Are free CDs and movie passes a form of payment for coverage?

In the world of professional journalism, paying your way is the general rule. There are free review copies of books and CDs available, but its doubtful the free part means much to the paid professional. Then there's the college entertainment reviewer. The bottom of the media ladder in terms of reviews. This student doesn't have the money to buy these CDs and see that movie. They are somewhat dependant for materials, it seems, on the very companies they are reviewing. It doesn't seem like the most ethical of situations.

There are ways around these temptations though, and they seem to work well. With movies, the most common-sense answer is that movie reviewer screenings are not made for student journalists. They are often held in the middle of the day in a major metropolitan area, often making it too costly and inconvenient to see. Because college newspapers are short-lead publications, the easiest way around these problems is having movie fans or film students as reviewers. They are knowledgable about film, will already be planning to see the films when they are released. The review is a chance for them to express their informed opinion to the public, a chance most people do not pass on.

CDs are different though. Music companies target college newspapers to break new bands and look to the music reviewer to help them and supply them with numerous CDs to review. Normally included among these are new CDs from more established groups, CDs the music reviewer will probably find more interesting.

So what is the ethical problem? These CDs are not gifts, they are in essence the "news", the event of music journalism, the happening to report upon. The problem is, how much of an effect is the power of free CDs each month in exchange for reviews? There is an easy answer to this question. The editor should be the only staffer in contact with the record companies and, at athe same time, should not assign this coverage. By allowing the choice of CDs to fall upon the reviewer and keeping the companies' demands away from the reviewers the feeling of need to satisfy a record company is removed. The reviewers only involvement is picking CDs and reviewing them, nothing else.

Can you honestly crtique a fellow student?

But what about CDs for local bands, or musical and plays for that matter. There is a good chance that the reviewers will have a connection with these creative groups due to shared interests. How are the ethics problems in this situation handled?

Again, as is often the case, the easiest answer lies in the editor's hands. By keeping the assignment of local entertainment coverage in the hands of the editor, favoritism, at least on the part of the reviewers, is kept at a minimum.; as they do not get to choose what to cover locally, where they might have some connection to the artists.

Even when the decision of what to cover is taken from the reviewer, there is still the question of whether one can honestly review an artist they know. In polling college reviewers, the most common answer was to review if positive and pass if the review is negative. This covers the reviewer in personal terms but ethically this is quite problematic. To not report 'negative" news is a dangerous thing to do and it is unethical to hide information from the public. It appears this decision is more conscious-driven than ethically-driven. The appropriate thing to do would be to pass on CDs and plays with which a reporter has a connection but I realize, on the short staffs of school newspapers, that having enough reporters to cover the need is nearly impossible. There is also the problem with having reporters without any connection to the subject matter providing a lower quality of review. There seems to be a give and take of ethics in this area with an attempt at balance made, but with a use of equivocation that these reporters have not earned to experience to use.

Contact: nyhofstra@yahoo.com