Monday, January 29, 2007
New York Times Keeps Freelancer With Massive Conflict Of Interest
I was frankly astonished by a Sunday New York Times article about freelancers and conflicts of interest. A frelance journalist named John Biggs contributes to the electronics section of the Times. He also writes for an electronics blog. Biggs took a lavish free trip to South Korea in October to go to Samsung headquarters and check out their products. In November, he wrote two brief upbeat articles about new Samsung cellphones. When he was assigned the articles, Biggs claims a vague memory of telling his editor about the trip. (His editor doesn't remember that.) So what does the Times do when this conflict becomes known? They decide Biggs shouldn't cover Samsung any more! They don't refuse to use him anymore. They don't get angry that their reputation is tarnished by a freelancer who takes lavish gifts from companies and then writes falttering articles about their products a few weeks later in the NYTimes. They don't pass the word around to anyone who asks that Biggs is unethical and can't be trusted. They keep using him. And somehow readers are expected to take the word of someone in the pocket of Samsung when he tells us that the latest Sony product has some problems and is overpriced. Amazing. It's not even a close call. The Public Editor decided the problem was the ethics form freelancers have to fill out and update every two years. No, the problem lies solely with freelancers. They are obligated to tell their editor about any conflict of interest that arises with any article. And the biggest problem lies with the NYTimes since freelancers now know they can behave unethically and not pay any price.