2 min read

Seeking guidance in ethical guidelines

My fellow B2B media blogger David Shaw has exactly the sort of post on his site that I like to see -- a transparent look at a how a B2B publisher handles a controversial issue.
I won't say much more here than this -- David is maintaining his professional ethics amid a challenging sales environment. Everyone in the press should take a look.
In recent weeks I've had two disconcerting conversations with B2B journalists about ethics. In the first, a group of editors sought my advice because they were having a hard time resisting pressure from advertising sales staff who wanted promises of frequent, positive coverage of advertisers. In the second conversation, a B2B editor I work with argued that he was free to run in-house ads about conferences and new products as news stories, not as ads, because such pieces are "BIG news for our customers."
The common denominator in those tales of journalistic immorality is the mistaken belief that a business need trumps an ethical requirement.
That's why I'm always pleased by people such as David, who don't think the trade magazine business model gives us some sort of free pass on ethics.
If you're in doubt about what is, or is not acceptable, take a look at ABM's guidelines on professional ethics. The ASBPE also publishes ethics guidelines, although they are not as clear and are in need of an update. They are available on the group's Web site.
If you are being pressured by advertisers, publishers, fellow journalists or ad sales people to do something wrong, this is my advice:
First, explain why their request is unethical. It's my experience that many an ethical slip happens because people on the editorial side assume everyone knows the rules, but are choosing to ignore them. But there are many folks on the business side of a publication who are simply unfamiliar with journalism ethics. Be courteous. Strike up a conversation. Odds are you'll find that your coworkers are uninformed, not unethical.
Second, don't budge. Giving even a little bit on these issues always ends in disaster. Fight early, fight loudly and fight in public. Get other journalists from your company involved. Take your complaints to the publisher, to the board and to your readers.
If that fails, tell the offending party that you're willing to forsake your ethics and imperil your career if they will do the same -- you'll give them the coverage they want, if they give you sex and cash.
That usually shuts them up.

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