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Dealing with non-editorial content

People read magazines for different reasons. We content people love to believe that it is for our keen words, but... when it comes down to it, advertising is content too, but it comes at you from a different source. As an editor, my goal is to ensure you know who writes what -- so that you don't think something that is actually advertiser sponsored or "custom" content is actually editorial content.

This is important because you deserve to know if there is some kind of agenda behind the content you are reading. We all read ads -- and ads are useful -- and it is generally clear who is paying for them. (If only that were true with political ads.)

The issue we get into at times is with these hybrid pieces -- things that aren't advertising, yet they aren't editorial. There are examples in the 11.5 issues of both Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News. (None of these things are online, by the way. You'll have to look at the print versions.)

In FCW, if you look at the back of the issue, there is a two-page spread for 1105 Government Information Group's GIT Rockin' battle of the bands event. (Yes, I'm behind on blogging about it. Argh! Others have, however. Read Market Connection's blog post about the evening... Federal News Radio's piece on the event... and others pulled together here.) We used Circuit in the front of the book to feature photos of GITRockin ' as well. Circuit is done by us, meaning the editorial team. The two-pager at the back of the book is done by our marketing team and does things like thank sponsors... and gives some press to the winners.

Another example... In GCN, on page 48, features a page on the GCN Gala... recapping the winners, etc. Previously, on page 40 and page 41 (unnumbered), you will see a big blue spread on the GCN Gala, which features the companies that sponsored certain awards. This spread is done by our events team's marketing staff and is not editorial content.

We are supposed to say what is edit content and what isn't. On so-called "advertorial" pieces, like the C-Notes section that runs after page 26 in the 11.5 issue of GCN, there is verbiage that says, "Custom supplement by Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News".

American Business Media, the trade association that oversees those of us in the business-to-business publication world, actually publishes the "code of ethics." Here is a link to the PDF so you can read them for yourself if you are interested, but I have posted the relevant section below, which has a subhed "Separation of advertising and editorial.

II-6 Separation of Advertising and Editorial
a. Editors must make a clear distinction between editorial and advertising. Editors have an obligation to readers to make clear which content has been paid for, which is sponsored and which is independent editorial material. All paid content that may be confused with independent editorial material must be labeled as advertiser-sponsored.
b. With respect to special advertising supplements or advertorials: The words advertising, advertisement, special advertising supplement or similar labeling must appear horizontally at or near the center of the top of every page of such sections containing text, in type at least equal in size and weight to the publication’s standard body typeface [adapted from American Society of Magazine Editors Editorial Guidelines, Nov. 2004].
c. The layout, design, typeface and style of special advertising sections or custom publishing products must be distinctly different from those of the publication [adapted fromASME, Nov. 2004].
d. Special advertising sections must not be slugged in the publication’s cover (including stickers) nor included in the table of contents. In general, the publication’s name or logo may not appear as any part of the headlines or text of such sections, except in connection with the magazine’s own products or services [adapted fromASME Nov. 2004].
e. Editorial staff members and freelancers used by editorial should not participate in the preparation of custom publishing or advertising sections, except that the chief editor may review contents of such sections before they appear.

I'm not trying to make a federal case of this, but I do think it is important. We (the media) often take people to task for a lack of openness -- the vogue word today is "transparency." And the press is pilloried with allegations that advertisers influence our content. Frankly, that we make it clear that we do think about these issues. In fact, we take it very seriously. The media and journalists get a bad rap these days, and perhaps rightfully. It is in part because we don't say that we think about the separation issues nearly enough. In this case, in both FCW and GCN , I think we failed to serve our readers well. Our job is to be clear -- to communicate -- and in this case, we didn't do that very well.

Posted on Nov 05, 2007 at 12:17 PM


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