March 3, 2008

Putting the "free" in free press

I know some people think "journalistic ethics" is an oxymoron, but I work for a paper with high ethical standards. Nothing upsets me more than people who ask how much it costs to get their article in the paper.

It is sad that the line between news and advertising has become so unclear.

If, every time I was asked "how much does it cost to get my press release printed in your paper?" I said, "twenty dollars in small, unmarked bills," I wouldn't have to worry about putting my kid through college.

Whenever I get this question, it puts my guts in a knot. I disturbs me to think people believe they can buy news coverage. It disturbs me still more to think that at some news organizations, they can.

I consider myself fortunate to have worked, for more than 16 years now, for a news organization where journalistic ethics is not an oxymoron, it is a way of life.

So here's my public service announcement: If you approach a news outlet and it wants you to pay to get a news story written about you — that's not a news story. It's an ad. No news outlet of any integrity will charge you for being a source.

Journalists don't go into journalism to get rich; they do it because they have a deep-seated desire to disseminate information. Or, as one of my colleagues once said, "It's a great way to channel nosiness into a career."

That's why I answer the "how much does it cost" questions honestly ("there's no charge to submit a press release, but no guarantee of inclusion"), and hope my kid qualifies for a scholarship.

Here is a speech in which Bill Moyers discussed journalistic integrity and the lack thereof.

“News is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity.” — Bill Moyers

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