Thursday, March 8, 2007

Journalism Ethics Line Challenged

The New York Times acknowledged Tuesday that in June 2005, former staff writer Kurt Eichenwald provided a $2,000 check to Justin Berry, who at the time was an 18-year-old star in a seedy network of child-porn sites. Used to gain the trust of Berry, it led to the teenager stopping his drug use and quitting his involvement in online porn.

It later turned into an article in the Times about Web sex sites run by teenagers and debate ensued regarding whether Eichenwald had crossed an ethical line by getting too close to his subject and paying the boy. Eichenwald explained that he and his wife decided to try to get help for Berry.

Even on Tuesday when Eichenwald was reached, he was in Detroit, waiting to testify in the criminal trial of a man accused of molesting Berry.

Having been on the journalism side, I consider it a competitive disadvantage for other journalists to pay a source. However, this has almost a Patch Adams feel to it. I commend Eichenwald, despite his failure to disclose the check to his editors and readers. He acknowledged that was a mistake. Hell, sometimes I don't know how some journalist can write a story and not step in. Where's the ethics in that?

There are plenty more contentious journalism ethics horror stories in the world like Sarah Lacy’s cover story in BusinessWeek on Digg founder Kevin Rose.

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