Erik Wemple: “Don’t write a feature story about a person with whom you have a book deal.”

From a Washington Post story by media critic Erik Wemple headlined “New York Times reporter resigns after conflict of interest relating to Michael Phelps”:

Don’t write a feature story about a person with whom you have a book deal. That’s the upshot surrounding a bit of personnel news coming out of the New York Times on Friday: Sportswriter Karen Crouse has resigned from the newspaper after 16 years of covering swimming, golf and other sports.

The move comes two weeks after the Times inserted an editor’s note in a June piece by Crouse on Michael Phelps, the retired Olympic champion. The story celebrated Phelps’s efforts to mentor the next generation of American swimmers. But as Sports Illustrated later reported, Crouse was working on a book with Phelps, a revelation that resulted in this editor’s note:

“After this article was published, editors learned that the reporter had entered an agreement to co-write a book with Michael Phelps. If editors had been aware of the conflict, the reporter would not have been given the assignment.”

That was an embarrassment to the entire newspaper, and Crouse received a suspension while the matter was investigated, as the Daily Beast first reported. She was set to travel to Tokyo to cover the Olympic Games but didn’t make the trip.

In a memo Friday regarding Crouse’s departure, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet wrote, “Karen Crouse has resigned from The Times following our investigation related to the editors’ note on this article. As we stated earlier, our journalists must adhere to the highest standards. Our Ethical Journalism Guidelines state that no staff member may serve as a ghost writer or co-author for individuals who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide.”

Erik Wemple, The Washington Post’s media critic, focuses on the cable-news industry. Before joining The Post, he ran a short-lived and much publicized local online news operation, and for eight years served as editor of Washington City Paper.

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