Business Insider on Wednesday, following an employee outcry, quickly clarified its position on staff donating to organizations helping pay bail for protesters arrested during the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests—even though the company previously recommended to staff one such charity last month.
During an all-newsroom meeting on Wednesday, the company’s global editor-in-chief Nich Carlson told employees that while staff are allowed to express opinions that are obvious, such as “Black Lives Matter,” the company frowns upon staff donating to the bail funds.
He asked staff to consider whether “your donation and several other donations from other companies damage your credibility, and Insider’s credibility as a news organization” before contributing.
“Bail funds,” Carlson said, “while a worthy cause, don’t pass the test.” He explained that if people found out that a portion of Insider staff had donated to bail funds, it could “call into question our credibility in covering the protests.”
Carlson said he did not believe journalists should be taking sides in a matter of public or partisan debate, and cautioned against making social-media posts that could be interpreted as one side or another. The top editor emphasized that company policy dictated that employees could donate to civic, charitable, religious, public, social, or residential organizations so long as those donations didn’t detract from work or “cause Insider Inc. to appear to subsidize or endorse the activity.”
Carlson’s comments angered some staff, who saw the company as hypocritically shying away from the moment. Several employees pointed out that in April, Insider (which employed this reporter from 2015 to January 2018) sent around an email with a list of staff-recommended organizations and charities for employees looking to give back to the community. One of the charities listed was the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.
After The Daily Beast reached out for comment, Business Insider said the company would clarify for staff Carlson’s comments, turning what multiple employees took to be a ban into a mere guideline to use “best judgment.”
“Since the meeting, Nich has been preparing to offer further clarification to the newsroom,” spokesperson Mario Ruiz said in an email. “He does not want to render judgments about any one ‘charitable’ organization. Rather, he wants to underscore with the team the need to use their own best judgment as members of a newsroom which of course needs to cover news in an impartial way.”
Most news organizations prohibit editorial employees from donating to political candidates and causes outright, but media organizations typically allow reporters and journalists to donate to some charities. The New York Times employee handbook allows staff to donate to small local charities (with some restrictions), and NPR told staff in 2015 that they could donate to non-partisan charities if the organizations did not specifically intersect with the employee’s coverage area.
Still, high-profile political figures on the right have criticized Americans who have helped pay to bail protesters out of jail. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump admonished Joe Biden campaign staffers for donating to the bail funds, saying they were “working to get the anarchists out of jail.”