April 2018 Ethics Update

With ASBPE’s May 10-11 conference nearing, we preview ethical issues at the forefront

Offering ethics guidance to ASBPE members—privately through our ethics advisories, or more broadly through newsletters, webinars and roundtables—has always been a key function of the organization’s Ethics Committee.

I stepped in as interim committee chair this year in time to help prepare for the May 10-11 ASBPE National Conference in Washington, DC. And so this newsletter was designed to help prepare the organization and its members for the ethical emphasis that the ASBPE Board envisions for that event.

Each of the five individual items in this newsletter contains elements that are predictive of the National Conference just ahead, as will be clear from the introductory editor’s notes I prepared. Taken as a whole, though, this Ethics Update should be timely in more ways than its link to the exciting Washington event just one month ahead. The articles also encompass such currently relevant topics as sexual harassment, the increasing power of the publisher, the role we as editors may play in censorship, and how to avoid serious pitfalls by vetting freelancers for possible ethical conflicts.

I hope you find value in this newsletter, and also feel encouraged to attend a National Conference that features powerful speakers and messages.

From #MeToo to #TimesUp, HR Magazine and human-resource society become voices of a movement

By Beth Mirza

The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October 2017—just five months ago, as of this writing. But it seems like much more than a year since the New York Times and the New Yorker first caught our attention with their stories on it. We’ve been inundated with headlines nearly every day as women and men, famous and unknown, come forward with new allegations of sexual harassment in their workplaces.

As the accusations accumulated—against employers in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the media and government—a theme emerged: Where was HR in all of this? Read more here.

How to use vendors as sources and stay on the right side of the editorial-advertising boundary

By JD Solomon

I began my journalism career when the smell of ink and cigarette smoke permeated newsrooms, when local newspapers were actually popular and highly profitable, and when young reporters earned just a little less than what they make now. But even at the small- and mid-market newspapers where I toiled as a cub reporter, there was a solid-steel roadway barrier separating the editorial and advertising departments, just like at the big-city newspapers where I someday hoped to work.

My career didn’t take me to a major metro. Instead, I’m now the editorial director at sister business-to-business publications; one covers the management of K-12 education for school district administrators, and the other covers the business of higher ed for college and university administrators. Without doubt, my toughest adjustment was learning how to navigate the editorial-advertising boundary in the B2B world, which at its clearest is a dotted yellow line—one you periodically have to cross, but with caution. Read more here.

Elephants in the room: When it comes to editors and ethics, the enemy may (sometimes) be us

By Charles Lewis

I am honored to be the keynote speaker at this year’s American Society of Business Publication Editors B2B Media Success Conference May 10 at the National Press Club.

Investigative reporting is, I believe, the most difficult, time-consuming and potentially expensive type of journalism. Per story or series of stories, it generally takes more time and thus costs more money than nearly all other types of journalism with the possible exception of foreign reporting. And if the subject of the investigation is not local, state, federal or foreign government-related, but instead involves a publicly-traded or private corporation, there is a very real additional reporting risk from extremely costly civil litigation and even pre-publication legal threats. Read more here.

Should it stay or should it go? Church and State in the modern media environment

By Kilian Schalk

Church and State, the system of ethics established in the 1920s to regulate the relationship between editors and publishers, was a workaround designed to address the problem of advertising influence on the editorial process. By physically separating editorial from publishing functions, and agreeing that publishing concerns were not to impact content, editors were free to represent the readers’ interest, while publishers spoke for advertisers. This allowed media groups to accept ad revenue and still maintain their readers’ trust.

It was a wasteful system, but it worked as a business model in the ‘20s because publications had a single-channel monopoly on readers’ attention. They also passed on to advertisers all costs related to maintaining what were, in effect, two separate staffs.  The agreed-upon 15% ad-agency discount sealed the deal, resulting in a formula where advertising revenue determined how much space was available for editors to fill with content. Variations of this model were adopted by radio, television, magazines, and even websites, and it is alive and well today. Read more here.

Preventing freelancer plagiarism and conflicts of interest

By Bridget Botelho

There may be no greater struggle for business publication editors than finding freelance writers who are experts in their field, excellent writers, trustworthy, affordable and dependable.

These unicorn contributors are so difficult to find that editors often make concessions; if a freelancer is an expert who is fairly reliable, you’ll deal with their shoddy grammar. If a dependable, knowledgeable expert is a terrible writer but they work for cheap, you’ll give them more assignments than you’d like because, hey, you need content.

But with plagiarism and conflicts of interest, editors simply can’t give freelancers a pass. Read more here.

Roy Harris

Roy Harris is a semi-retired newspaper and magazine journalist who continues to write for Poynter.org, and to write freelance. Previously he was a reporter and deputy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal from 1971 to 1995; senior editor at The Economist Group’s CFO Magazine from 1996 to 2009; and editor of IDG’s CFOworld.com from 2010 to 2016. He is the author of “Pulitzer’s Gold: A Century of Public Service Journalism,” published by Columbia U. Press in 2015.

A longtime ASBPE member and former president of the ASBPE National Board of Directors, he helped found the ASBPE Educational Foundation, as well as the Stephen Barr Award, ASBPE’s top feature-writing prize. Harris was an ASBPE Lifetime Achievement Award honoree in 2016.

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