Joanna Frankel played the offbeat journalist character in ABC’s (now canceled) “Eastwick.” It’s good I watched purely for the entertainment value because its representation of newspaper journalism is way out of touch. (Nitpicking that part of the show with my husband was great fun.)
While it is true that smaller newspapers are thriving in these hard economic times, I know of no newspaper that has artistically sketched column sigs for every single reporter’s articles. You get a byline. (While we’re on the series’ inaccuracies, I’m sorry but the top reporter who just got a promotion would not be surprised she had a story on the front page. Oh, and we’re called copy editors at the newspaper–not fact checkers.)
One aspect of the show rang true, though–having a story stolen. Joanna tells another journalist about a story she’s working on, and he scoops her. While the fact that he hones in on the story doesn’t seem like such a stretch when you’re watching the show–it’s a major scandal she uncovers and the two journalists don’t really like each other anyhow–what are the ethics of this situation?
There are some shades of gray here. On the one hand, he’s a powerful journalist who’s just found out (through her boasting) that a politician admitted to corruption, and the constituents have a right to know that. They’re not friends in this series, but what if they were? Should he have still ran with the story? Should she have confronted him? She finally does, and he tells her, “I didn’t steal your story. There are more angles to it. You just have to find yours.”)
One time I talked about a feature story I planned on writing, and a person I considered a friend told me it wouldn’t sell. A year later, I saw something very similar in print–with the person’s byline. What’s kind of shocking is that I don’t think it was intentionally stolen. I honestly think this person forgot and thought s/he thought of it. I also wonder if I forfeited any right to the story because it’s an idea, after all, and I decided not to do said idea.
On the flip side, if you see an interesting article in the paper, is it OK to do your own, especially if you don’t know the writer, the angle will be different and it’s for a magazine?
I know I’m asking a lot of questions and giving relatively few answers, but I’d like to know the ethics.