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How Close is TOO Close?

How Close is "Too Close": Can an Accident Victim Cover the Toyota Recall?
 by Jennifer Fuller, WSIU Radio Morning Host/Reporter

Toyota logo   We've all covered stories that affect us directly.  As journalists, we have to draw a line separating ourselves from the story, and maintaining integrity without a conflict of interest.  But how do we continue to do this as newsrooms across Illinois (and across the nation) shrink?

 
February 2010.  We were just beginning to hear details of a "sticky accelerator" problem with some Toyota vehicles.  In full disclosure, I should tell you I drive a 2005 Toyota Highlander.  When the recalls were issued, I checked my vehicle's status... and found it wasn't on the list.  I was relieved.  My car was safe to drive!
 
The day after Primary 2010, I was stopped at a stoplight when I was rear-ended.  As the other driver and I exchanged information, she told me her Toyota was one of the recalled vehicles.  In the days and weeks that followed, I was dealing with insurance companies and Toyota itself, as I tried to get my car repaired.  I also talked to an attorney about my options.
 

As Congressional hearings began on the Toyota issue, a Professor at SIUC reported he'd found a way to recreate the acceleration problem in Toyota vehicles.  What a great local tie-in to this story!  But it was here that I began facing a dilemma:  How can I cover this?  After lots of soul searching, I decided I couldn't.  My listeners deserve to hear about this story from someone who is not directly affected by it.  It's the first time I've ever pulled myself out of a story, and it was a tough decision.
 
If you haven't yet reported or produced a story that affects you, trust me.  You will.  It could be a local tax issue, or a school matter that'll affect your kids.  Or maybe you know someone who's involved in court case.  What if one of your friends runs for public office?
 
So, given this example, have you thought about how far you'd go to report on a story?  At what point do you have to disclose your connection to it?  When would YOU step away?  And what if you work in a one-person newsroom?  I'd like to hear what you think.  Let's head to the INBA Forum (http://www.inba.net/forum), where I'm also going to post this story.  Comments welcome!