Part of a journalist’s dilemma, if you will, is knowing how to avoid crossing the line between responsible reporting and irresponsible reporting. Sometimes the truth may lie somewhere in between but we have to be careful to not damage a person’s reputation or livelihood by publishing something about them or their business - even if it was alleged to be true. There are things called libel and defamation of character that have brought down many publications and journalists in the past.

I was recently asked to comment on a contractor’s ethical means of doing business from one of this contractor’s competitors. It seems that the contractor making the complaint did not agree with the business practices of the other contractor. I understood that and could see why he wanted to bring this situation out into the open.

But I explained to him that it wasn’t my place to critique a business practice in the pages of The NEWS or on our Website. Trust me, there are lots of stories I would like to tell but ethically I can’t - and won’t. You will not even find me talking about them in small informal groups or via the telephone or e-mail. I just can’t compromise my ethics and those of The NEWS.

I suggested that this contractor find a way to vent his or her feelings via other means such as the local Chamber of Commerce, regional or national HVAC contractor association, maybe even an Internet chat room. I am sure there are lots of ways a businessperson can vent and let his or her views be known.

I will add a word of caution. If you choose to criticize someone or their business in a public forum, be prepared to face the consequences. I’d hate to see a good business go down because of a few misplaced and ill-advised comments.