Remember that NYT rule that recently cost freelance contributor Mike Albo his job, the one about not accepting free trips from current and potential news sources?
Well, it got broken again today, this time by a Harvard Business School professor who writes a regular freelance NYT column. At least this time, the company that paid for the free trip got its money's worth -- in the form of a wet kiss column from the recipient in today's NYT Sunday business section.
In her "Prototype" column today, Prof. Mary Tripsas, a business-management expert and member of the Harvard Business School faculty, writes about customer innovation -- and uses as her lead, and main example, the customer innovation center at the 3M Corporation's headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Most of her column focuses on 3M, which she describes as at the "forefront of a movement" that involves customers in the innovation process. After several paragraphs of worshipful description of the place and interviews with the executive in charge, Prof. Tripsas concludes: "[The center] has helped 3M to establish productive, long-term customer relationships."
What Prof. Tripas doesn't mention is that on November 12, she and several other innovation researchers from around the country flew to St. Paul for a day-long briefing on the center, their travel and accommodations provided by the company -- in direct violation of NYT rules.
Those rules state:
Specifically, in connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources.
Even if Prof. Tripsas hadn't written about the center, she might have been deemed in violation of the rules, which are designed to prevent freelancers from accepting freebies from companies currying favor for future stories, as well as current assignments.
But by writing about 3M after her November trip, Prof. Tripsas openly violated the NYT's rules against accepting any form of compensation, including travel expenses, from people, companies and institutions being written about.
In response to questions from The NYTPicker, Prof. Tripsas confirmed that she accepted free airline travel and accommodations from 3M.
"I am a professor who does research on innovation and, in fact 3M was not aware of my recent NYT affiliation when they invited me," Prof. Tripsas told The NYTPicker via email. "As a professor, I am sometimes invited to speak to companies about innovation, and it is not unusual for the company to reimburse travel expenses, so 3M did pay for my hotel and airfare. I did not inform the New York Times of that since I viewed the visit as a speaking engagement that was part of my broader academic research. "
Prof. Tripsas, an associate professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, has been writing the NYT's Sunday business "Prototype" column regularly since August; today's piece marked her fifth appearance as a NYT columnist.
Prof. Tripsas was joined on the junket by several other academics and business innovation experts, including Prof. Michael Lippitz of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Jeffrey Phillips, vice president for sales and marketing at OVO (a Raleigh, N.C.-based company focused on innovation) and a handful of others.
The NYTPicker has contacted NYT spokeswoman Abbe Serphos for comment.
We have also emailed Patricia Kranz, the NYT's deputy Sunday Business editor and Prof. Tripsas's editor on the piece. NYT rules also state:
Assigning editors and producers who deal with nonstaff contributors should be aware that a freelancer's previous involvements and professional behavior can prove an embarrassment. They should make every effort to insure that a freelancer has no history or ties that would raise a real or apparent conflict of interest on a particular assignment.
We've asked Kranz whether she believes Tripsas's acceptance of a free trip from 3M constitutes a "real or apparent conflict of interest." We'll update with her response.
It will be interesting to see whether the NYT takes any action against Prof. Tripsas for her acceptance of a free trip to 3M headquarters. Any decision to let Prof. Tripsas continue her column would directly contradict its decision to terminate Mike Albo as the Styles section's "Critical Shopper" columnist, in the wake of revelations that he had taken a Jamaica junket from Thrillist and JetBlue Airlines. In that instance, the junket didn't directly relate to any of Albo's columns, but a NYT spokeswoman said in October of Albo's transgression:
After a further review of the details, we do have concerns about Mike Albo's participation in the Jamaica trip organized by Thrillist. To the extent feasible, we apply our strict ethical standards to all Times contributors, and accepting free trips and other giveaways is at odds with those standards.
We're still waiting for comment from the NYT.