Re: An ethical question

Subject: Re: An ethical question
From: Charles E Vermette <cvermette -at- juno -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 18:39:53 -0400

<<<Besides doing marcom and technical writing, I also do some computer
journalism. This week, a PR person contacted me about "collaborating"
with a company. At first, the comments suggested that the intent was to
produce some marketing collateral. However, further e-mails made clear
that the point was to cooperate in writing reviews about the company's
products...I replied that any reviews would be completely independent,
and would need to be based on personal testing. The reply suggests that
this is fine. However, I'm still uneasy...I realize that many people
believe that journalists routinely establish this kind of special
relation with the makers of the products that they are discussing.
However, I have never worked this way. Nor, so far as I know, neither
have the journalists I know best. Nor, when I've been doing marketing
work myself, have I done more than send complementary copies of products
to recognized reviewers who might be interested in the product or who
requested copies...>>>

<<<I'm polling a couple of editors and journalists, but I'm interested in
other opinions. So, the question is: am I being overly-punctilious? Or is
the situation as ethically questionable as I tend to think?>>>

I've done technical journalism as well (contributing editor for a major
market trade journal...clips on my web site...) Also did PR in my last
perm job (7 years ago...)

Your ethical concerns are well founded, Bruce (they usually are, and I
admire you for it.) Avoid the situation altogether.

Having been both a solicitor of publicity, and the one being solicited, I
can say:

- I never knew of a relationship that worked that way.
- I *do* know that serious publications (the kind one wants to build a
journalism career on) avoid *any* appearance of collusion between the
advertising and editorial departments. Some go as far as to reject any
potential advertiser who hints of a quid pro quo (i.e., ad space for
coverage.) Others fire or blacklist anyone found to have the type of
relationship you describe. They *do not want any appearance* that
coverage is paid for.

Bottom line: if you're paid to write a piece by someone - and it's not
clearly marked as such - it's a violation of journalist ethics. You'll be
marked as a pariah by serious journalists. The fact that the PR agency
"implied" that this was marketing collateral is proof that a) they know
this, b) they are trying to "cross the line", and c) they should be

Charles E. Vermette
85 Washington Park Drive, Norwell MA 02061
e-mail: cvermette -at- juno -dot- com

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