Anticipation is the best complaint-handling policy: Try this 10-point ethical challenge

Effective editorial complaint handling policy addresses two related concerns: (1) swift response procedure; (2) best ways to anticipate and reduce disturbance overflow. When you pay sufficient attention to the second category, of course, first category instances decrease. The following self-scoring profile assesses both categories. Provide “Yes” (10 points) or “No” (0 points) per factor depending upon how you rate your performance. Total maximum score/passing grade is 100. The profile includes four actions falling into category (1); six reflect category (2) anticipatory action.

I respond to all complaints within 24 hours. ______

When a complaint is received by phone, I take careful notes and read them back to the complaining party. Then I inquire if any other problem exists. ______

I inform top management of all complaints immediately. ______

I always obtain all available legal documentation before writing about
lawsuits and/or related matters. ______

I make sure all advertorial content is identified as such. ______

I delete unsubstantiated claims of superiority contained in new product releases. ______

I obtain vendor approval before excerpting content from its website. ______

If interviewing vendors for round-up articles, I keep accurate records of attempts to reach parties who subsequently complain they were overlooked in published articles quoting their competitors. ______

During initial response to complaints, I provide deadline by which resolution will be reached. I always abide by that deadline. ______

When working with freelance writers, I take special care to review payment policies. I always advise freelancers in writing about payment for a specific assignment and the absolute deadline for assignment receipt. ______

Undoubtedly snafu anticipation is the best approach. Unfortunately. there are many cases where misinformed editors bury complaints assuming they will go away. Trust me . . . they don’t. As is the case for many ethical issues, a copy of your preferred complaint-handling practices should be provided to all editorial staff members.

Post decisions promptly

B2B Journalist Ethics: An ASBPE Guide to Best Practices devotes several sections to complaint-handling practices. Included: several suggestions on how to publicize dispute resolutions. For instance:

“Corrections, clarifications, and retraction should be noted on line and printed in the next available issue, in a regular, consistent space that is easy for the reader to find in the front of the publication or, in the case of a Web site, the home page.”

“While it is best to place these corrections, clarifications and retractions in the same area of the publication in each issue, in the case of a major correction it may be appropriate to place it at least as prominently as the original material containing the error.”

“In the case of confirmed errors in an online posting, such as from a non-contract blogger, the posting should be immediately corrected, or deleted with an editor’s explanation of action taken.”

Guidelines covering internal complaints also are addressed: “Staff and other internal suggestions and complaints about a publication’s operations, ethics, or quality should be taken to the editor of the magazine or online operations. If the issue is not resolved through discussion with the editor, the publisher should be informed.”

Howard Rauch, president, Editorial Solutions, Inc., is a recipient of AZBEE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He served two terms as ASBPE Ethics Committee chairman. His book – Get Serious About Editorial Management – devotes a chapter to ethics concerns: “12 Ethical Issues You Must Address.”

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