Conflict of Interest

Q: I volunteer for several organizations that have newsworthy projects. I’d like to write news articles (not press releases) about them for our town’s independent newspaper. Can I sell an article that has to do with a group I’m involved in, even if the organization isn’t paying me?—Lisa Angle

A: Conflict of interest is scary to any media outlet. It can ruin credibility—the key element to the media’s survival. If people can’t trust you to present the news without bias, they won’t read your work. And newspapers and magazines won’t buy it.

You can try to sell an article that has to do with your organization, but you’re obligated to disclose all your ties with the publisher and, more important, the reader. What happens if you don’t? You lose your credibility and, ultimately, harm the news-paper or magazine that printed your work.

A couple of years ago, popular political columnist Armstrong Williams got himself into a big mess (to say it politely) when it was revealed that he’d accepted money from the “No Child Left Behind” pundits to push their agenda in his columns. He never mentioned it to his publisher or readers and, as the news leaked, his credibility disappeared faster than Hanna Montana concert tickets.

So be upfront with your readers and let them decide how much of your information they can trust.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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0 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest

  1. Lisa Romeo

    On the other hand, being a member can be an advantage if he/she writes the piece as first-person narrative journalism, telling the story from a personal point of view as a member as well as an observer.

    I’d be sure to pitch it just that way, so it’s quite clear to the editor what the writer’s ties are. The writer still needs to present a well-rounded piece, but much of modern journalism is now open to a first-person perspective. It could also be proposed as a reported personal essay.

  2. Leigh Ann

    This is such sound advice.

    One of the worst things a publicist, source or writer can do is not disclose conflict of interest. When I (an editor) find it out and it’s been hidden … let’s just say it’s bad news all around.