What do you owe your newsmakers?

There’s no doubt that your approach to a story may change in the process of reporting it, but do you need to let the people you’re covering know that, too? 

For me, this question was raised by a little brouhaha involving a student journalist and her professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The reporter, Carla Babb, did a story that the John Edwards’ campaign didn’t much like.  The story focused on the fact that Edwards had set up his campaign headquarters in a very affluent part of Chapel Hill, N.C., and it included sound bites from the editor of the UNC paper who questioned that decision by a presidential candidate who says he’s an advocate for the poor. 

When the story appeared on YouTube, someone from the campaign called both the reporter and her instructor, Dr. C.A. “Charlie” Tuggle.  Here’s a quote from the AP story about the incident:

The Edwards campaign complained to Tuggle, he said, that the student had not disclosed the angle of the story and had asked for access to do a feature on a student who was interning for the campaign.

The reporter herself is quoted by the AP as saying, “she wanted to do a story about student opinions about Edwards’ headquarters near campus in Chapel Hill’s Southern Village.”

The article goes on to say:

“Was it what the campaign was expecting it to be? No,” Tuggle said. “But I don’t know that we’re obligated as journalists to tell that the focus of a story has changed.”

What do you think?  If the reporter was given permission to do a story about a campaign intern, but the angle changed to focus on the location of the campaign headquarters, did the reporter have an obligation to disclose that to the campaign? 


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