New York Times Reminds Freelancers Not to Accept Free Things, in All CapsS

Here's a totally friendly memo from the New York Times that went out to all their freelancers, apropos of nothing in particular, reminding them to please not accept free stuff. Looks like someone is in trouble!

Ever since the Times defended and then fired Mike Albo for going on a JetBlue and Thrillist-sponsored trip to Jamaica, they've been firing freelancers for violating their incredibly strict ethics guidelines left and right. We can only assume that this helpful reminder to not accept the only perks that make life as a freelancer worthwhile was inspired by some forthcoming revelation of more Times freelancer misbehavior.

Full text:

From: NYT PACT/SYS/NYTIMES
Date: Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 11:09 AM
Subject: TO ALL NEW YORK TIMES FREELANCERS: PLEASE READ
To: FreelanceWriters1-NO_REPLY@nytimes.com

TO: ALL FREELANCE WRITERS

This is a reminder about The Times's ethics policies for journalists.

As you know, The Times takes very seriously the issue of conflicts of interest and other problems that might undermine the credibility of our journalism.

Your freelance contract obliges you to comply with the applicable provisions of The Times's policy on Ethical Journalism (http://www.nytco.com/pdf/NYT_Ethical_Journalism_0904.pdf ) and to take care to avoid conflicts or the appearance of a conflict. The provisions pertaining specifically to outside contributors are reproduced below, but you should review the entire document. Readers do not distinguish between freelancers and staff reporters in The Times, so as far as possible we expect outside contributors to adhere to the same standards as Times staff members.

The ethics rules outline specific requirements while you are on assignment for The Times. But because of The Times's high profile, our freelance contributors are often viewed as "Times writers" even when they are not specifically working for us. Companies, organizations and other potential subjects and sources may believe that favors or special treatment for you - whether you are on assignment or not - will help them gain favorable treatment in The Times.

Note that our rules on free travel and other free or discounted products and services are stricter than those of many publications. Even if such a benefit is not directly connected to a Times assignment, it can create an appearance that undermines the credibility of The Times or its contributors. Any questions involving such benefits should be discussed with your Times editor.

Other common areas of concern include these:

- Work for companies or organizations that The Times may cover.
- Undisclosed ties between the writer and people or institutions mentioned in an article.
- Lobbying, advocacy or political activities or contributions related to the area of coverage.

The written guidelines are detailed, but they cannot anticipate every situation. The best rule of thumb is the simplest: If you have any questions or doubts about compliance with our policies, ask your Times editor before proceeding.

When you first signed a contract with The Times, you should have filled out a questionnaire covering many of these topics. You should update the questionnaire as often as needed to keep the information current, so your editors can identify areas that might warrant further discussion. To review or update your questionnaire, please log in to the freelancer invoicing (Extranet) site (https://freelancers.nytimes.com) and follow the "Stringer Questionnaire" link. If you have questions about this policy, feel free to call your assigning editor; for technical help with the invoicing site, please call 1-800-756-3464 (or, from outside the United States, +1-212-556-2020).

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Philip B. Corbett
Associate Managing Editor for Standards

For Your Information:
Here are the policies on "Outside Contributors," from "Ethical Journalism/A Handbook of Values and Practices for the News and Editorial Departments of The New York Times, September 2004," p. 44.

152. Times readers apply exacting standards to the entire paper. They do not distinguish between staff written articles and those written by outsiders. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to The Times, while not its employees, will be held to the same standards as staff members when they are on Times assignments, including those for the Times Magazine. If they violate these guidelines, they will be denied further assignments.
153. Before being given an assignment, freelance contributors must sign a contract with The Times. These contracts oblige them to take care to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflict. Specifically, in connection with work for The Times, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources. In addition, they will publish no similar article in a competing publication within 14 days unless The Times approves.
154. The contracts' concise provisions cannot cover every circumstance that might arise. Assigning editors should ensure that contributors are aware of this document and to the greatest extent possible, in fact honor its provisions while on assignment for The Times. Any disagreement over whether a specific provision applies to outside contributors should be resolved before the assignment proceeds.
155. Assigning editors in business and financial news who deal with non-staff contributors have a special duty to guard against conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict. To the extent possible, assigning editors should ensure that
outside contributors meet the strict standards outlined in Section 12 above for the business and financial news staff.