Learning from the Sherrod Fiasco

By Maureen Alley

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news last week should be aware of the Shirley Sherrod mess that hit Washington. She was the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who was fired for being racist, or so it appeared in an edited video. Beyond the politics of the situation, is a good example and lesson about journalism ethics.

Charlie Madigan, journalism professor at Roosevelt University and former editor at the Chicago Tribune wrote an editorial in Thursday’s paper. It’s a good read, and brings up a great problem in the world of media: sensationalism. The public has an increased desire for drama, and the media has turned to providing that fix at the cost of ethics.

The B2B world of publishing is not as directly affected by this demand as is the consumer media. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore these moments that bring up the importance of our journalism ethics.

You may not be pressured to push out stories about Lindsay Lohan every 1o minutes, or articles on what the White House is or isn’t doing right. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have boundaries and lines to watch.

The Shirley Sherrod fiasco presents a great opportunity to take a closer look at the ethics used with your publication. Do you blur lines of advertising and editorial? Could you be better about staying more focused on editorial and less on advertising? Are you providing content to your readers that they may not want, but need?

Don’t be fooled; this mess doesn’t simply affect the consumer media.

Maureen Alley is editor for Woodland Management magazine, and freelance writer/editor for other business-to-business publications. She was previously managing editor for Website Magazine and Residential Design & Build magazine. She can be reached at malley13@gmail.com or visit www.maureenalley.com.

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2 thoughts on “Learning from the Sherrod Fiasco

  1. Good idea to constantly re-evaluate ethics, especially in light of the new social media initiatives many B2B magazines are pursuing. I’m interested to know of what types of rules, for lack of a better term, editors are coming up with to deal with interacting with advertisers on Twitter or Facebook.

  2. Nice post Maureen! I think one of the interesting take-aways was how quickly the White House reversed itself. Sherrod’s allies were able to rebut the accusations fairly quickly. Right away, NPR started reporting on the blow back from the decision to terminate her. For me, it was a lesson in how fast social media can rebut an inaccurate message—albeit one that was widely disseminated via social media in the first place.

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