Monday, April 03, 2006

Question of the week (#6)

How should editors handle advertiser freebies?

As an editor, stuff comes your way. Now, we b2b editors may not be privy to the same swag as our compatriots the consumer pubs, but stuff comes our way nonetheless — sometimes really cool stuff.

Should editors accept gifts from advertisers?
And are we only talking about big gifts here? Or do you think the little things count? I may be willing to give up my collection of pens with advertisers' names on the sides, but I really would be very sad to part with the USB flash drives from advertisers. Oh, and I have that nice computer bag too...

Should editors let outside companies pay for their travel costs?
Is there a distinction between a company paying for an editor to come listen to an advertising spiel and paying for an editor to attend a sponsored lecture series or something else along lines of being a benefit to the industry? What if the advertiser pays for the editor's travel to cover a special event or product launch?

Does accepting these gifts automatically affect editorial? Or can a magazine's other policies prevent the appearance of favoritism in print?

If gifts are acceptable under some circumstances, how transparent should the giving be?

Click on the comments link below to leave your thoughts.


Paul Conley said...

Hi Spring,
I've seen a lot of ethics guidelines from magazines over the years, and there does seem to be some consensus here.
I think most folks agree that a gift of little value -- say, less than $25 -- is fine. That covers those tote bags, mousepads and other forms of assorted crap that we all pick up at tradeshows.
I also think most folks agree that it is NEVER acceptable to have an advertiser pay for travel.
But whatever a magazine's policy may be, I would prefer that the policy be available on the publication's Web site where readers can find it. More importantly, I would hope that reporters would disclose ANY financial ties with an advertiser. In other words, if you're writing about a tradeshow where someone other than your boss paid for your room, you should disclose it in your story.

Spring Suptic said...

Hi Paul, I think your $25 rule is a good one (though it puts one of my precious flash drives closer than I’d like the wrong side of the ethics line).

Your comment about disclosing who paid for your room or financial ties leads me to another line of thought. If an editor is working for a publication on which it is permissible for some other group (say an advertiser) to pay for travel, the magazine may have equally lax rules about disclosing those ties in print.

You mention placing the magazine’s policy on its website. What are some other ways an editorial staff could reinforce this commitment to its readers? For example, what if a non-gift-taking magazine is competing in a market with a gift-taking (but not telling) magazine? Is there something more an editorial team can do than wait for readers to notice the other magazine’s editorial bias and to stop reading that publication? And if readers feel duped by one magazine, will they be able to fully trust the content they find in another (i.e. the non-gift-taking magazine)?

Paul Conley said...

Hi Spring,
Good questions. But I'm afraid that I don't have very good answers.
A magazine that allows editors to accept travel payments, etc. isn't likely to publish its ethics guidelines. But I would argue that editors at those publications must find some way to disclose such deals. That's our obligation as journalists to readers and to each other.
Perhaps ASBPE is a place where editors can "expose" some of these practices. Or they can talk about it in public with bloggers and others who care about these things.
For example, an editor who thinks his magazine is behaving badly can send an email to me, or to you, or to Folio magazine.
Exposing a rival magazine could work the same way. Furthermore, I'd urge editors to ask the sales and circulation staff for help in fighting an unprofessional rival. Make sure that your ad sales staff knows enough to "expose" what the bad guys do each and every time they make a sales call.

Martha Spizziri said...

Recently I was looking for ethics policies posted online to add to ASBPE's list of Ethics & Journalistic Standards Links page. It's interesting to note (though I haven't finished looking by any means) that it is relatively hard to find B2B publishing companies or publications that have their policies posted. Policies for mainstream newspapers--at least the big ones--seem to be much more readily available online, though a few can only be found via the American Society of Newspaper Editors site, with no links on the actual newspaper's web site.

As for B2B pubs, I remember IDG had posted a press release about its policy a few years ago, but now I can't find that information on its site. At least some of its publications do, though (like Computerworld).

Spring Suptic said...

Martha, those are great links. I especially like Computerworld's direct, single-sentence statements. I see how posting a code of ethics like this can really build readers' trust in the publication.