Ethics vs. Job Obligations: The Internship Experience

decision --microsoft imagesAs the current internship coordinator for the public relations area in my department, I receive lots of questions regarding the internship experience. Most of the questions are inquires from students seeking to obtain a public relations internship to earn degree credit. Additional questions are from individuals seeking a public relations intern, current internship site supervisors, etc. However, two weeks ago I received an internship question from a non-communications major. In short, the student sent me an email to ask whether the practice of making up quotes is common in public relations as the student has been asked to do this on several occasions by his/her immediate boss. (See the email below. Identifying information has been redacted.)

I applaud the student for seeking answers and for not disclosing the name of the company where this is an issue. However, it piqued my curiosity as to whether other students have come across this practice. During my tenure as internship coordinator, I have never had a student mention this particular issue. I have had to step in regarding issues between students and site supervisors, and most of those were easily rectified.

As for the student, I did inform him/her that the practice is unethical, and even provided brief unsolicited advice on how to address the situation. Yet, I wonder if other students, communication majors or not, would acknowledge their apprehension to this practice or just “go with the flow” because they were instructed to do it or they think their grade, job, etc. depends on them being in alignment with the company culture. Here is the email I received.

I am a [non-communications] major at GSU. I am currently interning for a large company in Statesboro and they frequently ask me to do things like write press releases.
I have no experience in public relations, but I do have journalism experience…
I wondered if someone would be willing to help me by answering a question I have about public relations, and I found you listed as the public relations internship coordinator, so you were the obvious pick.
My supervisor often asks me to make up direct quotes for people in the company because they are busy. She says they can just approve what I’ve written instead of having to take time on an interview with me.
…, this makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t know standard protocol for this situation or even if it’s typical, though. My supervisor is the head of marketing here, so I am predisposed to believe that she knows what she is doing.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my confusion. I hope you have time to respond.
What would you do? What would you say to the site supervisor or the internship coordinator? What advice would you provide the student?


Filed under internships, personal thoughts, public relations

56 responses to “Ethics vs. Job Obligations: The Internship Experience

  1. Pingback: Comments for professor’s posts! | michelee206

  2. This is kind of crazy to hear. I could definitely see this situation happening in a work place for an employee but I could not imagine this happening to an intern. I would feel very uncomfortable as an intern if asked to do something like this because intern are not fully aware of everything that is going on in the company. I just hope that I am not asked to do something like this when I do my internship.

  3. Lindsay McCarty

    I would not feel comfortable quoting someone on something they did not say. Personally if someone quoted me and I did not give them my input I would be highly offended. I am a very honest person and I would tell my employer that I would not feel comfortable giving fake quotes. I also feel that it is very disrespectful and can lead to rumors when quoting someone with out there actual input. I would try to convince my employer a different way of getting the quotes and if that did not work I would also ask the advice of my internship adviser.

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  5. I think that this is wrong, but it is seen so many times in all types of jobs. I do not think that person should go against their moral judgement just to satisfy their boss.Even though you don’t wanna get fired, you still just talk to individual to still get a quote from them. So many companies are sued for putting falsified information out there.

    Qwuaticia Smith

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  7. Ashley Nixon

    I have not done an internship yet but people that have just started in the public relations field have to realize that you don’t have any credibility and her boss probably is so use to doing that and him not getting caught because he has already established his credibility and hasn’t got in trouble. I feel if that happens to any, I would say be respectful and don’t get mad at your boss even though it wasn’t the right thing to. Just tell them you don’t feel comfortable doing that.

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  11. People tend to forget what is considered ethical and what is not when their boss is telling them to do things. Yes it is very important to listen to your boss and follow his/her orders but his/her are making you question their ethical practices then something is not right. You should never lose your self dignity at a job just to satisfy your boss. It was very wise of the student to go to an outside source to get advice before the student did something that could damage their career.

  12. I think that it was good to for him/her to seek information in how to deal with that situation and not just going along with what their supervisor said. I agree that people, wanting to make a good impression on their employers, probably just do what they say.

    -DeKindra Grier

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  14. I don’t think this is ethical!!
    Chelsea Smith

  15. I will be interning next summer and I would be very uncomfortable if I were asked to do this. This extremely unethical and should not be practiced in a professional field. This is my first time hearing about something like this, but I can only wonder how often it happens after you graduate college. I hope I do not run across this problem because it would put me in a very awkward place with my boss. I’m glad this student came forward to express concern and ask for advice, hopefully they were able to resolve this issue.

