How Reporter Balances Ethics With Incomplete Information Constraints - Yoav Gonen

Yoav Gonen returns to Capture Your Flag to build upon his 2009 interview with a 2010 conversation with host Erik Michielsen. In Chapter 3 of 17, Gonen, a New York Post education reporter, shares one of the great challenges in journalism, handling incomplete information. Gonen notes it is rare to have complete information, so going to press with a story requires sound judgment that balances need for ethical reporting with need to participate in a competitive news marketplace. He shares one challenge, a high school principal accused of having a drinking problem, and how he went through the decision to research, write and publish the story.

Yoav Gonen earned his BA in English from the University of Michigan and his Masters in Journalism from New York University.


Erik Michielsen:  As a newspaper reporter, how do you maintain an ethical approach when you may not necessarily have complete information in developing a story?

Yoav Gonen:  Often times, that presents a big problem because there are times when you might be getting conflicting information from different sources, and you can sometimes have an article saying, well this person said this and this person said that.  Sometimes what they say is… might be negative toward someone, and you want to be careful just putting stuff out there because somebody said it.  The constraint you have is that your competitors are probably out there working on the same story and they might be getting stronger information or different information.  There was recently a principal who was removed from a school and there were rumors going around that it had to do… it had something to do that he had a drinking problem.  So, I was hearing this at various levels and at some point it came from reliable enough sources that I felt comfortable putting it in there, but the truth is you can’t know for a100% - I mean these are accusations. 

So, you do hesitate to put this information out there because everyone that picks up a paper is going to read about this guy and read that people are accusing him of having a drinking problem and that is a big deal. You want to cross your T’s and dot your I’s as much as you can.  You reach out to as many people, you make sure you turn over every stone and then at the end of the day you have to decide, “Okay, I’m I comfortable enough with the people that have told me this that I believe them or am I not?”  And then you just got to make the decision.