what does C.O.I. stand for?

It stands for conflict of interest. It’s kind of a big deal in the news business (I’m told), especially for organizations that have to put more than just one person’s name behind every piece they publish. That’s why I was, ahem, surprised at what I saw on the Crimson’s editorial page on Friday.

First, go here. This is the list of articles by reporter Daniel Hemel who, as you can see, covers issues in University Hall and more specifically President Summers. Now, go here. This is an editorial comment from the very same Hemel arguing that Summers and the University in general should look to more than just the news-dominating tragedies of the world if it intends to act as a “freelance philanthropist.” It’s a very well-written piece. So what’s the problem?(more in expanded post)

The problem is, Hemel writing this piece violates the Crimson’s own conflict of interest policies. News editors are not allowed to editorialize on, or often times even vote in staff decisions on, their news subjects. This is both to maintain a professional news relationship with the subject and with the reader. How will Summers react next time Hemel comes in to do an interview? Will Summers talk to him? Will readers be able to trust Hemel’s reporting?

It’s an interesting problem for another reason, however. Embarrassing as it will be for the Ed Board and those higher-ups to violate their own C.O.I. policies, it also raises a legitimate question about subjectivity and objectivity in the media. The American media today, maybe now more than ever (although what the hell do I know, I’m 22?), seems to be struggling to figure out what objectivity is. Consider the Valerie Plame case and the stuggles of the New York Times (a newspaper the Crimson loves to consider itself a kind of farm team for). Watch this video clip from CNN about how the NYTs struggled to maintain good reporting while dealing with the legal and loyalty issues of having a controversial reporter in jail for defending a White House source (or two). If they struggled to maintain any level of reporting, what happens to the Crimson when conflicts of interest are everywhere for them because this is a small community of friends, lovers and enemies. What would have happened if there had been no other newspaper to pick up the NYTs slack when they abdicated their journalistic role on this case? Welcome to the Harvard media monopoly.

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3 responses to “what does C.O.I. stand for?

  1. Speaking of conflict of interest, I wonder whether Andrew Golis has a conflict of interest in his anti-Crimson rampage, considering his reapplication for his column in the Crimson was rejected. Perhaps he should exercise full disclosure and mention that…

  2. Fair point, although I have mentioned that. I also have never ever ever claimed any level of “objectivity” in anything I have writen about the Crimson, this, after all, is an OPINION weblog. Hemel’s problem is not with the column. In fact, he may be uniquely qualified to have an OPINION. His future news coverage, however, is compromised.

    Do read a further discussion of my conflict of interest (in my OPINION) and the problem of the Crimson’s media monopoly, read this initial post:
    http://cambridgecommon.blogspot.com/2005/09/end-monopoly.html

  3. Jamal Sprucewood

    And as those who’ve been reading this blog from the beginning know, one of Golis’ aims in starting this blog last year, when he did write for the Crimson, was to challenge the Crimson’s “monopoly.” I don’t think the Crimson’s acceptance of Golis as a Op-Ed writer has any real impact on his goals for this blog.

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