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Anecdotes, Ethics, Newsroom culture, Personal, Print journalism

Friendly favors or manipulation?

“You’re such a manipulator,” my husband told me the other day. He didn’t say it during a fight or any other negative circumstance. I don’t even believe he meant for it to be mean. It was just a blatant statement of his opinion. What I found more surprising is that I didn’t take offense to the comment or even disagree.

I have a tendency to “play the game” when it comes to getting things I want. I meet sources, tend friendships and hope that at some point, like finding a prize at the bottom of a box of delicious cereal I was going to enjoy anyway, some awesome benefit just comes with it.

That old adage, “I’ll wash your back if you shave mine,” or however it goes, fits what I do pretty well.

I’m not sleeping with my sources or even romancing them. Can I see where that could become an issue? Absolutely. When you intimately pick the brain of another person, you have to give up some of yourself as well. In doing that, if you open up enough and the other individual does too, it doesn’t seem like it would be that far of a stretch—especially with repeated contact or in depth research with one particular source.

It’s here we reach the ethics battle. Here’s a good example of what can happen if you don’t guard yourself while trying to bring your source’s guard down. Poor Suzy.

Yeah, that's right. She was an editor. Go get'em boss!

I strive to keep my ethics about me, and I always make conscious attempts to help people with whatever I can; however, every once in awhile, I get a little something back. So far, that has not included divorce, a new job or way negative press from a competitor, so hey, I think I’m doing pretty well for myself.

Never ever do I want to be accused of bending a story with bias to one side or the other, but I think that if that accusation comes about, I’m doing something totally in the wrong fashion.

Journalists are either lying or not good at what they do if they say they don’t slant stories. Any good journalist knows the use of certain individual words can slant a story to the positive or negative.

Check out this article from Rhetorica.net. Bias is everywhere, but we just have to be biased equally. Get it?

Are we doing wrong by using the word “murdered” versus the word “slaughtered”? Sometimes, I think so. We’re the shepherds of public opinion, and sometimes, we have to get people in the right pasture and keep them away from the wolves.

If I keep the right sheep away from the wolves at the right time, all without being unethical, I see nothing wrong with seeking a favor in return at a later time.

I’m sure some journalists would disagree with me, claiming we should never do anything to slant the situation, but I say, if you can’t play both sides to your benefit, you need to think about where you are in your career.

I’m shameless. I’ll buy a source a coffee and lunch to talk outside of the office to get them to open up. I’ll bake cookies and make goody bags for city administrators and their secretaries just to have that edge over threatening an FOI. Is it unethical? I don’t think so. Is it manipulation? Meh, maybe to an extent, but as long as they come back friendly later, I don’t think I’ve done any harm.

But hey, if I’m charismatic enough that you’re comfortable to compromise your marriage to be with me…I’m flattered.

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About lmartin2011

A 2010 graduate from Southern Arkansas University, Lauren earned a bachelor's degree in digital media production and was "drawn to the dark side" of print journalism in 2007. She lives in Magnolia, Ark., with her husband and micro zoo.

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