A little more than a week ago, VNU pulled a series of inappropriate ads from the editorial section of its magazines after I pointed out that the practice violated our profession's ethics.
I was pleased that VNU made the right decision. And I applaud the company for doing something that can be very tough -- backing away from a bad move.
This month's issue of Folio magazine takes a look at the line between editorial and advertising, and uses my thoughts about VNU as a starting point. Take a look.
I read the Folio piece with a heavy heart. Because it reminded me that many people in B2B publishing seem to have a difficult time with the easiest of concepts -- be good. In particular, the Folio article quotes an unnamed publisher, referring to ethics and online publishing, as saying “It’s like the Wild West out there.”
More to the point, that's wishful thinking by people who are willing to cut ethical corners.
The Folio piece gives a detailed and thoughtful look at new forms of marketing material that are available on the Web, including "online advertorials, sponsored areas, micro-sites and vendor-generated content."
Those are all valuable forms of content. And each of them is perfectly appropriate on the Web site of a B2B publisher.
But there is nothing about those types of material -- NOTHING -- that exempts them from the rules of ethics. Or, as I've told B2B journalists a hundred times: the rules haven't changed online, and you shouldn't let them.
Consider if you will one of the most basic of our profession's ethical guidelines -- make it clear what's an ad and what's not. The American Society of Magazine Editors puts it this way: "If any content comes from a source other than the editors, it should be clearly labeled. A magazine’s name or logo should not be used in a way that suggests editorial endorsement of an advertiser." The American Society of Business Publication Editors has this to say: "Special ad sections and supplements should be clearly labeled with the word 'advertising,' 'advertisement,' 'sponsored by,' or similar designation. The words 'advertorial' or 'infomercial' confuse the readers about the nature of the material, and should be avoided."
Or to put it more simply -- if someone paid for something on your site, make that clear to the reader.
Don't call ads a "resource center." Don't call them "special services."
Be clear. Be honest. Be ethical. Be good.
Those are simple rules for all of business, and all of life.
And remember, no matter what anyone else says -- you work in journalism, not in the Wild West.
tags: journalism, b2b, media, trade press, magazines, advertising, newsletters, business media, journalism ethics