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Judgment Call: Potential Conflict of Interest

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by DTSEPS, Apr 30, 2013.


    DTSEPS New Member

    OK, folks, I'm dealing with a unique situation here. I'm the sports editor at a twice-weekly, and a dear lifelong friend (groomsman in my wedding, in fact) has just been hired as the head football coach at one of the two local high schools we cover.

    During football season, I cover one team, and my managing editor covers the other. We'll switch teams occasionally, but just for a week to kind of break up the monotony, and then go right back to the regular beat the next week.

    My gut initially tells me that because of the close relationship I have with this coach, I should refrain from covering my buddy's team altogether. I don't doubt my ability to be objective or fair when covering his team, but it's a small town, and it wouldn't take long for the accusations of special treatment to start among the over-zealous parents, the busy-bodies who already think we're unfair in our coverage, etc.

    That said, I know our paths must ultimately cross. They already have today when I broke the story online. Still, I want to avoid any and all ethical concerns.

    Thoughts? Am I right in thinking I should remove myself from this beat unless absolutely necessary?
  2. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    There's no conflict of interest. Journalists are allowed to have friends. In theory, I meant I haven't tested it because there's so much internet.
  3. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Seeing the fact that there is somebody else available to cover your friend's team, then I'd think you should trust your gut. Have your ME cover them.

    If you were by yourself, then that would be a different matter, especially since you were in your job first and you shouldn't have to give it up everytime your father's brother's, sister's cousin's former roommate gets a job or is elected to some office.

    Anything could be a potential conflict of interest in a small town, down to covering a star athlete whose mother is your wife's OB-GYN. But if the conflict can be avoidable with little disruption, it'd be best to do so.
  4. sprtswrtr10

    sprtswrtr10 Member

    In my youth, I would have had the same reservations you speak of. Now 44, with a daughter that has played high school sports at one of the two Class 6A high schools in town, I look at it very differently. She was a softball player, so hardly a sport that got a bunch of coverage, even from her father the sports editor, and still when the two high schools played each other, or come regional tournament time, we tried to cover the softball teams, which go up against football in the fall (fast-pitch season) and soccer and baseball and everything else in the spring (slow-pitch season).

    A couple of times I went out of my way to make the assignment to myself. Here was my reasoning: My job has made me miss plenty of her stuff over so many years. If it can put me at her stuff on rare occasion, I'll take the assignment. So, there's no favoritism, no cheering, but when it's over I can still be a father even if I have a story to write.

    I've been doing this for a long time. I have complete confidence in my own professionalism. I've pleased and pissed off everybody in town more than once and will again, so I'm just beyond caring about "the appearance of a conflict of interest."

    So, with that, I would say to simply do what suits you and do your job, the same job you've always done. You will know when there's really a conflict. If there isn't, proceed like their isn't.
  5. alanpagerules

    alanpagerules Member

    My suggestion: Have your managing editor cover them. What happens if something major happens during a game and you're stuck in a bad situation?
  6. TopSpin

    TopSpin Member

    Have to agree with Baron Scicluna and alanpagerules; let the ME cover your buddy’s team. As we all know, the SPJ CoE states, “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” In your situation, the latter could run rampant in a small town as you detail.
  7. You don't have many options. Either cover the team, switch teams with the ME, or quit.

    Unfortunately, you should have spoken with your ME first before posting your situation here.
  8. zagoshe

    zagoshe Well-Known Member

    It seems like every week or so we get one of these idiotic threads started by someone who knows the right answer but is hoping enough other people say "don't worry, it is OK...." so that he can do whatever it is he really wants to -- which in this case is, cover his buddies team.

    But I'm not sure why this is hard.

    Cover the other team, it is the correct thing to do.

    But you already knew that when you started this thread.
  9. Unless the ME already said no for some weird reason, which gives the OP two options.
  10. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    Since you feel there is a conflict of interest, and I can see where you are coming from, don't cover the team. And if you should happen to do something related to the team, remain neutral in your coverage. Good luck.
  11. Shoeless Joe

    Shoeless Joe Active Member

    Just have one of the dozen people on the sports staff cover it. That is the solution. All papers have that many people waiting in the wings. (/crossthread) There is no WAY that a situation like this could really come up at a smalltown paper. Scoff, scoff. Tisk, tisk.

    And because someone you once said hello to in the checkout line at Walmart once thought about attending an event your paper covered before you started working there, the only honorable thing for you to do is quit your job, sell your family into slavery and commit ritual suicide at sunrise ... because that's what SPJ expects.

    If the other guy can cover it, let him do it. If he can't, just do your job professionally. That's all you can do.
  12. DTSEPS

    DTSEPS New Member

    Thanks for your dickish, presumptuous feedback, zagoshe. My intention was to gauge from an objective community of my peers — many who've presumably (hell, there I go being presumptuous ... can't win for losing) been doing this for much longer than I have — whether or not I was simply overreacting, because clearly, unlike you, I have not learned or experienced everything there is to learn or experience in this business. Sorry to have wasted your precious god damn time. Maybe don't click on the thread link next time if you can't be bothered with the questions of a journalist who's trying to reach the upper echelon of journalistic integrity and prowess you must currently occupy.

    To everyone else who had something constructive to add to the conversation, I extend a sincere thank you.
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