Dear Dr Deadline 13-06-06

Dear Doctor Deadline,

I work on the newsdesk of a respected weekly business-to-business magazine. I’m concerned about the conduct of one of our senior colleagues that has upset many of the journalists who work on the desk. The journalist in question has a relative working as an influential senior executive in the industry we write about.

On more than one occasion we believe this has led to a conflict of interest – it has been made clear on some stories relating to the firm in question that our colleague does not want them published. Sometimes pressure has been exerted on feature writers to include quotes from the relative too. Is there anything we can do about it?

Name and address supplied

You’ll find conflicts of interest pretty much everywhere you look in the world of journalism. It’s just a matter of the degree.

Friendships, club memberships, even former colleagues all have the ability to corrupt a reporter’s objectivity. Of course, relatives come top of that list. But while some journalists would sell their own grandmother for a story, they are the exception.

More than one Cabinet minister of recent times has had offspring in the journalism game without it leading to either of them having to throw in the towel.

Further down the scale of influence, most find a solution. Some gladly step back from any story in which their relatives figure to save them getting an earful over Sunday lunch. A well-known former reporter on another respected business title – this one, in fact – was at one time married to a well-placed national newspaperman. They came up with a pact; she wouldn’t report anything he told her unless she got it from an independent source.

You’re right to be concerned, however, if you think this one isn’t being handled properly. The key question is whether your colleague’s conflict is damaging the magazine. If your editor knows about the relationship already; he or she may have made a judgement on whether the relative’s usefulness as a source outweighs the impact of them throwing their weight around.

If that’s not the case then you’ll need some pretty firm evidence to present to them to back up your concerns. The NUJ may also be interested if you have union representation.

Got any questions for Doctor Deadline? Or do you disagree with his advice? E-mail him at doctordeadline@pressgazette.co.uk

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