Caution, We brake for yard sales in newsroom

April 17, 2005|by JAKE WOMER

The U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and United Parcel Service have been kind to me. They bring me the coolest oddities.

I've opened boxes to find organic lemonade, oodles of cereals, a Star Wars card game, CDs, DVDs, stacks of books, liquor, strange sodas and barbecue accessories, but my favorite surprise was a banana tree sent by a marketing arm of a banana company.

This is amazing clutter. The little arm and hook are set up to suspend bananas about an inch or two above the counter or shelf. It's not as if the gadget saves counter space or has an apparent useful purpose. But you can bet it would present bananas in a more fashionable light. It's like giving the fruit its own stage.

I kind of wanted it.

Well, once all that ran through my head, I escorted the banana tree to what we in the newsroom call the yard-sale drawers - the destination of all the mass-marketed freebies we receive. When the drawers are full, we have a table sale in the building. Employees can buy the goods with the understanding that the funds raised go to charity.


It's part of our ethics code. We cannot accept gifts or fees from a person or entity that we cover.

The simplest things - even a silly banana tree - can strip us of our credibility, something no newspaper can afford to go without. It's essential that readers have confidence in their news source and that we do what it takes to build the trust that comes with that.

We strive to be truthful and accurate, and we need to maintain the integrity that goes along with that. The idea goes hand in hand with our correction policy: When we make an error, we fix it.

In the features department, we receive loads of mail from companies marketing new foods and products. We don't want to incur the cost of sending the stuff back. Thus the yard sale.

Locally, we are obligated to return gifts. We also decline free tickets to events, and we pay our own way for our meals.

Most such offers are out of kindness, gratitude for the work we've done to tell someone's story. We understand that most people are being polite. And we truly appreciate the sentiment. It's awkward to turn down cookies that a reader has baked for you, but this is a necessary policy without a gray area.

We'll accept books and CDs from local people to do a story about their work, but we return or donate them when the story is done.

It's a really simple decision to make: Is this concert ticket or gift worth my integrity?

That's easy to answer, but it leaves me with another question: Where can I buy a banana tree?

Jake Womer is Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2340, or by e-mail at

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