and I happily did so. The Democratic women's group followed suit, and I agreed but was concerned about the perception that I was biased and stopped in at Carson City's Republican Party headquarters. I expressed my thoughts to the two women working there, and fortunately, I'm going to speak to Carson's Republican women in the new year. I am not a Democrat, nor am I a Republican. I am a journalist.
I don't allow my staff to have political bumper stickers or stump for a party. Fortunately, that requires no policing, as our newsroom is apolitical. We have a smart staff that understands the importance of agnosticism I mentioned.
When someone accuses us of bias, I aim to offer a genuine reply. A reader recently called us out based on our suggestion that Assemblyman Jim Wheeler should explain the discrepancies in his residential records. Another reader said the cartoons on our Opinion page tend to be critical of our president — which, as I've written previously, is par for the course because our nation's leader will always be in the political cross hairs. These are not party-based darts. The Opinion page is our newspaper's home to bias — it's the one place in the paper in which opinions are welcomed — but I promise we're not trying to entice you with a particular political voice. My goal for the page is to offer intelligent voices and offer a different flavor each day.
Finally, my contract with you, the reader, stipulates that I'll meet with you if you'd like. My email address follows, and if you would rather express your thoughts in person, send me a note and we'll have lunch.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at email@example.com.