Why Some Media Members Need an Ethics Refresher
Spend enough time around the professional poker circuit and you’ll quickly realize that it’s a very small and incestuous group. Players and media members spend hours, days and sometimes weeks together in casinos and card rooms around the world and, as expected, the close quarters inevitably lead to friendships (and, sometimes, more) between the two groups.
This is perfectly normal and, quite frankly, not a big deal in most cases. A poker pro sharing a drink or a meal with a player can be beneficial for both parties. And, so long as clear lines are kept between professional and personal relationships, there’s no real issue. When the lines are blurred, however, things become less clear.
Whether or not friendships affect reporting is irrelevant, because it’s the perception of impartiality that matters. If people paid to report on poker can’t separate personal feelings and biases from the stories they’re covering, how can anyone trust what they say or write?
We’re only a couple of weeks into this year’s WSOP and I’ve already seen plenty of instances where the line hasn’t just been blurred, but erased completely. Specifically, I’m referring to the increasing and increasingly annoying practice of poker journalists openly rooting for their friends during individual events.
Tackiness aside, this practice just makes the offending journalists look unprofessional. And maybe they are. The fact is, many of the reporters on the poker beat are young, inexperienced and have little, if any, professional journalism training. For many, these low-paying gigs are their first post-collegiate jobs and are merely a way to make some money in an industry they enjoy while they look for something better.
They don’t understand the importance of impartiality – or at least, the importance of maintaining the appearance of impartiality – because they’ve never been taught that journalists are supposed to remain objective about the stories and people they’re covering. Of course, this isn’t always easy or possible, but true professionals do everything they can to separate their personal feelings from the story they are reporting on. And, if they can’t, the good ones do their best to make their biases clear to their readers, viewers or listeners.
Take Maria Ho’s final table in the $5K No-Limit Hold ‘em tournament last week. While a number of journalists used their Twitter accounts to publicly root Maria on during the event – even as some of them were reporting on the action – others, like Change100, did the right thing and made it clear that they were not acting as media while sweating Maria. From her Twitter stream; “The badge is off for a while – railing @mariaho in the final four of the $5k NL. She just doubled through Allen Bari. Go Ho!”
All well and good, I can hear you saying, but at the end of the day, isn’t Change’s declaration overkill? Media members rooting on their friends is no big deal and it has nothing to do with real news.
Look at what’s going on in the poker world at the moment: the top three sites have been indicted by the DOJ, players are bitching about the fact that they can’t get their money off of Tilt, pros are suing their sponsors and skipping the WSOP, etc., etc., etc. These issues affect many of the pros that media members call friends and could possibly color their reporting of specific events.
And, in the end, whether or not friendships affect reporting is irrelevant, because it’s the perception of the reporter’s impartiality that matters. If the people who are being paid to report on the poker industry can’t be trusted to separate their personal feelings and biases from the stories they’re covering, how can anyone trust what they say or write?
Take me, for example. Some of you probably know that I used to work for one of the major online poker sites. Some of you don’t. Unless you know me personally, you probably don’t know which site I used to work for and, from reading what I write here, you should – ideally – never be able to figure that out. And, while I occasionally address issues surrounding online poker, I never, ever write or comment on anything specifically related to my former employer.
Why, you ask? Because I know a lot of people who still work at the company and I have a vested interest in seeing the business and the people running it succeed. In short, there’s a chance that I may not be able to report on the issues surrounding my former employer in an impartial or unbiased manner, so it’s best for me not to put myself in a position where my credibility can be questioned.
Sure, rooting for your friends when they go deep in a tourney is a “minor” ethical infraction in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons why it shouldn’t be done. However, if you must play cheerleader, have the good sense not to do it publicly on Twitter.
Jon Katkin is a Pokerati contributing editor and industry veteran who writes about his personal poker at Chaos Theory. He’s impervious to your flames @JaKatkin.