Introduction to Conflict of Interest:

The best way for journalists and ad/pr professionals to maintain trust with their audience is by declaring conflicts of interests. There are many different kinds of conflicts of interest, from reporting on close friends or family to receiving free copies of books, films and games to review. Conflicts also arise when reporters take positions on political or social issues. Without disclosing the competing interests a media professional may have, the public will be unable to trust the truthfulness of the reporting or advertising.

Case Study 1

After the alleged assault of Brietbart News reporter Michelle Fields by Donald Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, the reporter along with several senior staff members resigned from the news organization citing their feelings about the organization’s close relationship with the Trump campaign. Fortune’s Mathew Ingram used the Breitbart resignations to ask questions about the news coverage of a campaign after an organization has positioned itself in favor of a candidate.


Case Study 2

In 2013, the large advertising firms of Omnicom and Publicis announced a merger that would house many competing brands under the same advertising firm. Competing brands like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, along with AT&T and Verision would share advertising staff. Eventually, the merger was called off in part because of the conflicts that arose between the two agencies.

Classroom Activities:

To demonstrate just how easy it is to find perceived conflicts of interest have the students list some of their extracurricular activities. After they have listed out what they do in their spare time look for examples of where their involvement in local organizations or student groups could develop into a conflict if they are asked to build an advertising campaign for an opposing group, or cover an event sponsored by an organization they support.

NYU Journalism: Types of Conflict

New York University’s Journalism Handbook for students outlines the different types of conflict of interests that can arise while working in the field.

Ethics Advice Line for Journalists

The Ethics Advice Line for Journalists offers some advice based on examples from audience questions about conflicts of interest.

Radio Television Digital News Association

The Radio Television Digital News Association offers a guide for journalists wishing to avoid conflicts of interest.

PR Week's Client Conflicts

PR Week offers a guide to advertising and public relations agencies for dealing with client conflicts as they expand their business practices.