Magazine editors strive to develop and maintain an editorial code of ethics, but formalizing such a code is one thing while keeping it front of mind is another. Pressures to sway editorial content in favor of advertisers is a constant, and having an ethics policy tucked away where no one can see it, much less remember it, is just as bad as not having one at all.
Roy Harris, senior editor at CFO and national president of American Society of Business Publication Editors, urges, in the spirit of ASBPE’s own ethics guidelines, magazines develop their own set of codes or adopt a code already established. Further, ASBPE proposes that the magazine "publishes its principles, to let readers know how it approaches ethical questions," says Harris. That way, the magazine maintains transparency in its policies, deepening the trust bond it has with readers.
Lest the editorial team forget it even has a code, Harris suggests having a yearly meeting as a refresher. "Discussion of how your principles really work is a great step toward making a code or set of principles relevant. Just a morning meeting once a year would do the trick," he says.
From there, Harris offers these suggestions: "When I was at the Wall Street Journal, the paper circulated its ethics statement to the staff about every year, and got everyone to sign it. That was a very good idea for keeping the ethical principles front of mind. I heartily suggest it. But mainly, the key is for editors to make ethics something they talk about all the time. Reading about other cases of magazines making controversial decisions helps, too."
Of course, having a code of ethics will only be successful if the magazine is already ethical. "To provide this service effectively," states ASBPE’s introduction to its code, "editors must maintain editorial excellence and the trust of their audience."