Do Today’s Ethics Codes Work for Everyone?
Is continued reliance on traditional ethics code guidance the best approach for everyone? In my previous post on this subject, I made a case for in-house codes that help avert potential conflicts over marketing matters. However, early responses to that post from two experienced editors argue for alternative measures. Building relationships is superior to butting heads, these commenters agreed. Perhaps other editors will join the discussion to speak up in favor of other format variations. Meanwhile, here are brief excerpts from the conversation to date:
Editor A: “I won’t say there’s not pressure. But the best thing is to build relationships. I had a conversation with one of our sales guys recently who had a customer looking for something I didn’t think was a good idea. But after talking about it we came up with a better idea that works for both customer and editors. And when you have a good relationship and you’ve helped [sales staff] out, you have more leverage to be able to convince them to back you up when there’s a real ethical problem.”
Rauch: “Your ‘build relationships’ example got me thinking about perhaps a more valid way to distinguish between marketing issues and ‘real ethical problems.’ Initially I suggested need for a separate ethics code focusing on marketing issues. But when it comes to addressing marketing issues in typical ethics codes, a sort of “can’t do” attitude pervades. So what we really need is a manual devoted to editorial marketing technique. It will address issues usually found in today’s ethics codes but with a ‘can do’ flavor. There is plenty of stuff alert editors already do that supports marketing efforts without undermining integrity.”
Editor A: “The problem I’ve discovered is that when you have a ‘can’t do’ attitude, sales-oriented management tends to view you as a persnickety editor who isn’t a team player. They don’t want to hear about ‘Church and State.’ They want to know how you can help them. We have to find ways to help, ethically.”
Editor B: “Yes, it’s an eternal challenge. I found a long time ago that you can certainly work with sales people to help them and also enhance editorial. Just make sure they know we won’t write anything the readers won’t be interested in, and won’t ever cover one type of a source of product, but always try to review the marketplace.”
Rauch: “The more we talk about this, the clearer it’s becoming—for me anyway—that our conception regarding standard ethics code content needs major overhaul. Especially as pressure increases for editors to wear marketing hats more often, it will become more difficult for existing ethics codes to contain journalistic ethics principles and editorial advertising/marketing practice under one roof. Perhaps that approach was workable years ago. Coincidentally, I noticed that most of our ethics codes are due for revision. What logical changes should we be considering?”
Please share your thoughts in the comment area below. If you prefer a private discussion, e-mail me at email@example.com.