Freelancer Akhil Sharma didn’t just take freebies for travel articles he wrote for the Wall Street Journal; he also took a free hotel stay for an article he wrote for the New York Times, Jim Romenesko reported this weekend.
The New York Times added an editor’s note to a June 13 travel story of Sharma’s after finding out he stayed at the hotel 51 Buckingham Gate for free. In the article, Sharma named and linked to the hotel he stayed in, and said the concierge helped him making appointments and expressed interest in his research.
Sharma was busted last month for accepting freebies related to three travel stories he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, as iMediaEthics previously wrote. The Journal unpublished those three articles.
The New York Times added an editor’s note to the story in question by Sharma. The story was “London’s Legacy in the Slave Trade.”
The following editor’s note has been added to Sharma’s story for the New York Times:
“Editors’ Note: June 30, 2014: After this article was published, editors learned that the writer had accepted free accommodations from the hotel that is mentioned. Times policy does not allow travel writers to accept such benefits; if editors had known in advance about the arrangement, the article would not have been published.”
The New York Times Ethics in Journalism policy clearly states travel writers can’t accept freebies. The policy says:
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“No writer or editor for the Travel section, whether on assignment or not, may accept free or discounted services of any sort from any element of the travel industry. This includes hotels, resorts, restaurants, tour operators, airlines, railways, cruise lines, rental car companies and tourist attractions.”
Further, editors are instructed not to use freelancers who have taken freebies. The standards dictate that editors “must bear in mind that it is our policy not to give Travel assignments to freelance writers who have previously accepted free services.”
The New York Times guidelines note that freelancers are required to sign a contract informing them of the policy against taking free hotel stays:
“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.”
Following the Wall Street Journal‘s unpublishing, New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy had originally said Sharma denied accepting “any free benefits in connection with the piece,” Romenesko noted on his website.
iMediaEthics wrote to the New York Times to ask how it learned of the free hotel stay and if it will continue to use Sharma as a writer. Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told us, “We’re not commenting beyond the editor’s note.”
We’ve also reached out to the hotel in question, 51 Buckingham, to ask how the free hotel stay came about.