Reuters Journalists Didn't Disclose Financial Conflict of Interest

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Neil Collins, pictured above, recently resigned from Reuters Breaking Views. Collins bought stock before and after writing about BP. (Credit: Reuters)

Reuters journalist Neil Collins has resigned after not disclosing he owned stock in companies he wrote about, according to the Guardian. The journalist worked for Reuters Breaking Views.

A total of 53 disclosures have been added to stories. The New Statesman noted that Collins “has written about 15 different companies he bought shares in since March 2009.”

The New York Times reported the “ethics policy breach” Oct. 18, noting that Collins’ articles on BP was “the most serious case” spotted thus far because he “bought shares of BP before and after writing about the company.”

That article now discloses “Neil Collins owned shares in BP when he wrote this article; he bought shares shortly before and after.”

Collins defended himself in an e-mail to Breakingviews’ editor Hugo Dixon, noting that he “voluntarily contacted Reuters as soon as he realised he might be in breach of the company’s rules,” the Financial Times explained.  Collins wrote to Dixon that he had “made no attempt to conceal” his actions from Reuters, and “I am saddened and embarrassed by my breaches of the rules and hope that you will shortly be able to draw a line under this unfortunate episode.”

Reuters Breakingviews wrote about the issue explaining the lack of disclosure by its journalists.  The news website also noted that “We have put disclaimers in the relevant articles in the archive, where the financial interest was significant or where there was dealing within one month either side of when the article was written” and listed 21 of the articles now featuring disclosures. Five of the 21 were written by columnist Neil UnMack. The rest were penned by Collins.

Reuters’ internal ethics handbook features a section on “personal investments by Reuters journalists.”  The media company expects its journalists to disclose any financial interest that a reporter or reporter’s family “has any kind of shareholding or other financial interest.”

Additionally, reporters cannot “deal in securities of any company, or in any other investment” if they have reported on the company or investment the month prior. Among many other guidelines, basically, Reuters employees need to let their bosses know of any financial interest they or their family have in any company the employee may write about.

The full memo from Reuters’ editor-in-chief David Schlesinger to staff was published on the Guardian’s website here.

As The Globe and Mail in Canada reported, Reuters bought a year ago, where Collins was employed already.  Breakingviews is “Reuters brand for financial commentary.”  Also, the New York Times “pays for Breakingviews content” as do other news outlets.

The New York Times published its own editor’s note Oct. 19, indicating that it had published three articles which now feature disclaimers.  The articles were published June 4, Mar. 9 and Dec. 28.

As a reminder, the editors wrote that “The Times prohibits staff reporters and editors from owning stock or having any other financial interest in a company that they cover, and Reuters said the articles in question also violated its own rules on conflicts of interest. The Times would not have published the articles if editors had known of the conflict.”

Hat Tip: NYT Picker

iMediaEthics is writing Neil Collins for comment.

UPDATE: 12/17/2010, 8:34AM EST:  A second link to The Guardian was added.

UPDATE:  RE CORRECTION: 12/17/2010, 8:51 AM EST :   The Huffington Post added the following correction to their story on Reuters’ journalists undisclosed conflicts:

“Note: An earlier version of this post stated, based on a Guardian report, that Reuters was also investigating two other commentators for similar ethical breaches. Reuters says this is not the case, and The Guardian has updated its story to reflect that fact. We have removed that sentence from this post.”

iMediaEthics  removed the names of the two journalists as well but will be writing to Reuters, the Reuters journalists cited and The Guardian to get the back story. Why did Reuters mention other journalists and add disclaimers to their stories?


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Reuters Journalist Neil Collins Quits, Didn’t Disclose Financial Conflict of Interest

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