Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Guidelines on - and off - the Wall

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Guidelines on - and off - the Wall

Article excerpt

Seeking guidance to avoid advertiser influence in your news pages? It may not be as easy as it appears.

Sure, you'll find no shortage of rules and regulations from journalism associations and newspaper chains that promise to save your journalistic soul from the purported evils of advertising department pressure.

But, upon closer inspection, such guidelines and ethics codes often scratch only the surface of the sensitive advertising/editorial "Wall," with little specific direction.

While a few proposed rules provide a specific explanation of what is considered improper behavior, most offer only generalities that leave a lot for newspapers to determine on their own.

One such example is the American Society of Newspaper Editors' statement of principles, which gives only general advice for independent coverage. "Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict," say the ASNE rules - most recently revised in 1975. "They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity."

Not exactly Moses descending from the Mount. And then there are the Newspaper Association of America and the National Newspaper Association - which say they have no written guidelines for members.

For many journalists and business-side executives, such vague guidelines might be welcomed because they allow the individual newspapers to decide for themselves what is proper and improper.

"Our purpose always is to help editors think things through rather than prescribe things," says ASNE President Chris Anderson. "It is much more appropriate for individual papers to set their own standards."

But others seeking to stay on the holy path during today's increased pressure for more advertising revenue and greater profits say the industry would likely benefit from a more precise order. "It is important to make sure that the rules are clear," says Brian Toolan, editor and vice president of The Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

Among the most detailed guidelines are those offered by the American Society of Magazine Editors, which put out its latest eight-page pamphlet in April. More than half of that publication is devoted to avoiding undue influence or pressure from advertisers, with specific notations on logo use in ads, advertising special sections, and placement of editorial items next to advertisements. …

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