American Society of Business Publication Editors
ASBPE president Roy Harris and his association put together one of the most comprehensive editorial ethics guidelines for online.
Citizen journalists, blogging, aggregating content and embedding advertisements in editorial content are just some of the ethical challenges faced by online publications and their editorial staffs daily.
Although many have tried, few organizations have tackled the subject of online ethics as thoroughly as the American Society of Business Publication Editors did in the May 2006 release of its updated ethics guide. “We had an ethics code that was out-of-date,” says ASBPE president Roy Harris. “Back when it was written, editors hadn’t really discovered that the Web was out there.”
Harris, a senior editor at CFO, says an ASBPE-formed ethics committee took about six months to hash out the update. To do so, it polled members as to how they felt a new ethics code should be approached.
The committee also borrowed (and attributed) the ethics codes of similar organizations and publications. “The strength of our guide is that it draws realistically from real experience,” Harris says.
What’s unique about ASBPE’s ethics guidelines is that they are specifically tailored to meet the needs of editors, rather than publishers, says Harris. “Hopefully, editors can use these to ethically train the people who work for them and to better negotiate when a publisher asks them to do something marginal because ‘we really need the revenue.'”
Included in the online code are guidelines concerning hypertext links, saying that advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial and labeled as such, as should click-through pages. The guidelines also weigh-in on the debate of using advertiser-sponsored contextual links in editorial content, saying they should not be sold or linked to a vendor’s Web site “unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader.”
“It’s very difficult to come up with specific policies for the Internet because things change every day,” Harris said. “But I am amazed at some of the things that come up like the advertisements people want to put into text. It seems to me things like that could really undercut your editorial integrity. But we don’t want it to be a policing document. We consider this to be a guide.”
ASBPE’s online ethics standards address the needs of editors, rather than publishers, to help them navigate the sometimes marginally ethical online realm.