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"Freebies" aren't free

Dear Coach,

I find myself struggling at times about the gifts I can and can’t accept. If I’m covering a book signing, for example, is it OK to accept the book for free? If I’m covering an event where a famous person is going to be, is it ethical to have a picture taken with that celebrity? Which gifts, perks and/or services are OK to accept and which are frowned upon?  -- Confused

Dear Confused:

The days of reporters accepting gifts are long gone.

There simply should be no “can accept” list. If you draw the line sharply -- no freebies, period (including lunch) -- you won’t slip over that line. Even someone’s suggestion of your slipping raises ethical issues that aren’t worth the trouble, to say nothing of the worth of the gift.   

Books signings and author interviews are a bit different. To conduct a good interview, you have to read the book. Most publishers will send you a review copy for that purpose. Call them and ask.

That said, you then need to check your newsroom's policy on whether you can keep that book for your own library. Your newsroom might see it differently from the place down the block. Ask.

Photos with you and Obama or Prince William or Madonna or Bill Gates? If you are covering their visits, and you get close enough for a picture, sure – shoot the picture. Hang it on your wall. Frame it. Just be smart about it. For example, if you are a political reporter and you have a Facebook page full of Obama photo ops, it might raise eyebrows.

Be smart and aware.

And pay as you go. 

About the column
Ask the Coach is updated regularly. Have a suggestion for a future column, contact Mary Ann Hogan.

Read Mary Ann Hogan's biography.

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Last updated: Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 | 02:15:31