Ethics Committee Has New Vision

By Howard Rauch
Chairman, ASBPE Ethics Committee

Debating the precarious outlook for the traditional church-and-state doctrine preoccupies most discussions when the subject of editorial ethics arises.

Advances in the Internet, however, require additional B2B attention on ethics. Long-held principles are being shaken.

This is the situation confronting the ASBPE Ethics Committee. In response, the
committee is planning a dramatic expansion of activity this year (see news story for details).

Challenges to consider

Let’s now consider a partial list of noteworthy ethics challenges:

  • Church and state remains at the top of the list, but not in the usual way. As one group editorial director told me recently: “We have tried to tear down the wall and replace it with a smaller fence.”

    The dictate that editors should avoid marketing involvement hasn’t been practical for years. Maintaining high editorial quality is vital, but marketing activity need not stand in the way of quality.

    On the other hand, we must resist efforts to compromise quality that would result in an irretrievable loss of credibility.

  • Cost controls have put a damper on quality. Editorial staffs do triple duty managing print, Web content, and other digital platforms. Travel is curtailed. Editorial page counts are way down; traditional depth is more difficult to deliver. With salary freezes typical, what picture do we paint for applicants looking for a promising career?
  • Social media dominates much editorial planning. The major players in newsstand business media are appointing social media content directors. Some ethical do’s and don’ts are already floating around. Obviously, more concrete guidelines for B2B staffs are required.
  • Documenting ethics policies has never been our strong suit. Aside from the guidelines already available to you from ASBPE, every company needs at least two written policies:
    1. covering ethics,
    2. covering complaint-handling.

    With the latter, the policy must emphasize the need for prompt response and describe possible recourse when the mistake is ours.

  • Content marketing is another issue. An associate of mine, a former editorial vice president who blogs from his own site, says content marketing will pose a new wave of ethical issues.

    By the way, content marketing is not new. When I was a working editor, we used to call that PR.

    Anyway, the alleged coming deluge of proposals we receive from content marketers requires creation of ethical guidelines that anticipate pitfalls.

Clearly, our committee has much to accomplish.

Contact me at ethics.chair@editsol.com if you have suggestions.

Howard Rauch is the chairman of the ASBPE Ethics Committee and president of Editorial Solutions.

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