Problems with NY Times' biz section freelancer
New York Times public editor Barney Calame writes in his Sunday column about ethical problems related to a freelancer who has been writing regularly for the paper’s business section.
The writer, John Biggs, wrote two short items about Samsung for the paper last year and had taken a trip to Japan paid for by the company.
Calame, a former Society of American Business Editors and Writers president, wrote, “The freelancer who took the Samsung junket, John Biggs, had responded to the online ethics questionnaire for outside contributors in May, shortly after it became a requirement. ‘Have you accepted any free trips, junkets or press trips in the last two years?’ one question asked. His negative response was accurate at that time, according to Mr. Whitney, who is also the paperâ€™s standards editor.
“After taking the October junket, primarily to write for CrunchGear.com, a blog about electronic gear, Mr. Biggs told me, he ‘simply forgot’ about updating his ethics questionnaire response so Times editors would be aware of his conflict of interest and not assign him any Samsung stories. His editor doesnâ€™t share his vague recollection that he mentioned Samsungâ€™s role in his trip. In any case, comments he posted on CrunchGear on Oct. 17, the day he arrived in Seoul, make it clear to me that he understood the unethical aspect of junkets. ‘Iâ€™m here with Samsung,’ he wrote, ‘suckling on the sweet teat of junket whoredom.’
“Unfortunately, The Timesâ€™s online ethics questionnaire system requires updating of freelancer responses only every two years. Mr. Biggs, who in recent months has been writing brief articles almost every week for the business section, wasnâ€™t asked to update his responses before writing the two stories about Samsung products in November.”
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