Tag Archives: Journalism Ethics


Madison Magazine’s reaction: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we guess.”

No Bozeman (MT) TV news outlet covers the sheriff’s office as thoroughly, and fluffily, as KBZK and anchor/reporter Judy Slate.

Her reports have included Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin participating in a “cold water challenge”; attending a Washington D.C. conference (apparently with Slate); and giving a tour of a local high school.

The sheriff and the news anchor

The sheriff and the news anchor

What she’s never disclosed in her TV reports is that she’s dating the sheriff. On her Facebook page, though, Slate doesn’t bother trying to keep their relationship a secret. (I’m told that rival news outlets have known about it for at least 14 months.)

“Slate has changed her Facebook profile pic to one of herself and the sheriff, as she has posted photos of the two of them going to the Sturgis rally, as they’ve discussed their hot tubbing plans on social media, etc.,” a Bozeman journalist tells Romenesko readers.

Three weeks ago Slate did a story about county commissioners rejecting a dog leash law. After the piece aired, Slate noted on Facebook that “I got my dogs and my man in my story last night.”

Yes, the sheriff – her man – was in that news report, too.

“The TV station – the leading TV station here in Bozeman – has become a glorified PR desk for the sheriff,” says the journalist who alerted me to this conflict. “Slate gets to have her pick of time with the sheriff and her station gets notified of news that otherwise no one would have heard about, like remote traffic accidents in the middle of the night.
“Meanwhile, our newsroom and other TV stations go through the regular channels to try to get a word from Gootkin.”

People in the KBZK newsroom didn’t want to discuss the conflict of interest.

News director John Sherer never responded to questions that I sent on Monday and Wednesday – Slate and Gootkin also ignored my emails – so I called KBZK on Thursday morning. The switchboard operator sent me directly to Sherer, and he told me: “I’m in our morning meeting and I’m not going to talk to you about it anyway.” He hung up while was I asking a question.

“We figured it should be the responsibility of KBZK’s news director to talk to her about it and to coach her on the conflict of interest,” says the rival journalist. “However, the fact that the relationship has gone on so long with seemingly no ethical guidance from the news director seems to us that they approve at KBZK.”

* KBZK News

A Raleigh journalist sends the emails below – he uses the subject line, “The N&O’s sandwich Nazi” – and describes Nathan Custis as “a young, well-meaning news clerk.” Andy Curliss, who responds to the clerk’s note, is a veteran Raleigh News & Observer reporter.

Your thoughts on this “ethics case”? Please post in comments.

On Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 12:02 PM, Custis, Nathan wrote:

Hi everyone,

My wife and esteemed editor of the Campbell Law Observer, Katherine Custis, is looking for one or (preferably) two people with the N&O or one of our community papers to come in to Campbell Law School (just a few blocks from us) from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, Sept. 22, to have a Q&A with her and her staff about best practices, article writing, style and technique.
They’d like to have, between the two reporters (or editors!), a 5-10 minute presentation (something like Top Ten Writing Tips for Interesting Articles) with time for questions afterward.

The trouble is not without its perks; they are offering to buy you lunch at Café Carolina.

Let me know if anyone’s interested.

Nathan Custis
News Clerk
The News & Observer l l

From the newsroom veteran, sent three minutes later:

From: Curliss, Andy
Date: Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 12:05 PM
Subject: Re: Anyone looking for a free lunch 9/22?
To: “Custis, Nathan”
Cc: RAL Newsroom Staff

Reminder that our ethics policy generally prohibits accepting free food.

* 2.4 MEALS

* Newsroom employees will not accept free food, except under one circumstance listed below. If scheduling makes it imperative that you eat while the captive of the news or a source, the newspaper will make arrangements to pay.

At political meetings and sports events, there is usually a lot of food. We should avoid taking it when possible, and we should pay for it when it’s necessary to eat. Sports reporters, for example, often work under tight deadline, and the spread at an athletic event may be their only chance to eat. There’s no need for the reporter to attempt to pay for the food at that moment. The newspaper will make arrangements to reimburse the school or team. The exception is that it is OK to accept free food in cases where refusing it would be rude or insulting. An example would be a reporter accompanying a political candidate who is campaigning door-to-door and who is invited in for a barbecue sandwich or a piece of cake. If the reporter decides that good manners dictate accepting the food, then it is all right to do so.

I’m guessing that News & Observer journalists have been slipped honorariums for speaking to journalism classes and other groups. A lunch instead of payment seems acceptable to me.

A New York Post staffer writes to Romenesko (under the subject line, “New frontiers in ‘fair use'”):

“Am trying to figure out how the Daily News runs a whole story stolen from the Times and nobody notices. This ran on a full page [on Thursday]. In the print edition, they note that the Times plans to run the piece this weekend! They scooped the paper of record on its own story.”

