3 min read

Ziff Davis crosses the ethics line again

(Note: My policy is not to use foul language on this blog. But I'm making an exception today. I apologize in advance to anyone who is offended. )

There's no reason to pretend any longer that Ziff Davis is a reputable company.
Regular readers of this blog know that I complained earlier this year when Ziff Davis inserted ads in the text of stories -- perhaps the clearest violation of professional ethics I have ever seen. Executives at the company failed to return my emails or phone calls. But ethical journalists from Ziff Davis kept sending me emails asking for help. So I kept writing and writing.
And eventually, Ziff Davis pulled the offensive ads.

But now my inbox is filling again with complaints from journalists at Ziff Davis.
Because the company is once again placing ads inside stories.
If you've never seen one of these things, take a look at this story. You'll see that the second word in the lead paragraph -- "software" -- is a link to an ad for Adobe.
If you have the stomach for it, you can find similar ads in Ziff Davis' CIO Insight (take a look at this guest column, where the advertising department now controls the content.)
But if you want to see the single most ridiculous, most offensive, most disgusting and dimwitted thing in the entire history of B2B publishing, then take a look at the Editorial Mission statement of Baseline magazine -- the Editorial Mission statement, for god's sake!!! -- where ads have been inserted in the copy. (Screenshot is below.)

Look. I have nothing against advertising. But this is not a negotiable issue. The ethical standards of our industry are as clear as can be in this area. The editorial department controls editorial. It's that simple. Here, in fact, is what ASBPE says: "Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors. Also, advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such ... Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold, and generally should not link to a vendor’s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader."
There may be a place for ads such as these, but that place cannot be in any publication that claims to adhere to the standards of professional journalism.

Years ago, when I was a young and impressionable reporter, an ad salesman took me to lunch to explain his side of the business. I remain forever grateful for what he taught me that day. He told me that he made his living by marketing my integrity. As long as I was pure, he could sell ads. But if I forgot what made for professional journalism, then he couldn't tell advertisers they were buying space in a credible publication.
There was, of course, a downside to his approach. There were always advertisers who would pay higher rates for puff pieces, fawning profiles of executives and "investigative" pieces aimed at competitors.
"Paul," he told me, "the truth is that guys will pay a lot more for a blow job than for a handshake. But blow jobs ain't what we're selling."

As I said at the start of this post, there's no reason to pretend any longer that Ziff Davis is a reputable company. There's no reason to pretend anymore that Ziff Davis is selling handshakes.
So let's all stop pretending.
I'm urging the senior staff at Ziff Davis to admit that they can't live by the standards of our profession, and to thus stop claiming to be part of our profession. I want Ziff Davis to resign its membership in American Business Media.
I'm urging organizations such as ABM and ASBPE to cut the crap and cut ties to Ziff Davis. Don't accept their applications for awards. Don't invite their executives to speak at your conferences. Stop letting them cheapen your reputation and our profession.
I'm urging everyone who competes against a Ziff Davis publication to take advantage of the current morale crisis there. Companies such as Reed Business, IDG and CMP all have magazines that compete directly with Ziff Davis' magazines. Surely the folks at the legitimate companies know at least one or two talented Ziff Davis' employees at rival books. Today is the day to steal them away. Call them now. Many of them are miserable at Ziff Davis. Get them out of there.
Most importantly, I'm urging every professional journalist at Ziff Davis to refuse to whore. Stop pretending that things will get better.
Grab a few coworkers, head to a nearby coffee shop, and plan a rebellion. They can't fire all of you.  Don't report. Don't write. Don't edit another word for people that think you're a whore.
It's time to get all "Norma Rae" about this.
It's time to make your bosses miserable and to make yourselves proud.

Click here to read Folio magazine's new profile of Ziff Davis.

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