When Should Journalists Accept Gifts?


Normally, Jason Plotkin would never take a gift from someone he was covering:

For 20 years since I became a journalist, I have politely turned away and turned down a variety of generous gifts. From homemade jam made by the most adorable elderly women to t-shirts, books and even flowers. To keep a clean ethical line where I don’t put anyone, including myself, in a uncomfortable position, I have politely refused many gifts over the years. And during those occasions, if someone were to mail me something, I still couldn’t keep it. The York Daily Record’s policy is to auction off such gifts and give the money to charity.

But then he encountered a former Marine who insisted on giving him the “cover” seen above:

Something in [the Marine’s] eyes told me he wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer. And to be honest, I was taken aback. For some reason I didn’t want to say no. So I didn’t say “No.” I said “Thank you.”

He now keeps it on his desk. Responding to Plotkin’s story, Steve Buttry zooms out:

Our jobs [as journalists] too often force us to annoy – asking difficult questions, refusing pleas not to publish embarrassing information, intruding on grief and other private situations. I defend (and have practiced) all of those actions and many other unpopular things journalists need to do. But we don’t have to insult people who are being kind in ways that don’t threaten our integrity.