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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Misplaced Funds Cloud Reputation - Is It Worth It?

Jessica Silliman

Jake Taylor was a prominent reporter at a large metropolitan newspaper on the West Coast. He had been covering the local high schools for two years when he was assigned to look into complaints by parents associated with Riverwood High School' s women's basketball booster club.

Riverwood was home to the top women's basketball team in the region. The team had won the state championship twice in the past five years and had captured nine straight district championships. The coach, Doug Davidson, had been with Riverwood for 15 years and, due to his success as a coach, was a legend in the town. His wife and two kids were known for volunteering on the weekends and helping out at school events.

But several parents had expressed concern about lost funds. The booster program had always had great success in raising money. Recently, however, it was losing track of funds.

Jake talked with several parents and Coach Davidson then looked a bit closer at the financial statements. He spotted some "miscellaneous" expenditures made by Coach Davidson over the past few years. After getting bank records, Jake tracked the expenditures to Las Vegas. After several confirmations, he found Coach Davidson had been spending several weekends-and booster club funds-on gambling, drinking, strippers and prostitutes.

Jake knew this information would be devastating to Coach Davidson's family and the local community. "The story would ruin his life," he said.

But, at the same time, he knew it was his duty as a journalist-regardless of whether he ruined the public reputation of a community leader.

Jake had the full support of his editor and the newspaper went ahead and published the story. The community was outraged and Coach Davidson mysteriously moved out of town. His wife divorced him and, at last account, he was said to be in Ohio.

Jake couldn't help but feel bad-but he knew he had acted correctly.

Discussion Questions:

  • Is the issue of missing booster club funds a private or a public matter?
  • How would you describe all of the conflicting values that Jake faces as he considers whether to publish the story?
  • In one final interview, imagine Coach Davidson pleaded with Jake to not publish the story. How would you react?
  • Do you agree with the decision to publish the story? Why or why not? What if you knew it would end the Davidson's marriage?

Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

June 2007

Jun 1, 2007