Search Results for: gifts


One Story, Several Ethical Issues #

Wednesday’s note about those free tablets that Chrysler offered to reporters generated several suggestions from folks about other recent stories I might want to share.

Here’s one from The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin:

Damn Right I Taped Kerry’s ‘Apartheid’ Talk

Rogin explains how he came to record the secretary of state’s theoretically off-the-record speech in which Kerry warned that Israel could become “an apartheid state.”

Here’s a quick walk-through three things I spotted and what our guidelines say about such situations. Feel free to flag others that I missed.

Rogin: “I got a tip from a source that Kerry would be speaking at the Trilateral Commission meeting at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. … The State Department had disclosed Kerry’s appearance there and marked it ‘closed press’ in their daily scheduling note, but had not disclosed the location. … At about 2:30, the time of Kerry’s scheduled remarks, I walked over to the meeting room, walked straight to the front entrance of the room, nodded politely to the staffer at the door (she nodded back) and entered along with dozens of other people who were filing in. …

“Nobody ever asked me who I was. I didn’t have a name tag but many of the invited attendees weren’t wearing theirs so nobody thought anything of it. As the approximately 200 attendees got settled in for the Kerry speech, I found a seat in the corner, opened up my laptop, placed my recorder on my lap in plain sight, turned it on, and waited for the fun to begin.”

NPR guidelines: “Journalism should be done in plain sight, and our standards are clear. When we are working, we identify ourselves as NPR journalists to those we interview and interact with. … As the expression says, ‘rules are meant to be broken.’ But only highly unusual and extremely important situations would compel us to be less than open. Our foreign correspondents are most likely to confront such issues. … But rather than focusing on theoretical exceptions, the point to remember is this: We do not deceive and we do our work in the open. …

“There could conceivably be a story that’s so important we might consider the use of a hidden microphone because we exhausted all other ways to get the information. But only the rarest of circumstances might merit that decision. Some of the questions we would ask include:

“Is the story of profound importance?

“Are lives at stake?

“Can the information be obtained any other way?”

Rogin: “I finished up a story from the room, and attributed Kerry’s remarks to ‘an attendee,’ because there I was. Once I got home and had a chance to listen to the tapes, I sourced Kerry’s remarks to a recording obtained by The Daily Beast.”

NPR guidelines: “We must always give our audience a sense of how we’ve developed the stories we deliver. We never hide our reporting behind opaque evasions such as ‘NPR has learned.’ ”

Rogin: “I will admit to one ethical indiscretion in the reporting of these stories. While I was waiting for Kerry to get to the meeting, I partook of the lunch buffet and made myself a plate of pork loin, chicken, and a very nice rice pilaf. Professor Nye, my apologies. Please send me a bill.”

NPR guidelines: “In instances such as conferences and conventions where food is provided as a convenience for the press as a whole, it’s acceptable to partake.”

Rogin’s free lunch may not be that big a deal, though I do wonder if legally that might have been his most serious misstep.

He doesn’t address in his piece what he would have done if he’d been challenged at the door or asked to leave. You might also have noticed that he says he had his laptop open and his recorder in “plain sight,” which he might argue is roughly the equivalent of declaring he’s a reporter.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note that Kerry’s role in this story is a serious subject. He is, after all, a public official. Should he really expect his comments in front of hundreds would be off-the-record?

We could also debate whether any journalists — Rogin says others were there — should have agreed to the off-the-record conditions and been in attendance.

But our guidelines about openness and opaque evasions are designed to protect NPR’s credibility. We would not have done what Rogin did. Right?

Have a good weekend. Thanks for reading along and thanks for the many  questions you’ve asked and the interesting issues you’ve raised this week. Keep them coming.

(May 9, 2014)


Free Laptops, Big Shrimp And #Ethicsschmetics #

So, I said I’d send out a note every once in a while. And since I’m suffering a bit from blogging withdrawal, here goes. I hope you’ll indulge me for just a minute.

Emailer ‘’ pointed me to a tweet from Automotive News journalist Nick Bunkley:

#Chrysler has tablet computers set out for all reporters. “The tablet is our gift to you.” #ethicsschmethics

That led me to this post today on Jalopnik:

“Fiat Chrysler Offered Every Journalist A Free Tablet Yesterday”

I recommend reading both the piece and the comments section (yes, comments threads sometimes do add value). In this case, the postings veer into the world of free shrimp. Some are pretty funny. But several also get into some interesting ethical issues.

Skeptics may say this sort of thing happens all the time and that this note is just an excuse to point to our Ethics Handbook and in particular its section on “how to handle gifts, speaking fees and honorariums.” What? Me? Resort to a shameless plug?

But seriously, folks. If you see or hear things you think might be worth sharing, send them along.

Don’t expect to get a free tablet in return, though. (Sorry, Marilyn.)

(Memmos, May 7, 2014)


How to handle gifts, speaking fees and honorariums. #

The people and organizations we include in our coverage are often appreciative of our work and happy to appear in it. But we don’t accept compensation, including property or benefits of any kind, from people or institutions we cover or put on the air, except gifts of token value (hats, mugs, t-shirts, etc.). If we receive unsolicited gifts of significant value, we thank the sender, explain our policy and return the item (or, if it’s perishable, direct it to a worthy cause unaffiliated with NPR). 

Of course, it’s not always easy to draw a line between a valuable gift and a small token of appreciation, and it’s not always practical to decline or return the item. In some cultural settings, it may be an insult to decline a gift or a dinner invitation. In such situations, we trust our journalists to do the right thing.

In any event, we would not let our work be affected. And we act, as always, with the understanding that the perception of undue coziness with our sources can be as damaging as the reality. If there’s any question of whether a gift rises above the token-value threshold, consult a supervisor.

In instances such as conferences and conventions where food is provided as a convenience for the press as a whole, it’s acceptable to partake. With the approval of a supervisor, we may also accept honorariums, paid travel and meals for speaking engagements and awards ceremonies, but only from educational or nonprofit groups not engaged in significant lobbying or political activity. Determining whether a group engages in significant lobbying or political activity is the responsibility of the journalist seeking permission, and all relevant information must be fully disclosed to supervisors.


Overview: Paying our own way #

NPR pays the newsgathering expenses of its journalists. We don’t allow sources or subjects of coverage to pick up the check for dinner or pay our travel expenses, we respectfully turn down gifts or other benefits from those we cover, and we don’t sell materials sent to us for review.

There may be times when unusual circumstances lead us to make exceptions. For example, in combat zones, embedding with U.S. military units may be the only practical way to determine what’s happening on the front lines. In some foreign settings, declining a meal or gift might be taken as a breach of respect.

But our journalism must not be tainted by suspicions of quid pro quo. At all times, we make clear to those we cover that their cooperation, charity or assistance – while appreciated – won’t skew our efforts to fully report the truth. And we disclose to our audience any instances in which we’ve accepted from our sources anything but information.