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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a former freelancer I find your comments a bit harsh. I was a film reviewer, and was routinely invited on entertainment junkets all the time by studios. But at the end of the day, my reviews focused on the film. Over the years I saw some real stinkers and my reviews reflected this. Why did I accept these trips? Because I didn’t have a big paper footing my costs and getting access to the actors, writers and directors put me on equal footing with other staff writers.

Now let me take a step back. For me, the issue is whether accepting access to junkets is on par with accepting gifts or outright bribes. I would say they are distinctly different things. However, letting the outlet you write for know, I would agree, is imperative. But speaking only from my own experiences, being a part of a media junket that is paid for by a company, I don’t personally believe, puts someone in “their pocket.”

At the end of the day, I think we can all agree there is nothing inherently objective about a review to begin with – whether we are talking about film review or a review of a new consumer electronics product. It’s just a person with an opinion.

As is my reply here! Peace out…