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Chicago reporter fired for unethical behavior

July 13, 2007 | Ethics,Journalism

Television news reporter Amy Jacobson lost her job at Chicago’s WMAQ-Channel 5 this week after another news station released a video of her in a swimsuit at the home of Craig Stebic, the subject of a news story Jacobson was working on. Stebic’s wife, 37-year-old Lisa Stebic, has been missing since April 30, and Stebic has been named a “person of interest” in the case.

Jacobson said she was invited to Stebic’s house to discuss the case on her day off. She was on her way to take her children, ages 2 and 3, swimming. After checking with her husband and her managers at the station, she and her children went swimming at Stebic’s home. WBBM-Channel 2 (another Chicago station) videotaped the visit from a neighbor’s house.

“My kids were in the car with me,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday. “It was a way for me to do my work and have fun with my kids. I never get to see them. I’m always working.”

Jacobson was reportedly fired for getting too close to the story or for briefing police on her interactions with Stebic without telling her bosses, depending on who you ask. People have been weighing in on the issue, including some journalism professors, who were asked, “Did she step over the line?” Here’s what they said:

While it is true that many journalists have friendships — often unwise friendships — the magnitude of this case, where there is a missing-person investigation, possibly a homicide investigation, is not the same as somebody who is covering the Knights of Columbus or the local Big Brothers. In this case, where it’s a missing-person investigation of this magnitude, any kind of friendship with someone involved in the story seems exceptionally unwise. — Bob Steele, Nelson Poynter scholar of journalism at the Poynter Institute, St. Petersburg, Fla.

You just don’t do that. [The reporter] may be thinking she may get better material by getting close to these people … but you just don’t become part of their family, you don’t become their friend and you don’t go swimming in their pool. You don’t become part of the story — it’s unprofessional. — Joe Saltzman, journalism professor, University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications

If getting into a bathing suit is covering the story, I guess that might be OK. She has to weigh the information she is going to get against questions that will be raised [by those] who see her behavior. I don’t know the value of the information she might get for her story. — Felix Gutierrez, journalism professor, USC

What do you think?

Posted by Becky @ 12:34 pm  

One Response to “Chicago reporter fired for unethical behavior”

  1. Tracy Thompson Says:

    I go with the Poynter guy: exceptionally unwise. Maybe her bad judgment was driven by some kind of mad thought that she could kill two birds with one stone (i.e. spend time with her kids while “working”), but even assuming this charitable interpretation, the more you think about it the dumber it gets. What was she gonna do? Take notes on a damp piece of paper? Use a tape recorder in the pool? Interrupt her “cultivation” of this “source” with “Bobby, stop splashing your brother”? Please.

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