Journalism professors lash out at Winnipeg media for taking IKEA freebies

There's nothing like a little controversy leading up to the holidays. 

Former journalism professor Nick Russell has lashed out at members of the Winnipeg media for participating in a night of alcohol, food and shopping discounts at a local IKEA. 

On Monday, November 26, the retail giant invited members of the media and other guests to a pre-opening party, complete with live music, beer, champagne, a free swag bag filled with items from the store and a chance to take a 15 per cent discount on their purchases from the store.

Russell, for one, is saying reporters who attended the event crossed an ethical line. In an interview with CBC, Russell, the author of Morals and the Media: Ethics in Canadian Journalism, said, "It looks to the public as if the journalists are just what they're made out to be in the old movies -- freeloaders, drunks."

In the same article, Duncan McMonagle, a journalism instructor at Red River College in Winnipeg suggested that any reporters who took advantage of the 15 per cent discount should disclose that fact if they happen to report on IKEA in the future. "If you're dumb enough to go to IKEA and take a freebie from them and then go and pretend that you're reporting on them in a disinterested way, you're not that smart," McMonagle said in the CBC piece.

IKEA's spokeperson, Maegan Sheskey, refused to answer questions about the 15 per cent discount or to elaborate on the amount of purchases that were made by guests at the event. 

Summing up his thoughts on the controversy, Russell said, "In the old days, we used to think it's a question of bribery -- we're corrupting the press by doing this. It's nothing that serious, but what IKEA is trying to do is make friends, to socialize the media so that they all feel warm and cuddly about IKEA and that's not healthy."

What do you think? Did the reporters who attended the event and accepted gifts cross an ethical line? Is the harsh criticism from these two journalism teachers warranted? Or does it represent unfair sniping? We'd particularly like to hear what reporters and PR folks have to say about this one.

One thing's for sure. This controversy is providing IKEA with precisely what they set out to get. A lot of free media coverage to help promote today's opening of their new Winnipeg location. There were more than 2,000 people waiting outside when the doors opened earlier today.

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