August 12, 2005

New York Times Employees Must Take an Ethics Test

According to the New York Observer, the New York Times is requiring its employees to pass an ethics test:

New York Times employees have until Aug. 15 to complete the paper’s first-ever ethics test and accompanying computer-guided training. Though the exercise is a component of the company’s recently revised business-ethics policy, it is mandatory for all employees, including newsroom staffers...The materials were written by LRN, a Los Angeles–based firm that provides legal and ethical training to companies including Viacom, Pfizer and Disney. They cover subjects including circulation padding (hint: it’s wrong), bribery (also wrong) and insider trading (wrong, wrong, wrong)—but not plagiarism, faking datelines from a Brooklyn apartment, or hiring a stringer to do your legwork.

After all the practice problems, the program ends with a 10-question quiz. Staffers must complete all questions and aren’t allowed to finish until every one has been answered correctly. At the end, participants are awarded a “Certificate of Completion.” Times spokesman Toby Usnik said in an e-mail that the test is part of The Times’ compliance with ethics laws, and all employees, including newsroom staffers, are required to complete the test. Staffers who miss the Aug. 15 deadline will be directed by their supervisors to take the test. “We expect each employee to review our policy, understand it and comply with it,” he said....

Among the subtleties that could snare the unwary: It is wrong to accept a free set of golf clubs. Also, business transactions shouldn’t be partly diverted into one participant’s personal bank account.

The Observer even provides a selection of questions from the training exercise.

Too bad that the ethics training will probably not tackle the issue of avoiding anti-Republican, anti-Bush bias in "objective" news reporting. Here is an example of a question that I would like to have asked on the test:

1. Sources inform you that funds, which originated from a charitable organization created to help children, were diverted from the charitable organization to a left-wing radio broadcasting company. Which is the proper course of action?

(a) Ignore the story.

(b) Write an article covering the story, but omit key admissions from company representatives and bury the article in the back of the newspaper.

(c) Write an article covering the story, but limit your investigation to the review of articles previously published by other newspapers.

(d) None of the above.
I think you get the picture.
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