By: David Noack

Ethical Issue: Reporters Sell Toys On eBay

News organizations follow ethics codes banning reporters from
accepting free gifts. But into what category does an elaborate
press kit fall?

That’s what some journalism pundits are mulling in the wake of
toy models and press kits from the recent 2001 Detroit Auto Show
winding up on the auction site eBay – and bringing in bids
that approached or surpassed $300. Among the items: a press kit
for the 2002 Ford Thunderbird that included a coveted die-cast
miniature of the hot car.

What can’t be gleaned from the cyberauctions is precisely who is
selling the press materials. Besides newspaper reporters, they no
doubt include free-lance writers and regular auto-show attendees
who lift a press packet and then seek to make some quick cash.

One seller contacted by E&P denied he was a reporter, but
believes that a lot of others peddling handouts probably got in
to the show “one way or another as a press member.”

In any event, the perception of press kits on the auction block
is not good. Steve Geimann, who was the Society of Professional
Journalists’ ethics chair for two years, said the “sale of
material” obtained as part of a journalists’ job is simply “wrong
and unethical. … When a reporter gets ‘free’ material, it’s
offered with the understanding that it will help the reporter or
journalist write a story or prepare for a story in the future.”

Garrett W. Ray, an associate journalism professor at Colorado
State University, said the press-kit controversy raises the wrong
question. “Selling freebies that you’ve received as a result of
your work is tacky,” he said, “but it’s nothing compared to the
main question: Should journalists accept perks and freebies in
the first place? As a general rule, they shouldn’t.”

AutoWeek magazine Editor and Associate Publisher Dutch
Mandel told E&P that auto-show press kits have become more
enticing. “To my knowledge,” he said, “no one on my staff uses
his or her position to secure a press kit for auction.” If they
did, he said, it would be “close to a firing infraction” for
“using his or her position for profit.”

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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