One of the cardinal tenets of journalism is not to accept items of value from sources or individuals whom you are covering, That’s what makes a Denver Post article today interesting.
Reporter Shelly Bradbury, along with photographer Kathryn Scott, reported on a COVID-19 vaccination event at the Colorado Muslim Society. The news hook was solid – the event was “part of the state’s larger effort to remedy racial inequities in vaccine distribution. There have been more than 100 such ‘equity clinics’ across the state aimed at all sorts of communities,” Bradbury reported.
But the disclosure that was added to the article was interesting:
Editor’s note: The reporter and photographer on this story received extra vaccine doses, after reporting this story, that clinic representatives offered because they needed to be used before going to waste.
There’s no question Bradbury is eligible for the vaccine according to 1B.4 guidelines, and the value of the shot is technically $0 since it is free to everyone. But as Coloradans scramble to try to gain access to the vaccine, is it ethical for a reporter to leverage a source relationship – presumably just hours after reporting on a story – to get access to a vaccine?
It appears the Denver Post is comfortable with the situation since it simply added a disclosure rather than pulling the story. I am curious where the line is, though. If, say, Centura Health offered reporters covering it access to hard-to-find COVID-19 vaccines, would that violate the paper’s guidelines?
Update: The always thoughtful Drew Kramer raised a few points in his comment to this post, and I wanted to acknowledge in the body of the post that “leverage” is probably too strong a term. Shelly is a respected reporter – a member of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team and an individual finalist for another Pulitzer Prize – and I did not intend to imply that she shook down a source. Fundamentally, my point is that I don’t know where that ethical line is. I’m genuinely interested in understanding what journalists think. I traded emails with Corey Hutchins, who teaches journalism at Colorado College and writes for the Columbia Journalism Review, and he is thinking about addressing the issue in his weekly column. I hope he does, because I’m very interested to learn what he thinks. If you want to subscribe to Corey’s weekly Colorado media newsletter – and it is great – you can do so here.