Freelance Ethics

Feb 1, 2007

Hi, I'm Anya, the Freelancers Union's first journalistic fellow. I'll be guest-blogging on Thursdays; the rest of the time you can find me on my own blog, Generation Debt. Last Sunday, the New York Times' Public Editor column, by Byron Calame, tackled the thorny issue of ethics among their freelancers. It seems that two recent freelance writers failed to disclose clear conflicts of interest in their articles. One, a tech writer, had gone on a company-sponsored junket for another publication, and later wrote glowingly about the product in the Times; the other, an environmental writer, wrote about a company that had made financial contributions to a nonprofit for which the writer also freelanced. While Calame addressed this primarily as a technical problem--the Times should require its writers to update their online ethics questionnaires more often--I think it raises broader issues that are important to many freelancers. By definition, we piece together a living by working simultaneously for many different organizations in a related field. The potential for conflicts of interest is thus much higher than for full-time employees of a single organization. Calame acknowledges that at the Times "freelancers fill column after column at a lower cost than full-time reporters." In exchange for that discount, the Times loses some measure of control over what its writers do when not on assignment. Have you dealt with conflicts of interest while juggling freelance gigs?