Here’s the latest New York Times freelancer who might get sent to the woodshed for ethical lapses — Mary Tripsas, a Harvard professor — reports Gawker.
In today’s column, Tripsas waxes ecstatic about about the 3M Company’s “innovation center,” which helps their customers provide input in the design process. Cool! Except NYTPicker has learned that Tripsas and other “innovation researchers” were flown to the center last month—airfare and accommodations gratis. Imagine the infamous Thrillist junket with less booze and more whiteboards.
This is not kosher with Times freelancer rules, which state:
In connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources.
Clearly, 3M was a “potential news source” at the time they flew Tripsas out to their Innovation Chocolate Factory, since they became a current news source in today’s column. But Tripsas, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School, is trying to work the “In connection with their work for us” clause into a loophole, according to NYTPicker:
“I am a professor who does research on innovation and, in fact 3M was not aware of my recent NYT affiliation when they invited me,” Prof. Tripsas told The NYTPicker via email. “As a professor, I am sometimes invited to speak to companies about innovation, and it is not unusual for the company to reimburse travel expenses, so 3M did pay for my hotel and airfare. I did not inform the New York Times of that since I viewed the visit as a speaking engagement that was part of my broader academic research.”
As schadenfreudian New York City writers all know, freelance Mike Albo, who wrote a long-running twice-monthly shopping column in the Styles section, lost his gig after accepting a free trip to Jamaica on assignment for someone else.
It’s an interesting game the Times plays, this ethical squeeze play with the talented freelancers whose copy fills almost every single section — national and metro generally excepted. I agree entirely with the spirit of it, and as a Times freelancer, have abided by it for years. But the definition of “freelance” usually means “I sell my skills to the highest bidder”, not “You own me and get to dictate my behavior.”
The very spirit of this code violates the way freelancers run their businesses, using their own standards and definitions of what is fair and ethical, the trade-off we make for the financial insecurity of a life free of corporate shackles, and rules. But we’ve all known or heard of writers who stuff anything they can get into their suitcase or handbag or apartment, which makes the rest of us who don’t do so, whether Times’-constrained or not — look stupid — and, depending on your ethics, these people brain-dead, greedy and up for grabs.
Does it matter to you, dear readers, if a freelancer has their airfare or meals or lodging paid for (as is completely standard in most travel writing) by a source? What do you think of the Times‘ ethics code?