If you like your trends hitting you square on the head, you
couldn't top one recent Monday in The New York Times' authoritative
On the front page: the fascinating saga of top staffers at The Hollywood
Reporter resigning after being blocked by the publisher from running an
expose on another staffer's purported misdeeds. Inside: word of
settlement in the case of a newspaper business columnist who'd been
punished for alleged improper stock trading - but only after the story
Welcome to the latest round of heightened ethics sensitivity among
journalists and media outlets. What does it mean for PR execs?
I see today's new ethical awareness as largely rooted in the
proliferation of media. Today, everything's a story. Live in a glass
house? Someone is watching - and scribbling. Live in a brick house?
Someone's spying down your chimney with a digital camera. Media
organizations know they too had better be on the up and up - or it'll
all be on some Web site within hours.
Like it or not, the newsroom often views PR folks as sirens of
temptation: all those freebies, exclusives with questionable strings,
and other dubious goodies (not to mention the occasional mis-leading or
outright bogus press release). So when the media start examining their
ethics, you'd better believe they'll scrutinize how they interact with
PR execs. Consider these standards of journalistic ethics. Ask yourself
where you stand:
1. Your favorite reporter may accept your "gift" or a favor - but your
offering it may become the story when someone else finds out - even if
it's intangible, like dangling an exclusive tomorrow in return for
softening a damaging story today.
2. Your clever deal to grant one outlet an embargoed exclusive may blow
up in your face - not by a rival pub outscooping your choice, but by
your chosen reporter's editor declaring that she will decide when it's
3. Those "independent experts" you line up to bolster your story - if
they're getting paid and it's not disclosed, that may become the
4. All your unabashedly self-serving press releases are of less and less
value to the media. Journalists know they add value most when they apply
their own critical judgments to the hype tidal wave. Deliver what they
need - the tools and information to determine themselves that your
product is a winner.
The new ethics of journalism really boil down to old truths: be up
front, be truthful, and never say or do anything you don't want to see
published in tomorrow's paper.