    -Juliana Sweek

  16. This is my first time ever hearing someone mention anything about making up direct quotes. I would be just as uncomfortable as the student if I were asked to do something like that. As a large company they should be more careful with having someone just make up things especially an intern. It is definitely a bad move on the supervisors part especially if they were to get caught because it could cause him his job, tarnish the reputation of the company, and possibly mess up the interns chances of getting a job in the future. If I were the intern I would let the supervisor know that I was uncomfortable with making up quotes because it’s definitely won’t be worth it in the end if this issue comes to light.

    -Adrienne Glover

  17. This is a very sticky situation, the obvious answer is to say “no”, because this is obviously unethical practice. In the real world though, when the person who signs your paycheck asks anything of you, it is hard to question their requests. I would honestly probably continue to do this, as long as the person I am “quoting” proofs and agrees with my “quotes” that their names are attached to. At the end of the day I have bills to pay. I know this is wrong, but It isn’t a huge deal and worth losing my job over. We have to remember that we are always replaceable… I would tell the student to do whatever helps them sleep at night.

    Kaitlyn Brantley

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  19. I definitely agree with the student’s email about how unethical making up a quote for someone who was supposed to be interviewed. If I was in this situation I would at least try to get an interview with some of these people, just to have information that at least somewhat ethical. I do think that making up quotes , or “making up” in any information that is going to published for the public to see is wrong. I don’t think the student should’ve been put in this situation , especially since credibility is all he/she has at this point.

  20. williambeeks

    The fact that someone at the management level is willingly active in unethical and unscrupulous conduct is one thing but to carry on as if it is alright and take it a step further and teach it to an intern or entry level employee is absurd! The buck had to stop at some point! I congratulate that person for having the wherewithal to stop, think, and then consult trusted counsel in order to reach an understanding. There was no better way to handle the situation, if in a situation such as this I would handle it in the same manner. In public relations and journalism there is an urgent need for credibility in order to ward off the insurmountable amount of ignorance and distrust that the general public has in regards to these fields.

  21. nadinebenjamin

    Ethics are an important part in every part of our lives. I have never heard of anyone “making up” quotes. By doing this, this is putting words in someones mouth, and that my friends is lying. If I were in this situation I would respectfully find a way to let my supervisor know that this is unethical and provide a solution so that a quote can still be found.

    Also, I would contact my internship coordinator to inform him or her of what is going on. If these unethical situations are brought to life and you were a part of it, you could be jeopardizing your future career. Be careful!

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  23. Kristen Pappaterra

    I know as a student, it seems so important to make sure you get an internship with a company before you graduate. It can become very stressful and almost you can become unmotivated when you cannot seem to find one. The question this student asked, I feel, is a curiosity question for everyone, but is never really talked about. When people read quotes, most of the time, they just believe that it is said word for word and accurate, or it is unethical.

  24. Christian Johnson:

    Throughout the course of my internship at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, I found myself in a position where I had to do something very similar. I knew it was unethical, but as we have discussed in class, sometimes things just have to get done. Fortunately, there was no backlash from media members, and no one ever found out that the quotations were made up.

    If I had it to do all over again, I would most certainly consult you in regards to what exactly I should do.

    • Noris Figueroa

      As I understand it, you made up quotations meaning someonelse had said those and this person was not aware of this?
      Explain tome please, what do you mean by “sometimes things just have to get done”. Being faithful to our values in PR is not easy matter, but ethics are ethics.

  25. Mrs. Andrews,

    I find this situation to be appalling. If this business is willing to lie about quotes to the public, I wonder about the value of the business and the values of the individual instructing the student to engage in this behavior. As a journalism major, I understand why the student is worried. We are taught that credibility is everything in this industry. Making up quotes that don’t exist is not a sign of that. However, I do understand that this is an internship and you want to impress your boss and do all that they ask of you. The advice that I would give to the student is to not commit these acts. Your word and credibility are all you have. This internship may not last forever, but you don’t want to be remembered by lying on behalf of your company. This makes you look bad professionally and this can follow you as you travel to new employment opportunities in the future. Therefore, it is not worth it. I would tell the student to report this to that boss or supervisor’s superior if one exists. This is behavior that is unacceptable and they should not connection themselves or their name to this.

    -Shauntel Hall

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  27. Emily Daniel PRCA 2330
    This is a difficult situation. I feel for him/her because if I wee in that situation i would feel uncomfortable too. I would be torn between keeping my job and doing what I know i right. There is so much pressure to keep a job, that it would be very difficult for many people to stand p to their boss. While, in this situation, the people being quoted do have to approve what is being said, it is still wrong. It seems like the company’s way of being lazy and not conducting tasks in the right way. I would have to tell this person that he/she should take the risk of telling his/her boss that they feel uncomfortable making up quotes and would no longer be able to do it.

