Let’s Not Neglect Our Neutrality Privilege!

In this post, Howard Rauch the chairman of ASBPE’s ethics committee, looks back at the days of editorial neutrality and seeks your input for the issues that should be addressed on this front in an upcoming  ASBPE webinar.

Editorial neutrality was a big deal when I landed my first B2B job as an assistant editor. Training included several stern lectures from my managing editor on the need to apply a rewrite scalpel to PR announcements packed with puffy quotes and flowery claims.

In those days, advertisers did not receive favorable treatment when material was edited for publication. If some overly-long quote amounted to nothing more than a product plug, we had two options:

  • strike the entire passage; or
  • paraphrase the information to make it sound less like a paid commercial.

The company maintained its neutrality privilege to the point that visible brand names were deleted from all equipment photos used in magazine articles. Another training session focused on the need to recognize veiled competitive slurs and fact-check all claims of superiority. Typical red alerts: Being the only company in the field making a particular product . . . or being the first in the industry to offer an apparent innovation.

As my career progressed, the neutrality issue reared its head in a variety of other ways. Always interesting were cases involving advertorial treatment.

Standing rules, of course, include:

  • prominent identification of the section as “advertisement”; and
  • type specs clearly different from regular editorial specs.

Many salespeople disliked the “advertisement” label idea to the point where they worked overtime in an attempt to get editors to agree to a euphemistic ID (“special impact section” was a favorite).

My nostalgic focus on neutrality in days of yore arose as I was planning possible remarks for ASBPE’s upcoming webinar this March.  My intention is to spotlight areas of ethical concern beyond the usual worries involving church and state issues.

One that has vaulted to the top of my agenda is our acceptance of “less good” editorial quality.  A key symptom of that shortfall, evidenced during my recent studies involving thousands of e-news articles, is faltering neutrality.

Other possible webinar topics during my presentation include fair use violations and proper conduct pertaining to editor/freelance relationships.  There have been some recent uproars regarding wholesale lifting of content from on-line sites without approval or attribution.  More recently, ASBPE past president Steve Roll authored a blog pertaining to fair use issues involving social media content.

As for the editor/freelance focus, I currently am researching possibilities.  I already have a few freelance contacts eager to sound off on “unsavory behavior” by editors.  If such heated feelings can be translated into constructive recommendations, they would fit nicely into my presentation.

Meanwhile, I welcome any suggestions concerning ethical matters our webinar might address through our contact form.  More details about the webinar will be posted next month.

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