Against a splattered backdrop of product placement and increasing pressure from advertisers to blur the lines between advertising and editorial, a survey of high-ranking editors at 157 trade publications reveals "a serious concern" about the ethical environment in which those editors operate.

According to the survey, conducted by the American Society of Business Publication Editors in advance of a revision of its own ethics code, 37 percent said their magazines had a formal editorial code of ethics, and about a third of those respondents said their publication or company backs them in ethical stands "only sometimes." Of those who said their publications did not have a formal code, 47 percent said they were backed "only sometimes." An overwhelming majority;90 percent;felt that b-to-b publications need editorial ethics guidelines. (The American Society of Magazine Editors, the ASBPE’s consumer equivalent, revised its own guidelines in October to address the budding product placement controversy.)

The survey also found respondents alleging ethical lapses outside the newsroom. Forty percent said they were "aware of sales staff engaging in unethical behavior," while 22 percent were aware of such conduct among the edit staff.

A Code Without Consequences
Perhaps more troubling for trade publications with a code of ethics in place, 70 percent of those respondents said they were unaware of the consequences of a violation, if they were enforced at all. Only one respondent said formal investigations are held when an ethical breach occurs.

Among the ethical violations cited the most were notations and cases of employees owning stock in companies that advertise.

The survey echoes previous research by ASBPE, in which 76 percent of its responding members had said they faced ad-related editorial demands, with 30 percent admitting they had succumbed to them.

ASBPE expects its new code to be in place in the first quarter of 2006.

Thinking Outside the Box in Editorial Management
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