In an Op-Ed at the New York Times, the public editor Clark Hoyt comments about the firing of three freelancers that had potential conflicts of interest:
These cases illustrate how hard it is for The Times to ensure that freelancers, who contribute a substantial portion of the paper’s content, abide by ethics guidelines that editors believe are self-evident and essential to the paper’s credibility but that writers sometimes don’t think about, or don’t think apply to their circumstances, or believe are unfair or unrealistic. Some writers do not read the guidelines carefully, and although they are encouraged to raise possible conflicts of interest with an editor, some don’t tell and are not asked.This is one reader's reaction:
Times editors reject such arguments because, to them, the most important consideration is that everything in the newspaper, no matter who produces it, must be free of even the smallest hint of undue influence. “I think it is important for us to be clear and strict about our rules so readers have reason to trust our credibility,” Corbett said.
Any one familiar with the paltry compensation paid to freelancers, has to wonder how the Times feels that it is right to make it so hard for these writers to actually make a living. I was particularly struck by the plight of the young writer just "two years out of college." whose articles I have actually seen with some frequency on your sports pages. He appears so often I thought he was a staffer. So now after exploiting him shamelessly by using him like a staffer (presumedly for peanuts) you commit the ultimate shameless act by destroying his reputation in the interests of writing a more interesting, and very self serving, piece in the Sunday edition.I think that the regulars and the op-eds are as much prone to conflicts of interest, with more harmful consequences, as for instance this anti-google propaganda. As many readers suggested a simple but clear COI disclaimer might be a good start.
For me, the very ethics of your piece raise serious questions. Does the Times have the right to ruin people it barely pays in the interests of repairing the damage caused by its own genuinely serious ethics lapses in the past. In my view, none of the cases that you describe rise to the level of justifying the personal destruction that such a piece will have for their lives. If they don't meet your standards- fire them- it's your paper. But this article was reckless and cruel.