Thursday, May 03, 2007

More on the Ziff Davis ads-in-edit scandal

Folio magazine has written an article about my dispute with Ziff Davis over that company's insertion of ads into the bodies of stories.
Take a look.

I think it's fair to say that while folks such as Rex Hammock and Jeffrey Seglin (both quoted in the Folio article) agree with me that the ads are violations of our industry's ethical standards, the folks at Ziff Davis disagree. Rather, Michael Vizard, editorial director and senior vice president of Ziff Davis Enterprise Group, says the ads are "in compliance with existing ASME and ASBPE guidelines as we understand them."

But consider, if you will, the wording of ASME's ethical guidelines: "Advertisers should not pay to place their products in editorial pages nor should they demand placement in return for advertising. Editorial pages may display and credit products and tell readers where to buy them, as long as those pages are solely under editorial control."
The key here, it seems to me, is that last section. Editorial pages must be "solely under editorial control."
I think it's clear that ASBPE is even more clear in its ethics guidelines: "Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold.”
But I think the award for clarity on this issue has to go to American Business Media. Here's what ABM has to say: "Hypertext links that appear within the editorial content of a site, including those within graphics, must be solely at the discretion of the editors. Links within editorial should never be paid for by advertisers."

But as clear as these rules are to me, they are apparently not clear enough for the senior management at Ziff Davis. Vizard wants ASBPE and ASME to be even more direct. He tells Folio magazine that "Should these officially recognized bodies adopt specific policies related to IntelliTXT ads, we would welcome that clarification and would also be inclined to comply with those guidelines."

Now putting aside that Jeffrey Seglin is a member of the ASBPE ethics committee, and that in the Folio article he seems to offer exactly the sort of clarification that Vizard says he wants, let's try to put an end to this depends-upon-what-the-meaning-of-the word-'is'-is foolishness.
Let's just ask the "officially recognized bodies."

So here goes: I'm formally asking that ASBPE, ASME and ABM issue statements on the use of advertising links in stories. Please publish your opinions on your Web sites and/or the comment section of this blog.
Thank you.

For other takes on this issue, see what Matt McAlister, Eric Shanfelt and Rex Hammock have to say.

tags: , , , , , , , , advertising


  1. AnonymousMay 04, 2007

    Hi, Paul-

    Roy Harris, ASBPE pres, emailed me an 'official' statement. I blogged it, and updated the Folio: news item. Here it is in any case:

    "This debate has turned out to be a good opportunity to show how our ethics-code machinery works at ASBPE. The committee members came back strongly supporting the code's statement that editors should have the final say about whether to use hypertext links in editorial--whether they are hyptertext edit links or links to vendors. That is our preferred editorial practice.

    There was a feeling that the code might be misread by some (although it is unlikely) because of some punctuation in the section headed "D. Approve Hypterxt Links." The paragraph will be changed so that it ends this way:

    "Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold. If an editor allows a link, it generally should not link to a vendor’s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader."

    Web-based journalism offers exciting new ways for B2B journalists to tell their stories--including through hypertext links. But it also presents certain dangers that exist in a form different from what print publications face. We feel the code offers a clear guideline: Editors, not publishers or ad-sales folks, should make the final decisions on ALL uses of links within edit copy. Also, ad links within editorial text should NOT be sold under any condition."

  2. Paul, I second your request to ASBPE and ABM to clarify a position.

  3. Hi Bill.
    Thanks. I heard from Roy as well (and have thanked him for his input.) His response should put an end to the debate. It seems as clear as can be that ASBPE disapproves of these links.
    Thanks for your support.
    As you can see, ASBPE has done the right thing.
    But I'm still awaiting a response from ABM and ASME.

  4. please excuse my nativity but i'm not sure the issue is as cut-and-dry as it is presented here (and here and here and here).
    all in all, we are inundated with advertising as it is; it may not be a big deal to a large portion of the reading public who have no sense of ethical standards in writing. it certainly would be nice to maintain a separation of editorial content and actual advertising.
    that being said, let's be honest with ourselves: in many cases editorial content is just a pitch for an industry, service, person, etc anyway, so on that vein we've been riding down the "slippery slope" for quite some time now.
    in fact, i know a number of PR agents frequently making statements along the lines of "we spend enough money with X-publisher that we should be getting way more editorial content than we are; i'm going to have to say something or pull funding."
    not mentioned in these posts: what's the difference between in-text ads and google adsense?

  5. James,
    Thanks for your comment … but I’m going to have to disagree with what you’ve said.
    Of more precisely, I’m going to have to disagree with what I think you said.
    You seem to be saying that “a number of PR agents” often misunderstand the line between edit and advertising. You seem to be saying that some editorial content crosses the line and becomes marketing copy. You seem to be saying that we’ve been going down the “slippery slope” for some time.
    I concede each and every one of those points.
    But none of what you said is an argument against maintaining ethical standards. Rather, those are argument for enforcing standards.
    There is no doubt that there are terrible people in our business who will engage in myriad acts of unethical behavior in order to make a buck. But far more common are the folks who, feeling the pressure to make a buck, look to justify the “bending” of rules. Those are the people I hope to reach. I have no delusions that I can convince pigs and monsters to act like responsible publishers. But I have great hope that I can shame miscreants such as Ziff Davis into returning to the ethical fold.
    And more importantly, I take great pride in offering my support to journalists who are forced to work in unethical situations.
    You began your comment with a request that I excuse your “nativity.” I assume that’s a typo, and that you intended to write “naiveté.”
    Well, the truth is, I can forgive naiveté. But you seem to be suggesting that we stop worrying about ethics because there are lots of unethical people. But that’s like suggesting we stop having laws because there are so many criminals. That’s not naiveté. That’s defeatism and cheap cynicism. And I find it hard to excuse either.
    As for Google Adsense … I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re talking about. I don’t object to ads. I don’t object to contextual ads. I object to ads in the editorial section of a professional magazine’s Web site. And I object to ads that are designed to mislead a reader. Most importantly, I object to any publisher or journalist that joins an organization such as ABM or ASBPE and then refuses to adhere to their ethics policies.