Newsweek Let Some Staff Take Freebies in the Past

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BetaBeat reported that former Newsweek writer Jerry Guo accepted “free flights, hotel stays and merchandise” for story coverage.

Guo has “more than 30 pieces” on Newsweek‘s website.  He previously contributed to Newsweek’s “The Good Life” section and just “launched” a company called Grouper. Guo is quoted describing the section as “advertorial content that [Newsweek] would pair with some really expensive ads.”  BeatBeat noted that Guo stopped writing for Newsweek at the end of 2010.

According to BetaBeat, Guo stated:

“Sometimes if I wanted to make a trip work, I would just figure out a way to get The Good Life involved.  So I wanted to go to Tibet and report on the conflict there with China. You couldn’t get into Tibet from the Chinese side, so I just called up this ridiculous yoga retreat on the Indian side, told them it was a piece for The Good Life, they let me stay for free and next thing you know, I’m talking with the Dalai Lama about human rights.”

As Betabeat noted, Newsweek‘s ethics policy doesn’t allow its journalists to have freebies, but the section Guo worked for at the time was allowed an exception.   Betabeat reported that Newsweek‘s Fareed Zakaria stated the section was allowed an exception since it helped “attract new advertisers.”

Zakaria called the exception a “mistake,” and is quoted by Betabeat as saying:  “I relaxed our rules on this stuff for those two pages. In retrospect, it was a mistake—my mistake—and I regret it. We should not have been in the business of covering luxury goods—that world is so different from the traditional world of news reporting. I was always uncomfortable with it but was trying to help to help the magazine survive through tough economic times.”

Guo also has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Betabeat noted that Newsweek is “sorting through” numerous complaints regarding Guo, including from a CEO who Guo interviewed without a story assignment and without producing a story.

According to the New York Times’ ethics policy, writers may not “accept free or discounted services or preferential treatment from any element of the travel industry.”  StinkyJournalism wrote to the New York Times to ask if this disclosure that Guo accepting freebies will affect any future writing with the newspaper or his previous work for the newspaper.

The Times’ Danielle Rhoades-Ha responded to StinkyJournalism via e-mail:

“Jerry Guo has not contributed to The Times since 2009, and we do not expect any further contributions. We are not aware of any problems with the small number of items he contributed in 2008 and 2009.”

Guo published an apology on Tumblr for pretending to interview that CEO, Ignighter’s Adam Sachs, when he was really “under false pretenses” learning about the company.  Read Betabeat’s full story here.

In a follow-up story, Betabeat noted that a former editor of Guo’s, Gadling’s Grant Martin, told Betabeat that Guo was “removed” from Gadling’s group of bloggers because he was “trying to work our system, squeeze us for more money and earn free travel.”

Gawker wrote that despite Guo being described as an intern for Newsweek, Guo states that he “was a staff writer who spent almost a year and a half at the magazine.”  He noted that he was allowed to accept “press trips…under our editorial policy.”   Newsweek, however, denied Guo’s claims, saying:

“Jerry Guo was never a ‘staff writer’ with Newsweek International. He joined as a fellow – essentially an intern – whose association with the magazine was terminated with the Newsweek – Daily Beast merger.”

StinkyJournalism sent Guo an e-mail asking for comment and will update with any response.

Hat Tip: Poynter

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Newsweek Let Some Staff Take Freebies in the Past

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