Developing an Editorial Code of Ethics

Posted on Sunday, September 29, 2019 at 10:45 PM

Is it time for you to revisit your publication's ethics code? Which principles are most important in today's publishing world?

By Denise Gable

Google the term "editorial integrity" and you'll see that it's a topic of current interest. A number of broadcasters are making statements about their own practices. We readily found WFYI (Indianapolis), KETR (Texas A&M University–Commerce), and WKU Public Radio (Western Kentucky University) touting their own codes of ethics. Interestingly, these are all public broadcasters. Meanwhile, on the publishing side, Folio magazine bemoans, "Separation of Church and State Is (Mostly) Dead in Media, Execs Say."

Well, maybe -- or maybe not.

Recently we came across the code of ethics for Mint, an Indian financial print daily with an online version at livemint.com. Its code offers EO readers a number of points worth considering. Here is an excerpt:

"The central premise of this code is that Mint's reputation for quality products and services, for business integrity, and for the independence and integrity of our publications, services and products is the heart and soul of our enterprise. Put another way, it is an essential prerequisite for success in the news and information business that our customers believe us to be telling them the truth. If we are not telling them the truth -- or even if they, for any valid reason, believe that we are not -- then Mint cannot prosper. The company will suffer, for example, if our customers cannot assume that:

"--Our facts are accurate and fairly presented;
"--Our analyses represent our best independent judgments rather than our preferences, or those of our sources, advertisers or information providers;
"--Our opinions represent only our own editorial philosophies; or
"--There are no hidden agendas in any of our journalistic undertakings.
"--All companies profess business integrity. But the impact of our work on the work of others, and on their lives and fortunes, places special responsibilities upon all Mint employees.

"The clear implication of these beliefs is that the responsibility for safeguarding and growing a company that lives up to this code lies with each and every one of us. Every Mint employee holds a position of trust. Acceptance of a position at any level or in any part of Mint includes acceptance of individual responsibility to uphold Mint policies governing legal and ethical business practices. It also includes acceptance of individual responsibility for following all legal requirements and ethical business practices, as well as the responsibility to stress proper ethical behavior among colleagues and subordinates.

"Moreover, it must be clear to each of us that business integrity is necessary in every business decision -- and that it is not the special province of news employees, or members of the legal department, or anyone else. Business integrity requires that we make all of our business decisions, and approach all business questions, objectively and realistically, and in the long-term best interests of all of our shareholders.

"Editors, by virtue of their positions of authority, must be ethical role models for all employees. An important part of an editor's leadership responsibility is to exhibit the highest standards of integrity in all dealings with employees, customers and the world at large. Editors must avoid even implicit or unspoken approval of any actions that may be damaging to the reputation of [parent company] HT Media, and must always exercise sound business judgment in the performance of their duties.

"An equally important leadership responsibility is to develop employees' commitment to our principles and ability to make sound ethical judgments. Editors must communicate the seriousness of the company's expectations of ethical conduct, as well as their own personal support for these guidelines. Ethical leadership includes fostering a working environment that encourages employees to voice concerns or otherwise seek assistance or counsel if faced with potentially compromising situations, and also supporting those who raise such concerns."

Native Advertising?

Another publication that subscribes to the Mint code is Singapore-based Career Tsunami. It covers transformational issues in the workplace associated with new technologies and related business changes. Its code adds:

"The age-old tenets of journalism still hold true. This is especially relevant on the internet where anyone can be a publisher, and the line between who is a journalist and who is not is blurring.

"Branded content or native advertising is commonplace in digital journalism and Career Tsunami intends to pursue such opportunities. Our journalists will never be involved in creating such content and we will make sure to label clearly such content so that readers know that it is sponsored content. They may be labeled as sponsored feature, advertorial, advertisement, marketing feature, or the like. We will not allow advertising to disguise itself as newsroom-originated, editorial content.

