You’d expect that standards would become more stringent as one ascends the ladder of prestige, but in that regard journalism is no different from the general run of business, in which as often as not standards of professional conduct decline as the stakes grow larger.
When I was editing a small newspaper in the Philadelphia suburbs, one of my reporters asked for a meeting with me, which was in itself unusual — my standing policy for reporters was that after hiring them I did not care if I ever saw them again, so long as their stories showed up on time. I’d assumed we were going to do the usual thing where he asked for a raise and I told him no, but he sheepishly explained that he needed to modify his beat because he was beginning to develop a personal relationship with one of the people he covered. His reasoning was sound: Whether it worked out or went nowhere, he could not claim to be disinterested.
What would have happened if he hadn’t told me? I’d have fired him. And if I hadn’t, somebody would have fired me. And I would have deserved it.