Questions of reputation
I admit it, I routinely Google myself.
I don’t do it entirely out of ego, I do it as a way to monitor my own reputation.
I work in a business where my name, face, voice and byline are out there for everyone to see. As a journalist my work is routinely commented upon and about. I believe part of my job is helping to cultivate good and informed conversation.
In today’s world an online search is one of the first things I do after meeting someone for the first time. I search the names of people in the news, of interview subjects and even of folks I meet at dinner parties.
As a reporter I am naturally curious, but I know I’m not alone. I know nearly all employers now go online routinely to search for information on job applicants. Neighbors search online for other neighbors. And of course how many of us have been looked up by kindergarten pals, high school teachers or college ex’s.
Knowing what anyone who might go searching for my name will find is important to me. I am protective of my name and my reputation. I’ve worked my entire professional life to build a career based on solid ethics, morality and transparency.
I thought about all of this today as I clicked onto the New York Times website and was greeted by a large advertisement for a Wall Street financial services company featuring one of my heroes, retired ABC News anchorman Charles Gibson.
I grew up watching Gibson on Good Morning America and was thrilled when he was given the ABC World News anchor chair several years ago. Gibson to me personifies the ethical, moral and yet insightful journalist. His questions during interviews are always fair and at the same time probing. I have more respect for Charles (Charlie to his fans) Gibson than I do nearly every other TV journalist working or retired today.
So seeing his face (and a quote from him) in this advertisement hurt my heart. Here was my hero (my role model for ethical journalism) seemingly endorsing a product in an advertisement. That’s a big no-no in the world of journalism and a line I have always been very clear about never crossing in my own career. Journalists have only their credibility and leveraging that credibility for anything other than the news itself is dangerous.
I know that Gibson is now retired and he is welcome to make a living as he sees fit. No one asked him whether he wanted to be my hero so it really doesn’t matter what I think. But it did strike a chord with me, especially this week, because I have been facing my own ethical dilemma about reputation.
I’ve been asked to write a new advice column in addition to my day-to-day duties. It is a project I’d really like to do. It would free me up in many ways to be more creative and tell stories through a more personal voice. This blog has allowed me to do some of that and I’ve really enjoyed it. Telling personal stories like ‘The killers that haunt my nightmares’ and ‘When your dad is a cop, every police death is personal’ has been rewarding and judging from the emails and comments we’re getting rewarding for you the reader as well.
I know where to draw the line. I don’t express support for a product or a cause. I don’t take a political position. The personal reflections I offer in my writing are just that personal reflections written to spark conversation and to better inform. Those are the same rules I use in my straight journalism.
Still how much does the venue for my writing reflect on me? Here at KOMO News we all share the same standards of journalistic ethics. I know where the lines are drawn and I know where I fit in between those lines.
What if this new venture is in a place that has different rules? What happens when a future internet search links my name to this venture?
What I say, write and publish will always follow the rigorous rules I believe in as a journalist, but what if the brands my work appears in do not?
Is that risking my carefully cultivated reputation? Is my good name in danger?
Did Charles Gibson ask these questions before he appeared in a single internet ad that in my mind has come dangerously close to shattering his lifetime of ideals?
I don’t know, but I do know those are all questions I am facing head on before I make any decisions that could impact my personal reputation.