News should learn from Krista Erickson

CBCgate

CBC announced today that reporter Krista Erickson has been punished for breaking journalistic ethics in the most horrible way possible: They’re sending her to Toronto.

In what Jonathan Kay calls Pablogate, and Mario Asselin calls CBCgate, and is really not a gate at all, Erickson fed questions to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez about Brian Mulroney’s connection to the current Conservative Party, which Rodriguez asked Mulroney during the Mulroney/Schreiber inquiry over the Airbus affair.

Through this story there’s been a lot of outrage but not much analysis of what exactly went wrong here. The CBC says there was no partisan or unethical intent, and I believe them. It was an unconventional method of getting answers to tricky political questions.

What this story is more indicative of, however, is the amount of informality in beat reporting. It’s nothing new. Reporters and the people they report on have been chummy for decades. That’s how they get the scoops, how they know what’s going on, how they get access to important people.

But the downside is that there can be a perception of partiality when there’s the slightest hint of cooperation between the two. It’s a real problem, and it needs to be tackled in a realistic way by news organizations rather than arbitrarily decided on a case-by-case basis when someone complains.

News organizations should learn from this incident, and update their codes of ethics to cover the problems inherent in beat reporting. The paragraphs the CBC quoted in their statement are far too vague. At the very least, add this situation as an example of what not to do.

UPDATE (Jan. 23): The CBC News Editors Blog discusses the subject without mentioning Erickson’s name (what are we, idiots?). Though it talks briefly about the problems of becoming part of the story and the need to be “inside” while still staying objective, it fails to go into depth about the familiarity problem other than to deny it exists.

Meanwhile (via the Tea Makers) Facebook groups supporting and against Erickson have popped up. Do I even have to point out that the pro-Erickson group was started by a Liberal Party activist and the anti-Erickson group by a Mike Huckabee-supporting Tory?

8 thoughts on “News should learn from Krista Erickson

  1. Mario Asselin

    I don’t really know if it’s a «gate»… I’am following this since mid of december through the blogging tories. I wonder if CBC would proceed that way with Krista if the bloggers has not put pressure? What do you think about this issue as blogger? as journalist? From Quebec, there was no coverage on that «gate» and I think it’s a case of the power of the blogophere, the kind of power that we don’t have in our blogosphere in Québec… I’m curious to get your point of view about this…

    Reply
  2. Fagstein Post author

    I think this had more with the Conservative Party than the power of bloggers.

    I’d also like to think that the power of bloggers can be used on issues more important than whether a politician got ideas from a journalist.

    The pressure certainly was responsible for them publicizing their decision, and I would argue it was probably also responsible for them making it in the first place. It’s unfortunate that big media don’t investigate these things until people formally complain about them.

    Reply
  3. Mario Asselin

    Well… it was not a simple idea… She suggested a question to embarassed an ex prime-minister and probably a party, don’t you think?

    Probably you’r right that PC was in cause on the spin but I observed that blogging tories has made a great job for their cause.

    Reply
  4. Lenny

    I know it is off-topic, but I wouldn’t mind wanting to work at the CBC but I don’t mind being controlled whatsoever.

    I’ve graduated with a political science degree at Carleton University not too long ago and I’ve been trying to find a job.
    I wonder if applying a job at the CBC is difficult or not? Bias is not a big deal, I just need to find work. :)

    I apologize if I made a not so good comment.

    Reply
  5. Fagstein Post author

    If your primary concern is editorial control, the CBC is probably among the better companies to work for. They’re very liberal and hands-off when it comes to editorial freedom of employees. In fact, there’s an officially-sanctioned blog that’s routinely critical of the corporation.

    There are negative parts to working for CBC too (notably their treatment of “casual” employees).

    It really comes down to what you mean by “controlling.” Any company has rules for its employees, including a requirement that they remain loyal so long as they’re employed.

    Reply
  6. Richard

    Fired to be made an example of?? That’s extreme. Erickson is undeniably one of the best on Canadian television. To deny her the right of her talent would be extreme, unfair and a bad move for CBC. Know anything about ratings???

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Fagstein » CBC Ombudsman clears reporter Erickson

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