NBC's Conde and others' paid board seats raise journalism ethics concerns (Part-2).

CNN would not discuss Thompson's Ancestry.com pay. A communication was ignored by the private corporation, which is not required to reveal salaries. Glassdoor said Ancestry directors earn six figures, like Walmart and PepsiCo. Network spokesperson Emily Kuhn said Thompson recused himself from Ancestry and other genealogy news.  

This April, ABC appointed longtime executive Debra O'Connell, a Walt Disney Co. shareholder, to lead ABC News. O'Connell formerly worked in sales and marketing. She serves on Disney-affiliated National Geographic and A&E Networks boards without pay.  

How do journalists handle this? It's hard to predict how journalists would react when their employer likes a company. Humans tend to avoid issues, but McBride argues that some contrarian journalists who want to prove their independence would jump in. In 2021, The Washington Post used government data to report on Amazon warehouse workers' hazards. NBC wouldn't answer questions concerning Conde, so it's unclear if NBC Universal approved his paid board posts.  

News firms like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have conduct rules that address such jobs. The Times states that employees “may not join boards of trustees, advisory committees or similar groups except those serving journalistic organizations or otherwise promoting journalism education.” Employees of the Journal “may not serve as directors, officers, advisors, investors, consultants or partners of any profit-making company or venture.”  

Other cases are murkier. ABC, CBS, and Fox News stated their news leaders don't serve on paid business boards, but they couldn't cite regulations against it.  

The staff handbook states that “we avoid addressing, or accepting fees or expense from, governmental bodies; trade, lobbying or special interest groups; businesses or labor groups; or any group that would pose a conflict of interest.” AP President Daisy Veerasingham and executive editor and senior vice president Julie Pace do not serve on outside boards, a spokesman said.  

McBride of Poynter suggested that news companies clarify their policy on outside board service and processes if authorized. “I don’t think it was much of an issue in the past,” she remarked. "The nature of news companies has gotten much more complicated that it's likely to become an issue."  

News organizations choose how to notify readers or viewers of potential conflicts. When writing about Amazon, the Post usually states: “Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.” A September 2023 item regarding workplace safety did thus. The Post knows it's watched. Trump tweeted in 2018 that “The Washington Post is nothing more than an expensive... lobbyist for Amazon.”  

Last July, Jacob Burns of NBC's "Nightly News" reported on Walmart's use of AI to stock shelves and change staff duties. Burns quoted a firm spokesman who said AI wouldn't cost jobs and a business school professor who was skeptical. Conde's NBC corporate profile discloses his Walmart affiliation, but Burns' story and a few internet items on the company did not.  

stay turned for development