Should Working Journalists Also Be Media Trainers?
According to The Toronto Star, a Toronto news anchor has been suspended due to concerns about a possible conflict of interest:
“Global Television news anchor Leslie Roberts has been suspended from the network after a Toronto Star investigation found he is secretly the part owner of a small public relations firm whose clients — lawyers, small businesses and others — appear on his show.
Roberts helps clients with pitches and media training and has tweeted positive comments about some of the clients to his 20,000 followers on Twitter. In one instance, during a morning show on which supermarket shopping was being discussed, he blurted out the name of one of his firm’s clients and suggested viewers “check it out.” At no time did he disclose to viewers his connection to the companies or his public relations firm: BuzzPR.”
“‘At Global News we take matters of journalistic integrity very seriously,’ Global spokesperson Rishma Govani told the Star. ‘Mr. Roberts has been suspended from his duties indefinitely as we conduct a full investigation into this matter.'”
The Star presented its findings to Roberts early this week. Roberts said he had done nothing wrong but would resign from BuzzPR, the public relations firm he owns with a partner.”
This post isn’t specifically about Mr. Roberts. Instead, I want to use this incident as a launching pad to a broader question: Should working journalists simultaneously serve clients as media trainers?
That’s not a theoretical question. I’m aware of firms who boast that their media trainers are working journalists. (I’m not disparaging those firms—at least one I know of that employs working journalists has a terrific reputation.)
From a client perspective, I can see the advantage of working with someone who’s still in the game. But how about from a journalism ethics perspective?
I suppose there are some exceptions for journalists who don’t train clients who fall within their coverage area. A sports reporter who trains a lifestyle expert, for example, probably wouldn’t raise too many flags—although I wonder if even that comes at too great a risk to the public perception of their journalistic neutrality.
But a general interest reporter who might be called upon to report on one of the people or businesses he or she has trained? How is that even remotely appropriate?
UPDATE: JANUARY 17, 2015
Mr. Roberts has resigned from Global Television. In a resignation letter, he wrote:
“I am resigning my position as News Anchor and Executive Editor of Global Toronto effective immediately. I regret the circumstances, specifically a failure to disclose information, which led to this outcome.
Over the past 15 years, I have worked within a news organization and among colleagues who are the best in the business. For that privilege, I will always be grateful.