If I were a theatre critic for a news organization and a producer were to offer me free tickets to an upcoming premiere performance, should I accept the tickets?
On the surface this seems relatively harmless – I’m sure it would be a nice weight off the shoulders of my employers if I could conjure up tickets to some shows myself, and it sure would be nice to afford for my family to go along sometimes. Besides, I like to think I’m a pretty unbiased person when it comes to the arts – my pride would be hurt too much if I let people buy me out like that.
However, I know that I am definitely not as objective and unbiased as I tend to think; and I know that no matter how good I think I am at objectivity there is just no way that would look good on me or my paper if the word got out. There is just no guarantee we could keep it hush-hush – and if word also got out that we were being extra-sneaky, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of angry people.
But besides my overly high opinion of myself and the fact that to do so would look slimy, taking the free tickets would violate several foundational ethics of journalism. Particularly at stake are the last two sets of principles in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:
“Act Independently” which reads “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “Refuse gifts, favors, fees…” and “Be Accountable and Transparent” which says to “Abide by the same high standards [you] expect of others.” To be an honorable person and journalist, I must uphold myself to these standards.