That Awkward Moment When Journalists Must Write About Their Employer
Photo by Roger H. Goun via Creative Commons license on Flickr.
November 3, 2014

So this is awkward.

Journalists are told to avoid conflict of interest, but then are faced with covering themselves when they make news.

Like when there is a layoff.

Or when someone plagiarizes something.

Or even when their company creates a new app or names a new company position.

Most news organizations go ahead and cover themselves, wading into the nitty gritty of both their successes and failures.

But Bloomberg News is rare. It has a policy that forbids it from covering itself. That means no employee-to-employee interviews. And no Michael Bloomberg.  

Other reporters acknowledge the sometimes tangled web that can be weaved when reporting on their own company.

“I think there are varying schools of thought, and no one argues that it is perfect,” said Ravi Somaiya, media reporter for The New York Times. “Some feel it’s better that you do it imperfectly than not, and others, like Bloomberg, feel it’s better to not do it at all.”

American Journalism Review contacted a few other large news companies to see if they also decline to cover themselves, as Bloomberg does. But the news organizations contacted said they have no policy for how to cover themselves. Instead, they decide on a case-by-case basis.

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg Way, the style guide for Bloomberg News, states, “Bloomberg News doesn’t originate stories about the company.”

Although this style guide was recently updated in early spring, the golden rule of steering clear of Bloomberg-related news has remained firm.

Two examples, recently pointed out by The New York Times:

While Michael R. Bloomberg appeared on the Forbes list of world’s billionaires, he was nowhere to be found on his own company’s ranking, according to The Times.

Also, when Bloomberg announced he was resuming control of the company after stepping down as mayor of New York City, the company did not report it with a story in its own news service.

Instead, the company issued  a press release on Bloomberg’s financial terminal and website.

Matt Winkler, editor-in-chief at Bloomberg News, told The Times and AJR that covering one’s own company is “an inherent conflict of interest and no outlet does it well.”

The New York Times

The New York Times often covers news about The New York Times Company and The New York Times “thoroughly,” according to Danielle Rhoades, director of communications.

“We do not have a written policy,” Rhoades wrote in an email. “There are no exceptions to what our reporters can cover.”

A recent example of The Times covering its own news was when it announced its plan to eliminate 100 jobs.

Somaiya reported and wrote the article about not only cutting jobs in the newsroom, but also cutting NYT Opinion, a mobile app dedicated to opinion content, which was not attracting enough customers.

In an interview, Somaiya said it’s particularly challenging to cover news from your own company. That’s because readers could be “skeptical” of the reporting — even more so than they would be normally.

“You have to be very thoughtful about what you are doing,” Somaiya said. “You are not going to find many reporters who say it is their favorite part of their job.”

USA Today

USA Today also has no formal policy regarding covering itself, but there are staffers assigned to the watchdog role of covering media, including itself, spokeswoman Chrissy Terrell said in an email.

USA Today recently reported on its own layoffs.

In September, the paper laid off 60 to 70 employees in order to cut costs amid its declining print sales and increased focus on providing online news.

Both USA Today and The Times were among the outlets that provided coverage on the job cuts, as well as information on USA Today’s second quarter earnings.

USA Today, however, did not name the staff members who were laid off, while The Times named several writers who lost their jobs.

Associated Press

The Associated Press bases its policy on covering itself on the “newsworthiness” of changes within AP,  said Paul Colford, director of media relations.

Examples of areas subject to coverage? Colford said in an email that could include the hirings of key staff, product launches, legal cases being pursued by AP lawyers on behalf of the company and/or its editorial staff.

In order for the AP to be fully transparent to its global network of customers, Colford said it is important for AP to report on itself from time to time, including episodes involving errors in its coverage.



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