PREFACE: For this blog, the Columbia Missourian has asked me to share a few thoughts as I report for newspaper this semester. I’ll be updating this blog several times a week until December.
On my first assignment, I was asked to cover a fall sports press conference at Columbia College. The conference was a luncheon and my stomach was immediately greeted with the sweet smells of food as I walked into the meeting.
Representatives at Columbia College politely invited me to lunch, but the Missourian photographer and I politely declined. We didn’t decline because of the quality of the food (it looked delicious) or because we had eaten lunch already (we hadn’t). Previous journalism instruction had told us that we shouldn’t partake in the meal because it poses an ethical dilemma. What’s wrong ethically? Receiving things from a source, food or other gifts, risks the neutrality of reporter or photographer. Plus, as the saying goes, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Oddly, the whole “don’t accept food” rule in journalism doesn’t seem to apply to sports I’ve covered. I’ve often found press boxes stuffed with free goodies and, as the assignment becomes more prestigious, the food gets better. Mizzou baseball’s Papa John’s pizza pales in comparison to the popcorn, ice cream and pulled pork sandwiches provided complementary in the Mizzou football press box.
At this year’s Cotton Bowl, people in white hats served delicious fish tacos and other Tex-Mex options in a several table long buffet. There was a free open bar at the media hotel in a ballroom filled with other free food, ping pong tables and similar diversions.
Sporting events often take hours to report and can sometimes overlap lunch or dinner times so I understand why it’s okay to eat at these events. But something felt a little weird about eating at Columbia College. Maybe it was the unfamiliar environment. Maybe I felt that the one hour event didn’t really warrant eating a meal. I wasn’t really sure what to do in that situation so I erred on the side of caution.