National Public Radio added a May 24 editor’s note to a May 21 story to disclose the conflict of interest that the author had in reporting. The story, by Nancy Pearl, reported on “a diverse selection of books I’ve enjoyed recently.” But, as the editor’s note reveals about one of the books listed:
“The discussion of A Gay and Melancholy Sound in an earlier version of this Web story mentioned that it is part of the Book Lust Rediscoveries series, published by Amazon, but did not clarify that Nancy Pearl edits the series and has a business relationship with Amazon.”
About the book, A Gay and Melancholy Sound, the story now reads: “Originally published in 1961 and long unavailable, it’s the first book I helped bring back into print as part of the Book Lust Rediscoveries series that I curate for Amazon. It’s one of the purest examples I know of the novel-as-autobiography genre.”
In the on-air segment for Pearl’s recommendations (transcript here), NPR’s Steve Inskeep noted that Pearl “partnered with Amazon, in order to put out [A Gay and Melancholy Sound] and other books” and that Pearl’s “name seems to be on it.”
Janice Harayda, who tipped iMediaEthics off to this story, bloggedMay 21 about the lack of disclosure in the original story. Harayda, who identifies herself as “the founder and editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews” and a former Cleveland Plain Dealer book editor and critic,” wrote in her blog post:
“You expect some objectivity when you tune into a report on books by a regular commentator on NPR. You know that authors who appear on a broadcast are usually there to promote their work and gain financial benefits. But you assume that an experienced host or commentator will provide the professional distance needed to maintain credibility for the nationwide network of radio stations.”
Harayda also told iMediaEthics that she sought a correction through the NPR corrections department and is “partially satisfied” with NPR’s response in adding the disclosure “honorably at the top of the offending post.”
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She noted that when she first spotted the failure to disclose, she tweeted to NPR, commented on the article in question, “filled out the standard feedback form at NPR,” blogged about it and contacted NPR corrections. From all of that, she ended up hearing back from NPR’s Deputy Managing Editor Stu Seidel thanking her and letting her know about the appended editor’s note.
NPR’s media director Anna Christopher Bross told iMediaEthics that “NPR was certainly aware” of Pearl’s relationship to the book as it was “discussed in detail” in the on-air segment. The editor’s note, she wrote, was because “the earlier web text did not sufficiently clarify Pearl’s business relationship with Amazon and this particular series. We have remedied this oversight to the online piece.”
However, in the meantime, Harayda spotted another example of an undisclosed conflict of interest in Pearl’s work for NPR. She noted to iMediaEthics that she didn’t contact NPR about it “because this seems way too much effort for an imperfect result.”
In that case, a May 1 NPR post “Summer Books 2012: the Complete List” collected the book recommendations from various critics including Pearl. The section on Pearl’s book recommendations links to the post with an appended editor’s note and lists Pearl’s seven recommendations, including the book that triggered an editor’s note. However, the editor’s note isn’t appended to this post, and Pearl’s financial relationship to the book isn’t disclosed. Bross told iMediaEthics that since the post is “just a summary/list” there will be no editor’s note appended.
We have written to Pearl for more information and will update with any response.
UPDATE: 6/13/2012 5:33 PM EST: Pearl responded to iMediaEthics e-mail inquiry writing: “With regard to your question re the May 21 story, the fact that I was re-publishing A Gay and Melancholy Sound as part of a project with Amazon was covered in detail in the radio story, which was accessible via a link from the web story. While I wasn’t involved in editing the radio version into the web story version, I feel confident saying that no one was trying to hide anything here.”