Let’s clear the air: ‘F-bomb’ doesn’t trump ethical issue

Some people call her a hit, but let me be blunt: Charlo Greene, aka Charlene Egbe, did more than cross a line with her profane, on-air announcement that she quit. She likely smoked her journalism career.

Yes, even if she planned to get into the pot journalism business. After all, entire publications are built around it. The Denver Post even has a marijuana editor. But that position is filled by someone with extensive journalism experience and good references. Journalism on any topic still demands credibility and transparency with the audience.

Ms. Greene (who went by Charlene Egbe while she was a UT Arlington student and who worked at The Shorthorn in April 2009) exhibited much more than a lack of respect for her colleagues when she dropped an f-bomb and quit her job with KTVA Alaska on-air. Her bigger breach is in ethics: She announced, after reporting a series on the Alaska Cannabis Club, that she is the owner of the dispensary.

“Now, everything you’ve heard is why I, the actual owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, will be dedicating all of my energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska,” she said on Sunday, Sept. 21. “And as for this job, well…not that I have a choice, but f–k it, I quit.”

Ms. Greene’s lack of transparency about her connection to the story she was reporting was disrespectful to her employers and, more importantly, to her audience. Journalists on any platform should hold themselves to the highest of standards. After all, your word is your bond — and journalism is a word business, any way you distribute those words.

The Society of Professional Journalists revised its Code of Ethics in early September to address the challenges that new platforms bring to journalists, but one thing remained the same: Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and disclose unavoidable conflicts.

The reporter’s connection to this medical marijuana dispensary hardly seems unavoidable.

The Shorthorn and the Department of Student Publications rely on the SPJ Code of Ethics to guide the moral and ethical decisions its student journalists make each day. A chapter in the newsroom staff manual is dedicated to ethics. Orientation includes ethics training, which includes a thorough discussion of disclosing and avoiding conflicts of interest, treating readers with respect, and acting with integrity. We discuss how these add up to The Shorthorn’s and the journalist’s credibility with readers. I’m proud that this type of conversation doesn’t happen once a semester, but every day.

Dramatic exits from crummy jobs seem the way of the world — just look for them on YouTube, and you’ll find as many as you care to watch. (In fairness to the television station Ms. Greene abandoned on air, Ms. Greene didn’t reference a crummy job or poor management in the short clip of her exit.) But beyond the oohs and ahhs and five minutes of fame this f-bomb drops on her, I’m not sure what kind of credibility would be left behind in any field. Don’t you have to trust your dealer?

– BF

NOTE: I do not condone the use of illegal substances. I’m also trying to get in touch with Ms. Greene to discuss this issue with her.

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