Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Online ethics tool

This post is from the ASBPE Boston Blog ("Online tool helps support ethical decision-making").

Here's a potentially useful resource: The American Society of Newspaper Editors and The Poynter Institute offer an online Ethics Tool designed to guide you through a solution to an ethical problem. The tool poses a series of questions and then compiles your responses into a printable document you can use to analyze the problem.

In light of ASBPE's ethics survey results showing that a significant number of B2B editors feel their publications "only sometimes" back them on ethical issues, it seems as if this tool could be useful. For instance, an editor could use it to help map out an argument to convince managers that an ethical dilemma does, in fact, exist. And it couldn't hurt to be able to point out that two respected organizations, ASNE and Poynter, created the standards used in the decision-making process.

In order to protect your confidentiality, you must be a registered Poynter user to use the tool (registration is free). Once you've answered the initial questions, you can invite other staff members will be able to collaborate on the project and upload relevant documents if they register too; only you and those invited by you are able to see your case information. But if you'd rather skip the online process and just work out your problem on paper, you can do that by printing out this questionnaire. The questionnaire is directed toward deciding whether or not to publish information; it doesn't sem to have been designed to answer questions such as whether it's ethical to sell ad space on a gatefold cover.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Note: This comment was edited for language.

Hi, thought you might all be interested in this:
--- For Immediate Release --

April 27, 2006


A new novel, with a somewhat deceiving title (A Million Little Pieces of Feces - the fake memoir that is so much more fun than James Frey's) -- echoing a different, recent ethical publishing dilemma -- satirizes the compromised ethics at play in the fictional offices of American Tractor Times magazine. This trade magazine's office environment is a textbook illustration of the breakdown in barriers between the advertising and editorial departments.

ASBPE's (American Society of Business Publication Editors) recent member survey highlighted this rampant problem, with 92 percent of respondents expressing a need for editorial ethics guidelines. Among those respondents who indicated that their magazine already had an ethical code in place, 70 percent indicated that they faced no consequence for violating it. Other hot button issues addressed in the survey -- including the acceptance of gifts and the fact that 43 percent of editors are unhappy with their jobs, partially over ethics issues -- are also satirized in the book.

In the following representative excerpt, the fictional editor has gotten himself into a job-threatening jam with his publisher. His only hope was to concoct, on the spot, a scheme to produce an interview with a particular celebrity, which will nearly guarantee a major advertising campaign from the fictional Caribou tractor company, thereby saving his job. However, the only way for him to arrange the interview, he discovers, is via a show-biz contact that a desperate advertising sales rep (known affectionately as "Yap-Yap") will only reveal if he agrees to the following demands:

He laid out the terms of my editorial Versailles Treaty: Every month I would run a four-color product release of any Caribou product that they wanted. In addition, I would also run any literature piece that they wanted, brochures, catalogs, infomercial CDs … it didn't matter. And there would be no editing allowed. Run it just as they sent it in. They would get to be on the cover twice a year: one would be the wonderful story of a regional dealer that sold Caribou products and the other would simply be a picture of any product that they chose to use - butt ugly or not.
Moreover, there would be no negative news coverage of Caribou, even if they filed for bankruptcy, faced congressional inquires broadcast on C-SPAN and their owner jumped off the roof of his condominium. On top of all this …, I would have to accompany him for dinner with Caribou executives at three or more trade shows per year and they would also be one of the winners in our Product of the Year contest. He didn't care which category, as long as they were one of the winners, but not the winner in every category. Of course, might be obvious if they won every … award! Good thinking Yap-Yap.
He had gone too far this time, but he still wasn't finished: I had to do all of these things even without a Caribou contract. I had to do all of his hideous bidding just so that we can lure 'em in. If none of this worked, Yap-Yap would just say that their advertising budget had been cut . . . or that I didn't stroke them diligently enough. All my fault. What good am I? Why is my head on my shoulders and not on Boy Publisher's wall?
I had to get out of there before I had to start promising my soul, first born, and perhaps spare body parts from homeless people I would have to hunt down and operate on myself. As I stood up to make a break for the door, he stopped me and said, "one more thing," and wrote something down on a fine piece of American Tractor Times letterhead and handed it to me. "Here is the phone number for a local dealer, from Monrovia. Name's Dale, he's Caribou's biggest West Coast dealer. Give him a ring. I'd like a 2,000-word feature about his dealership, with a picture of him, in front of his store, on the cover. That'll be just great, huh?"
"Gee, that's … dandy," I said. I … was about to scream uncle and then it occurred to me: I didn't even get the promoter's number yet. That's why I stopped in here.

And so goes one of numerous, rapid-fire ethical nightmares haunting the offices of Fokkenrath Publishing Company, proud publishers of American Tractor Times magazine. The compromises flow like blood through the veins of every element in their publishing operation.

Anyone who has ever worked on a business, trade, or specialty magazine, will find familiarity with the panoply of issues and situations explored in this book, in what may be one of the first -- or one of very few -- novels to peek inside one warped perspective on the world of B2B publishing.

Publishers, editors, graphic artists, salespeople, support staff, deadlines, shaky financing, quotas, office allocations, salary differentiation, drug and personality assessment testing, office politics, excessive meetings, advertiser stroking, printer bills, back taxes, mission statements .... if these are the words and phrases that make up your little world, you are indeed ready for A Million Little Pieces of Feces. This is the best and wackiest portrayal of trade magazine publishing that you are ever likely to find. And besides, this book may change your view of life itself. Not to mention it contains a scene depicting, with one employee, what may be the most unique employment severance ever attempted and even do justice to the title of the book in the process.

This comic volume ought to be required reading for any publisher or editor attempting to put an ethics code together because it pretty much collects, in one spot, all of the questionable publishing practices that should not be occurring.

A Million Little Pieces of Feces: The Fake Memoir That's So Much More Fun Than James Frey's (ISBN: 1411677315) by Python Bonkers


Python Bonkers (a pen name that will remain as such, seeing as how he still has to work in this industry and, moreover, doesn't want to field calls from those wondering if characters in the book are based on them) has been treading the B2B magazine editorial waters, with companies around the country, since 1986 and proudly displays an ASBPE Award of Excellence on his wall along with numerous other recognitions. He loves his career. And no, he's not anywhere near as crazy as the protagonist. And, yes, this is fiction. Remember that.