Help ASBPE Help You By Asking About the Ethics of an Editorial or Advertising Practice

By Steven Roll and Spring Suptic

After launching our Ethics Advisory program last week, the new ethics initiative has caught the attention of FOLIO:, Paul Conley, the Pulse (BusinessJournalism.org), MinOnline($), and MediaBistro.com’s FishbowlDC.

The way the program works is when an ethical question arises about an editorial or advertising practice, an ASBPE member can send an email to ASBPE’s Ethics Committee at ethicsquery@asbpe.org. The committee will review the matter and issue an ASBPE Ethics Advisory within 10 business days.

To make this program work, we need to hear the ethical quandries of our members. Sharing the questions you have about specific editorial or advertising practices will allow us to help you and other trade and business publication editors and writers.

Often, B2B editors need to explain to sales staff and other interested parties what is in the best interest for the long-term health and survival of the publication in print and online. This is an important, but difficult task, especially given the current economic situation that many business publications are facing. As publications struggle to survive, the temptation to cross editorial-advertising boundaries has never been stronger. Paul Conley recently noted on his blog that ASBPE’s Ethics Advisory Program “comes at what is likely the perfect time. As the economy deteriorates and traditional publishers continue to suffer, I’ve noted a surge in editors reaching out to me for help with ethical issues.”

The Guide to Preferred Editorial Practices provides a strong base guideline for editorial staffs to refer to when making decisions. When a specific issue arises, editors can bring their issues to the ethics committee. The ethics committee, which is chaired by Kansas City ASBPE president Spring Suptic, includes ASBPE immediate past president and senior editor with CFO magazine Roy Harris. Also on the committee are Jeffrey L. Seglin, a sydicated ethics columnist for the New York Times, and Robin Sherman, ASBPE’s associate director and newsletter editor.

The ethics advisories we issue assess the situation and provide our findings. The advisories will not disclose the identity of the person requesting it or the parties involved in the situation.

The editors can then take this additional information into account when setting their own internal policy on an issue. We will post each advisory on the Members Only section of the ASBPE Web site. We expect the ASBPE Ethics Advisories to be a useful resource for finding answers to questions about ethics that arise as a result of new media initiatives.

Online is one area we expect a lot questions about. There’s a lot of uncharted territory there—for editors, as well as advertisers and our readers. When we start something new, we have to quickly get the lay of the land and establish markers and guidelines for how we’ll conduct our brand in this new realm. Central to that is a solid ethics policy for your publication.

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