  28. This student is clearly very proactive and honest and I hope it pays off for them in the long run. I personally find making up the quotes to be unethical but I agree with previous some of the previous comments that it is not the same as being a journalist and faking your sources. I hope this intern expressed their concern in the most polite way possible and their employer understood, however I would understand if they did not feel like they were in a position to do so. I think the best solution for this intern would be to try to contact the employees they wish to quote via email or phone call and ask them to reply on their own time if at all possible. If they are too busy, like their boss said, then it is understandable if they do not reply but the intern may very well get a handful of real responses she could work with.

    – P. Callanan

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  30. I applaud the person for seeking Public Relation advise in this situation. It is a tough spot to be stuck in as an intern. Being told to basically make up a statement and say someone has said it is not a good idea no matter what the situation. My Journalism teacher has stressed this problem numerous amounts of times and says it is not only dangerous to you but to the company. Many black-lash can occur from this. But I agree with the person above me, if you are asked for facts you must provide facts.

  31. I think we had a discussion like this in class one day on ethics and morality in the workforce. I think it is unethical to fabricate quotes in press releases even if someone has a chance to review it. I understand that sometimes it is hard to get a hold of someone for a good quote but it is part of the job. If you are asked to deliver the facts for a new release then that is what you have to do. Even if it is a veteran employee or your boss you should always uphold good morals and make the ethical decision in the work place.

  32. I agree in saying that this situation is not ethical. I know throughout your career people are going to be faced with decisions of what is right or wrong, and am I willing to do wrong to keep my job? Or am I wanting to do what I think is right and be out of an awesome internship? I think the intern personally setting up interview was a great idea! I would not want to be the intern and write a quote from an interview that did not even happen. What would be the point of the quote?

  33. I have written many articles for the school newspaper and we are always highly concerned with defamation. When you publish a quote, you should always make sure that the quoted person did infact say those things. Otherwise, your entire company is looking at a lawsuite. However, because it is a press release within your OWN company and the employees do have the chance to review and/or revise their ‘crafted’ quotations, I do not see the issue here. I will say that gathering genuine quotes makes an article or press release more personal, but as long as employees have the chance to look over these things pre-publishing, I do not see much of an issue.

  34. This is a slippery slope. I personally feel that to an extent, it would be “making up” a quote because those specific words did not come out of that person’s mouth. But I feel that with their thorough examination and approval, it is okay to use that quote.
    I would tell this person: If your BOSS is the one who has directed you to create a quote, it should make you feel a little better about it on a professional level, because there is little room for you to be seen as faulty. But if it personally makes you feel uneasy, I’d say try to find a happy medium. You could send the person to be interviewed a short e-mail detailing the topic and they could send back a number of quotes for you to choose from. (No one is too busy to e-mail.) I would also suggest not to continue the trend working for any future companies because normally you do not make up quotes at all, as that is a very serious offense in the Journalism community.

  35. I personally would feel just as uncomfortable as the intern who emailed you. I commend them for seeking you out to ask if this is the right or wrong way to practice Public Relations. I have yet to do my internship, however I know I would feel out of line or disrespectful to question my boss when I did not know the right way to go about a situation, now that they know it is wrong hopefully they will address the boss and the situation will be resolved.

  36. I feel like for students are Georgia Southern University and even other universities, they have a hard enough time with internships because they are afraid that they are going to step out of line and do something wrong. Reading the email shocked me about the quotes. I would not make a quote up for someone else for the place I was interening at.

    For one thing, you want to make sure you are giving reliable information out to the public. Even though the person is approving the quote before it goes out, I feel like the company isn’t taking this serious and brushing their job off.

    This is very wrong and I hope this certain intern makes the right decisions later on.

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  38. Constructing quotes for others would also put me in an uncomfortable position. I would not only go to my supervisor and voice my concerns, but I would also go to the company and let them know why I am apprehensive about using that tactic. Even if my actions caused me to lose the internship or receive a lower grade, at least I kept my integrity and beliefs intact, and defined myself in my position. There will always be other opportunities for internships and what not, but if two companies are practicing unethical ways, eventually it’s going to get out to the public and I don’t want to be associated with them when both ships sink. To a student, I would suggest accessing the situation from all perspectives and find out both sides of the story. He or she might be able to find a way to fix the problem if they clearly explain their point of view to the supervisor. As the saying goes “you’ll never know if you don’t try” right? By not saying anything the situation will gradually become more conflicting, and who knows… they could find a middle ground with their supervisor and the company so that everyone is satisfied while still maintaining time efficiency and ethical behavior. An internship should not be teaching students improper practices in their future career field, and I would allow them the chance to switch internships.