"From time to time, our editorial staff may get advance access to products, services, websites, features, and apps before they are publicly available for the purposes of evaluation for potential coverage. Advance access, and access in general, is not a guarantee of coverage or the tone of coverage. Moreover, the timing of any coverage we do is not influenced by any company we cover. Periodically, however, we may negotiate the timing with a company on a case-by-case basis if it makes sense editorially."

Do You Have a Code?

Editorial Solutions president Howard Rauch recently emphasized that it may be time for editors to create their own respective codes of ethics. He says,

"You've probably read recent reports about Church & State philosophy's imminent demise. Supposedly hastening this development has been a movement towards increased editorial staff involvement in marketing activity.

"While this may probably please your sales team, impact on editorial ethical practice remains unclear. Over the years, stern adherence to C&S principles probably has softened.

"In fact, several years back while serving as ASBPE's ethics committee chairman, I sensed the wisdom of adopting a more favorable disposition towards senior editor participation in sponsored content projects as well as accompanying our sales team on selected advertiser calls. It also suggested as beneficial creating an additional ethics code totally devoted to marketing matters.

"That hasn't happened yet, but perhaps its time is coming soon. One logical option, of course, is creation of your own in-house ethics code that supplements ASBPE's excellent national code.

"Then there are many who believe further modification of the existing code would be sufficient. The jury is still out. Where agreement seems to exist among editors is recognition of the need to build a strong relationship with their marketing colleagues."

Note: You can see the ASBPE code here.

Denise Gable is managing editor of Editors Only.

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Editorial Conferences -- Part III

Posted on Sunday, September 29, 2019 at 10:45 PM

The final wrap-up.

By William Dunkerley

In this last installment in our series about editorial conferences, we present our digest of comments received from a cross section of editors:

Dave Fusaro, editor-in-chief, Food Processing magazine: Dave's print publication is monthly, but he says "something goes up daily" in the online edition. Instead of an editorial conference, Dave conducts a monthly cover meeting that includes the only other editor on staff and the art director. Long-range planning goes into an extensive editorial calendar. It dictates every page they write, reports Dave.

Gary Crowdus, editor-in-chief, Cineaste magazine: Cineaste is a quarterly, both print and online. Gary's editorial conferences include all senior editors, some assistant editors, and proofreaders. Ninety percent of the meetings are devoted to planning the next issue; ten percent goes to discussing plans for subsequent issues.

Dave Zoia, editorial director, WardsAuto: Dave reports, "Mostly we don't do print anymore." What's left is one quarterly and one print annual. Online publishing is daily, though. Dave says editorial conferences are typically held twice weekly to discuss coverage and staffing. They're attended by the associate, senior, and managing editors, plus analysts and editorial directors. They cover mostly daily and weekly planning.

Joe Phillips, senior director of multimedia communications, National Automobile Dealers Association: Joe says that although their monthly magazine "was shuttered in 2008," they continue with an annual magazine. "It has remained profitable and is distributed at our major trade show and mailed to all members," he says. It also appears as a PDF posted online. "Articles also appear as separate blog posts," he adds. There are no editorial conferences. Joe says, "I create the editorial lineup and run it by a few staff and my supervisor."

Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief, Heavy Duty Trucking and truckinginfo.com: "Our print publication is monthly, but we are posting new content on our website every weekday -- news stories, articles, interviews, videos, photo galleries, blogs. We have weekly editorial conference calls with our entire staff. Some weeks we keep them short and they're simply a rundown of where everyone is with their print and web assignments and a look at the digital analytics from the previous week, which also helps inform both short- and long-term planning for content. Other weeks they are longer and may look a few months ahead of time. We're trying to do monthly calls with top editors of some of our sister books to try to coordinate some content; that's pretty new. Also we've started using Asana to try to keep track of all the various assignments and projects."