I asked the Times about this and spokesperson Eileen Murphy replied:

I would quarrel with your reader only on the fact that we were “scooped.” While the Jon Caramanica interview with Kanye hasn’t been published yet in print, it was posted on on Tuesday. This is in keeping with our practice of publishing select Sunday stories in advance online.

Kanye West

Kanye West

It is surprising that the Daily News didn’t even have the courtesy to provide a link to our story when the best they had to offer their readers was a summary of our interview and select answers to questions put to Kanye West by The Times. While it doesn’t rise to the level of copyright infringement, it certainly seems less than honorable.

The interview attracted a lot of attention, including this piece yesterday in New York Magazine , which did include a link to [the Times piece].

I’ve invited News music critic Jim Farber to comment.

UPDATE: “Jim Farber forwarded me your note,” writes News managing editor/features Raakhee Michandani. “In the third paragraph of our piece we say, ‘In a shall-we-say ‘far ranging’ new interview with The New York Times (set to hit print this weekend), the man who calls himself Yeezus casts his music as a moral crusade, declares himself the new Steve Jobs and explains how his success benefits us all.’ Seems clear enough to me.”

UPDATE 2: The New York Post excerpted the interview, too, and failed to link to the Times, the New York Observer reports.

* Kanye West talks about his career and album “Yeezus” (
* Kanye West addresses the world from his summit in the entertainment industry (

Frank Sennett tells Romenesko readers that “even before the latest stumbles by the Atlantic and BuzzFeed with sponsored content online, I saw a need for an end to the Wild West moment we’re going through.” He hoped to work on some industry guidelines as a Nieman fellow, but didn’t get the position.

Frank Sennett

Frank Sennett

“I have continued to work on them” while editing Time Out Chicago, he writes. “I haven’t done an ethics project since back in the 90s, but this one piqued my interest.”

Here’s what Sennett has put together:

Proposed ethics guidelines for online sponsored content

By Frank Sennett*

Ad-supported journalism is being consumed in record quantities, but those of us who manage media companies face a stark reality: Traditional advertising dollars in print and broadcast become dimes on the full-scale web, and they tend to disappear entirely on mobile devices. Alternative revenue models, then, are key to success, but only if they follow ethics guidelines that protect media outlets from losing credibility with readers.

Sponsored content, as it is now being published on the full-scale and mobile web, differs from old-fashioned print advertorial in significant ways. The biggest departure is that, rather than passively receiving and publishing advertorial copy from ad agencies, media outlets are more often partnering with brands to create custom-content “native advertising” campaigns that resonate with readers who fit the publication’s demographic profile.

- From

– From

BuzzFeed, for instance, employs a large staff to craft brand-marketing pieces that readers will share with friends via Facebook and other social networks. One such recent post, “11 Things No One Wants To See You Instagram,” quickly drew 330,000 views on behalf of advertiser Virgin Mobile, the Wall Street Journal reported. Similarly, Forbes Media created a Forbes BrandVoice program through which brands can submit paid articles to the Forbes website. “The advertiser-sponsored copy appears in the same style and format as articles contributed by Forbes writers and editors,” New York Post media columnist Keith J. Kelly reported in November. (The BrandVoice connection is noted at the top of posts.)/CONTINUES Read More

Credit Gawker reporter John Cook for prodding Atlanta Jewish Times owner and publisher Andrew Adler to apologize for his column suggesting “a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence.” Cook writes:

A nervous Adler told me over the phone that he wasn’t advocating Obama’s assassination by Mossad agents. “Of course not,” he said.

But do you think Israel should consider it an option? “No.”

An apology followed.

* Atlanta Jewish Times apologizes for Obama assassination scenario
* Newspaper editor: Israel should consider assassinating Obama

When Huffington Post Miami launched late last month, Arianna Huffington promised to “dig deeper in an effort to tell the stories of all the people who make up this unique city.” And how many Miami-based HuffPo journalists are doing that? Two, according to Bill Cooke. He reports that Miami Herald staffers are complaining that the HuffPo duo are rewriting their newspaper stories for Huffington Post Miami.

Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch declined to discuss this with Cooke. “I’ll say what I have to say directly to the Huffington Post. There are some things we’ll be discussing soon.” Cooke writes:

Others at the Herald agreed to talk with me on the condition I not use their names.

Of Huffington Post Miami’s practices, one long-time Herald reporter told me, “Sure they link to our stories, but who’s going to click through after they’ve read the entire story on the Huffington Post?”

* Is Huffington Post Miami guilty of theft? (Random Pixels)