  39. After taking journalism classes, making up quotes seems to go against every thing I was taught. If the person had time to look over the made up quote, then isn’t that enough time to give you a quick, real quote? I do agree that it is a tough position for any intern to be put in.

  40. I am looking to do an internship in the fall also. I would feel very uncomfortable if my supervisor who is suppose to be teaching me and expanding my skills in my major asked me to take the cheap way out and make up quotes. I feel that if I made up the quote like my company was telling me to do, that if something happened and the person I made the quote up for came later and claimed they did not approve or say that. I would loss my job in a heart beat not, my boss would not get any of the bad heat. It is really sad that this student experienced this, honestly I feel it is probably a common issue in the work field. It put any intern in a tough position on whether it is ethical to make up a quote or to say no.

  41. Putting myself in the place of the intern, I would be equally as uncomfortable with this situation. Having your supervisor, who is in charge of guiding your internship, tell you to construct quotes for others without an interview can be a dicey situation. If I were in the interns place, I would offer to personally schedule interviews to get real quotes from the people who need to be quoted and conduct them whenever is convenient for that person. However, if my supervisor still encourages me to construct quotes without an interview, I would try to ask my supervisor’s superior if that is an ethical practice. This may cause me to lose my internship if it is a company wide practice, but I would be willing to step down from my internship if it lets me keep my credibility intact.

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  43. It is easy to see why this intern is uncomfortable with what is being demanded of him or her. I think they definitely did the right thing by seeking information from a knowledgeable source, and if I were them I would take it a little bit further.
    Of course they don’t want to anger their supervisor, as they are an intern and may be looking to get a permanent position at this company someday (or at the very least, a good recommendation). With this in mind, I would suggest they take their concerns directly to their supervisor. This way, they won’t be risking someone else telling the boss that they have been complaining about their duties. I would advise them to respectfully share that it makes them uncomfortable and offer alternative solutions for their boss to approve. This way, the supervisor is aware of the situation, and since the intern would already have options prepared, doesn’t have to take the time to fully intervene in the issue.
    If, however, the supervisor does not like the idea of changing these methods, it will be up to the intern to make an ethical decision whether to stay or leave the company.

    • Theory of a Deadpan

      It is easy to see why this intern is uncomfortable with what is being demanded of him or her. I think they definitely did the right thing by seeking information from a knowledgeable source, and if I were them I would take it a little bit further.
      Of course they don’t want to anger their supervisor, as they are an intern and may be looking to get a permanent position at this company someday (or at the very least, a good recommendation). With this in mind, I would suggest they take their concerns directly to their supervisor. This way, they won’t be risking someone else telling the boss that they have been complaining about their duties. I would advise them to respectfully share that it makes them uncomfortable and offer alternative solutions for their boss to approve. This way, the supervisor is aware of the situation, and since the intern would already have options prepared, doesn’t have to take the time to fully intervene in the issue.
      If, however, the supervisor does not like the idea of changing these methods, it will be up to the intern to make an ethical decision whether to stay or leave the company.

  44. yourothermotherhere

    I think it would go under the heading of writing speeches. The person giving the speech never announces that the speech was written for them if it was indeed written by a hired writer, but it is assumed by the audience that even if it were announced, the words flesh out the orator’s own thoughts.

    • Interesting thought. In my opinion, even those with hired speech writers provide input, or should provide input since they are paying the tab, about what should be said. The speech writer then, as you mentioned, “flesh(es) out the orator’s own thoughts.” Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  45. Noris Figueroa

    I am a PR teacher in a Guatemala University and a PR independent advisor. I do not think this is ethical. He must interview this people and let them know he will include his comments in press releases or any other publication.

  46. Lewis

    As an employee of an organization, charged with crafting media responses, I do not believe it is unethical to write statements, speeches, or even quotes for others in press releases (provided the person has the opportunity to review/edit/approve). If I were a journalist, paid by a newspaper, I believe it is unethical to do those things, as the reporter is a third party and not employed by the organization.

    • Hi Lewis,
      That’s one of the points I made in my response to the student. However you can’t omit the fact that some people will approve a quote without truly looking at it. And, depending on the quote, it could cause trouble. Just curious, would you feel comfortable with an intern crafting the response? Thanks for sharing.

    • Noris Figueroa

      I fully agree with you. ou can write quotes, speeches, etc. for other people as long as you are hired to do so and the person aproves it.
      As a journalist,you can not do this.