By David Ozar and Casey Bukro
Freelancing is a tough way to make a living – even tougher as downsized journalists turn to freelancing.
For writers specializing in health care, it’s especially challenging because of the ethics issues faced in navigating the cross connections between clients who want stories written for them or about them. Or both.
“Ethical guidelines for subspecialties may vary,” Tara Haelle in an email exchange with the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.
A freelancer herself, Haelle traced the obstacles in a story that appeared on the Association of Health Care Journalists website.
Haelle calls it the conflict-of-interest maze: “Ensuring that work for one client doesn’t create a conflict for another, present or future.” Though that might sound simple, Haelle said it isn’t because freelancers work for companies, journalism publications, universities and foundations or as consultants.
Haelle went to several sources, asking how she can avoid ethical conflicts of interests under the conditions in which she works and found that ethical guidelines vary. One source said “there’s no clear answer.” Another said journalists should “decide for ourselves what we think is ethical behavior.”
That sounded like a challenge for the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, which has a staff of five university ethicists to answer questions of the kind posed by Haelle.
One of them, David Ozar, is professor of social and professional ethics in the department of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. AdviceLine asked Ozar to read Haelle’s story and offer his perspective on how he would have answered her call for guidance on ethics.