David Bolling, editor and publisher, Valley of the Moon magazine: "Seven weeks before each issue and at least once per week we have editorial planning conferences," says David. His print publication is bimonthly. Online presence is both bimonthly and weekly. For the editorial conferences David brings in the operations director, design director, sales manager, photo editors, and sometimes writers. Meeting time is allocated "about 40 percent to editorial content; 10 percent to sales, 25 percent to graphic design, cover, features photography; and 25 percent to long-term planning." He comments, "We always try to work one solid issue ahead. And we always fail. That remains our most important objective. Being an issue ahead (except for late-breaking stories) would make everyone's life easier and raise the overall quality of the magazine. Making content and design the product of true collaborative discussion invests the entire team with ownership of the finished product. No one person drives this bus. Everyone has a hand on the wheel."

Jayne Haugen Olson, editor-in-chief, Mpls St Paul magazine: Jayne's magazine appears monthly in print. Daily online content is separate from print. "To protect newsstands and respect subscribers, we wait two to four weeks before posting online from the print edition," she says. However, Jayne adds, "We make some exceptions." Her editorial conferences follow a "30/60/90 approach. Quarterly on long range. Annual on big picture." She explains, "We are a city magazine located in the north. We need to think seasonally so we can get strong photos to run in the following season. We were planning summer 2019 and shooting at the same time to run in summer 2020, for instance. Prior to that dedicated effort, our photos were not as good and our package was not as strong. Immersive experiences resonate with Instagram-happy, Millennial audiences. Photos are critical."

Jef White, executive editor, The Shop magazine: Jef's magazine publishes in print monthly. Editorial conferences include the editor, online editor, publisher, sales reps, and support personnel. He reports that 95 percent of meeting time deals with the next issue, 5 percent with longer-range planning. Jef says, "Publisher and sales team appreciate tips on opportunities to contact their clients regarding upcoming articles. Editors can help by anticipating tie-ins and giving lead time regarding clients that are somehow involved in the articles. Our sales team also likes to solicit high-res images from clients for use in articles about markets they are connected to."

Jarrett Lobell, editor-in-chief, Archaeology magazine: Jarrett publishes in print six times per year, every day online with news. His editorial conferences include all editorial staffers: associate, senior, and deputy editors. They devote 70 percent of the meeting time to the current issue and 30 percent to long-range planning.

Trey Barrineau, managing editor, NAIOP's Development magazine: "We push out our magazine quarterly, but NAIOP publishes material on other platforms every week," reports Trey. Editorial conferences include the managing editor and editor-in-chief, who also serves as the association's vice president for knowledge and research. A project manager sometimes attends too. Meetings are devoted mostly (85 percent) to the next issue and 15 percent to longer-range planning. Trey advises, "Once you get a plan for your next issue, stick with it. Substantial changes to the story lineup should only be driven by breaking news or production-related problems, such as a freelancer not delivering a promised article."

This concludes our treatment of the editorial conference. Perhaps you've picked up some useful tips or background for comparison along the way. Happy planning!

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Sunday, September 29, 2019 at 10:44 PM

Assessing the readability of a TheAtlantic.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index text comes from an article in the October 2019 issue of The Atlantic ("Whale Songs Are Getting Deeper" by Rebecca Giggs).

"Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, meanwhile, may indirectly influence whale voices in other ways. Recent monitoring of Antarctic blue whales shows that, during the austral summer, their pitch rises. Researchers have hypothesized that in warmer months, the whales must use their forte volume to be heard amid the cracking ice -- a natural sound amplified by unnatural processes, as rising temperatures exacerbate ice-melt. So the impacts of a warming planet may modulate animal sounds even in remote places with barely any humans, and where the most thunderous notes come not from ships, but from the clatter of breaking ice."

