Journalism Ethics Expert: Reporters, Cops ‘Have Different Missions’


The Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride uses the Chicago Tribune’s decision to delay publication of details about the federal investigation of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as a jumping-off point to comment on the practice of journalists withholding information at the request of investigating authorities. She writes, “Only in exceptionally rare circumstances should journalists withhold information they know to be of great public interest…It’s actually pretty common for cops to ask reporters to delay publishing information about an investigation in progress. I’m not sure how often reporters actually grant such requests, but I suspect it’s more often than they admit.”

She goes on, “Because journalists and cops have different missions, workable partnerships are problematic. Journalists are watchdogs. Their loyalty is to truth and the audience, and their independence from law enforcement is crucial for credibility. Cops aren’t concerned with disseminating truth as much as they are with ensuring justice.” She suggests journalists carefully weigh decisions to withhold information and lists several common-sense rules in such cases.


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