It was recently disclosed in the Baltimore City Paper that the Baltimore Sun’s architecture writer owned real estate in a number of neighborhoods in which he writes about.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that if such a disclosure occurred on the business desk, a lot more serious repercussions than simply telling the reporter he can no longer write about those neighborhoods would have occurred.
Are business reporters held to a higher standard than reporters on other desks because their jobs involve writing about how people make — and lose money? The Baltimore paper seems to be making such a distinction.
But business journalists get fired all the time for such conflicts of interest — even if they don’t affect their coverage. In 1990, the St. Petersburg Times fired banking reporter James Greiff after management found out he had shorted the stock of a bank — even though it was a bank he wasn’t writing about, according to an Oct. 13, 1990 article in the Washington Post. Greiff later worked as a business reporter and editor at the Charlotte Observer and Bloomberg News, which had no problems with what he had done. Bloomberg’s code of ethics allows reporters to write about stocks in which they own, but not to actively trade them.
What would have happened if someone had discovered that a real estate writer on the business desk was investing in commercial or residential real estate that they were writing about, or had mentioned in a story? What about the whole idea of someone writing about the local real estate market even though they have a vested interest in how the market performs?
The Baltimore paper sinned by not taking more aggressive action. If it had occurred on the business desk, the writer would have been out of a job.
The Baltimore City Paper story can be read here.