Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Journalism ethics for B2B

American Business Media has released its updated "Editorial Code of Ethics." Nothing in it should be a surprise to anyone who practices the journalism craft. The guidelines are clear, simple and even a little obvious. Nonetheless, I know there are folks out there who balk at ethical behavior, so I'm grateful that ABM has taken the time to publish the code.
Of particular note are the guidelines related to online advertising. The online world is new, and the rules are still being written. As a result there have been more shenanigans on the Web than in print in recent years. ABM is calling for online standards similar to those used in respectable print publications -- clearly labeling advertorial content, keeping editorial content under the control of the editorial department, etc.
ABM also wants online readers to be able to "opt out" of having their information sold to third parties. That's the sort of consumer-oriented move I support, but it's not going to go down well with many circulation departments.
One disappointment is that the guidelines don't mention transparency. Dan Gillmor, who may be the best thinker in journalism today, has suggested transparency as part of a model for the post-objectivity world.
My experience is that the most common form of unethical journalistic behavior involves non-transparency, in which reporters don't fully disclose biases, history (many B2B reporters once worked in the industry they cover) and relationships with sources.
I'd like to think the folks at ABM are thinking about these issues, and perhaps next year's version of the ethics guideline will address them.
In keeping with this idea of full disclosure, let me say this: Among the members of the ABM committee that issued the guidelines are Rama Ramaswami, who I remember as one of the brighter people I met in my time at Primedia Business; Marlys Miller, who is an editor at Vance Publishing, where I once worked; and Whitney Sielaff, publisher of one of my favorite B2B magazines.

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