Is it unethical for a reporter to cover a story they were involved in firsthand?

Say a volunteer firefighter rescues someone from a burning house, then writes about it for his second job as a freelance reporter? Is that unethical?

And if so, would it also be wrong for Clark Kent to write about Superman? Seems fraudulent in some way.

I would say yes.

My major in college was journalism…I’ve worked in TV. Get someone else to cover the story. Chances are, the person involved in a “scene” like that would not have a chance to write, since the press usually shows up before the fire is out.

Clark Kent is breaking some journalistic ethics by covering stories Superman is a part of.

Anecdotal - while in TV, there were several occasions where someone was directly or indirectly involved in a story. Relatives, etc. One story involved some political crap in a police department. The officer involved was married to someone at the station, not a reporter, not in news at all really, but kind of high up. The station knew this and reported the officers relationship to someone at the station.

If they don’t, another station/paper will, then it just looks like a cover up.

I’m sure someone with first hand knowledge will comment shortly. But I think its fine, as long as they declare their involvement in it.

If Peter Parker did it, we can too! And of course there’s Hunter S. Thompson and gonzo journalism.

Purely IMHO (can there be a factual answer to this question?):

On one hand, if you’re presenting it as regular news without some sort of disclaimer, there’s a clear conflict of interest that your readers may not be aware of: You’re (presumably) favoring your side of the story over other perspectives, and everything you saw would have undue weight and detail in the story because you saw them more vividly with your own eyes. A really good reporter might be able to minimize that bias if he or she tried really hard to interview other participants and document other perspectives, but I can’t imagine that being easy…

On the other hand, if the story were clearly labeled as a first-person event, I don’t see why it’d be any more unethical than autobiographies, travelogues, or editorials. It just has to be clearly indicated that the writer and story subject are the same person, and there should be no suggestion that the piece is independent and unbiased. It can’t be.

One more thing to consider: It seems that society has decided that sometimes that best way to arrive at some semblance of truth IS to have people document their stories in first person, but only when both or all sides get a chance to make their case along with an independent 3rd party acting as a moderator in the middle ground. Witness court cases, debates, election pamphlets documenting new measures, etc. You gain an amount of detail that the moderator alone can’t provide, and what you lose in independent objectivity you gain from the sum of opposing perspectives. There are even would-be news sites like Opposing Views that use this system.

To add: it just looks better for the publication to have someone completely detached from the story to report it. Someone more objective.

Say the firefighter didn’t save the person. Maybe they’d made an error in protocol. Aside from the fact that they may not want to relive it and right about a failed effort, they might be more inclined to omit things that may be incriminating.

Also, if you do rescue someone for a burning house, and are a hero, why toot your own horn? Seems arrogant. Someone else will toot your horn for you.

Depends on the kind of reporting being done. If he’s got firsthand knowledge of what happened at the fire, that should be included, but it’d be preferable for the article to be written by someone else, with the firefighter/reporter getting credit for contributing. If it’s a column about what happened, again, there’s no conflict. If the guy is specifically writing about himself it’s an issue, but there’s no prohibition about using firsthand knowledge in your reporting. In any case it needs to be disclosed that the reporter or contributor is a firefighter.

That IS fraudulent. Kent’s pretending not to be Superman and is pretending to be objective, and he doesn’t disclose it.

I don’t really see a problem with the station covering the story and interviewing their coworker.

It’s a lot like the phone interviews you see on air, where the reporter gives a live play by play of the scene while it is active.


Anchor: We go live to reporter Joe Blow, who happens to be a volunteer firefighter for Happytown FD. Joe, what can you tell us?

Joe: Rita, I was watering the plants in my yard when I saw smoke spewing from my neighbor’s bungalow. I called for back up, got dressed and ran over. I was able to locate both of my neighbors and their dog and pull them out to safety. They are being treated on scene for minor burns and smoke inhalation. They seem to be in okay condition, just shaken up a bit.

Anchor: Can you tell us what caused the fire?

Joe: No word on the cause, but we hope to bring you more information as it becomes available. In Happytown, Joe Blow, WXYZ News.

Did Clark Kent ever actually report on the doings of Superman, though? It seems to me that he always disappeared for some reason or other before Supes showed up, leaving Lois to get the scoop. If he had written a story when Lois had seen that “Clark Kent” wasn’t present, it would have let the cat out of the bag.

Now, Peter Parker did cover the doings of Spider-Man, but on the convenience scale, he wasn’t always accompianied by an investigative reporter who would notice that the only camera on the scene was webbed to the side of a building and set on a shutter timer. And on the ethical scale, one might perhaps argue that photographs are less inherently biased or biasable than words.

FWIW, the TV and movie stuff I have seen portrays Kent as missing the story and invariable Lois gets the story and Clark is a doofus for having left to go tinkle all the time.

Chronos used his mastery over space time to pre-post me. I swear I had posted mine first.

I’m sure things have changed at various times in the 60+ years, but in every earlier incarnation of Superman in the comics, Clark got his reputation as a great reporter by being the first or only one to cover Superman’s exploits.

He always had some explanation as to how this was possible that fooled everybody.

The key is disclosure. If you tell the reader/viewer your involvement in the story, then they can judge for themselves how credible and unbiased the story is. Failure to disclose is the ethical question here, not reporting a story you’re involved in.

That said, most old-school media outlets prefer to have another reporter do the bulk of the actual reporting of such events.