--Word count: 98 words
--Average sentence length: 25 words (14, 15, 33, 36)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 15 percent (15/98 words)
--Fog Index (25+15)* .4 = 16 (16.0, no rounding)

We need to cut 5 points' worth of Fog from this paragraph. But we also don't want to cull any information that is essential to the reader's understanding. A quick glance at the numbers tells us that we have a lot of words in just a few sentences, and 15 percent of the words contain 3 or more syllables. Let's get to editing:

"Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, meanwhile, may indirectly affect whale voices in other ways. Recent monitoring of Antarctic blue whales shows that, during the austral summer, their pitch rises. Researchers think that in warmer months the whales must use their forte volume to be heard amid the cracking ice. This natural sound is amplified by unnatural processes, as rising temperatures heighten ice-melt. So the impacts of a warming planet may alter animal sounds even in remote places with barely any humans, where the most booming notes come not from ships but from the clatter of breaking ice."

--Word count: 97 words
--Average sentence length: 19 words (14, 15, 20, 13, 35)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 10 percent (10/97 words)
--Fog Index (19+10)* .4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

It didn't take much, but we got there. We ran into two challenges of note while editing: (1) We could not change the longer words "natural" and "unnatural" in what became the fourth sentence. The juxtaposition between the two is the heart of the sentence. (2) We couldn't split up the last sentence, a hefty 35 words even after our edit. The two clauses are too closely linked to separate. So that left us to substitute longer words where we could and divide the original third sentence (33 words) into two (20 and 13). Those modest changes brought the Fog Index down from 16 to 11.

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New York Times vs. Twitter

Posted on Sunday, September 29, 2019 at 10:44 PM

In the news: Controversial editorial decisions kick up two separate Twitter firestorms in the same week.

This week, the New York Times found itself in hot water twice after publishing two controversial stories. The first reveals potentially identifying information about the whistleblower whose complaint launched the House impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump; the second involves a misleading story about voters, says Gabriel Snyder of the Columbia Journalism Review. He doesn't mince words in his opening line: "The New York Times has a Twitter problem."

For a newspaper whose policy is not to let Twitter users dictate its editorial decisions, the Times spends an awful lot of time on the platform. Snyder says: "Though executive editor Dean Baquet told his staff that he won't allow the paper to be edited by tweets ... responding to Trump's favorite social-media platform is taking up more and more of the Times' mental space."

Immediately after the NYT published the whistleblower piece, Twitter erupted. The hashtag #CancelNYT started trending. Executive editor Dean Baquet issued a statement on his decision to publish the story, but it was too little too late for Twitter readers, who felt that the story needlessly compromised the whistleblower's safety. Read more here.

Elsewhere, Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise faced criticism over a story about 2020 voters. On Twitter she characterized the story as one about swing voters who opposed impeachment, but the article features inverviews with likely Trump voters, not swing voters. Tavernise later deleted the tweet and apologized for mischaracterizing the article, reports Lindsey Ellefson of TheWrap.com. Read more about the tweet in question here.

Also Notable

Vox Acquires New York Magazine

Last week, Vox Media announced that it was purchasing New York Media, owner of New York Magazine. This is Vox's first foray into magazine publishing, says Anthony Ha of TechCrunch.com. "Along with the titular website, Vox also owns SB Nation, Recode, The Verge and other online properties," he notes. "It's also launched shows on Netflix and PBS, and has a multi-year deal with Hulu." Read more about the acquisition here.

The announcement has left staffers at both companies shaken. Kerry Flynn of CNN Business reports that "the Times published a story on the deal, featuring a photo of Bankoff and New York Media CEO Pamela Wasserstein, both smiling. Many staffers at the merging companies discovered the story on Twitter, after one of its authors, Edmund Lee, now of the Times but formerly managing editor of Recode, tweeted it at 8:53 p.m. ET." For staffer reactions to the merger, read Flynn's full piece here.

How Will Publishers Handle New Facebook Privacy Policies?

Earlier this year, Facebook announced its intention to focus more on privacy in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But six months later, publishers still don't know what this shift will mean for them, says Tim Peterson of Digiday.com. Read more here.

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