The New York Times Magazine column “The Ethicist” recently responded to a question from a Seattle magazine intern who was told to pose as a reader when posting on the company’s own blogs:
A journalism major at college, I was delighted to land an internship at a national magazine. My editor asked me to post comments on one of the magazine’s online blogs, being sure not to mention my working for the magazine but to write in a style that suggests I’m a reader. That felt dirty to me. Advice? — Nick McCarvel, Seattle
My advice: Pray to the ghost of Walter Cronkite that your editor meant this as an integrity test for the new guy. (Then pray that the fact-checkers point out that Walter Cronkite is still alive.) Your ethical instincts are excellent: it is wrong to deceive the readers, even implicitly, and that’s what your editor asked you to do.
[Continue reading The Ethicist’s reply]
A quick Web search by Poynter’s Romenesko revealed that the writer interned at Tennis magazine. (Note that Romenesko does not specifically say that this was the magazine referenced, merely that the writer had interned there.)
A few lessons to be emphasized here:
- Ethics are important when you are interning, and the decisions you make can follow you throughout your career.
- A brief Web search can add many an interesting tidbit to your news articles.
- Notice how Romenesko, a veteran reporter and editor, observed two separate facts that implied Tennis was the magazine in question but was careful not to state as much explicitly without confirming it. It is a subtle, but important distinction.