If karma was currency, they’d be rich; but it isn’t, so they’re not.
So where does that leave diligent, fair-minded editors? Increasingly it leaves us at a competitive disadvantage.
Here’s how it sometimes goes.
An industrious business journalist on a market-leading publication latches on to a tip-off and – remembering her training and her duties of care – contacts the organisation involved to sense-check the information and seek a comment.
The company representative confirms that the story is indeed correct, but that its immediate publication would be inconvenient.
And so – because the relationship is valued – a deal is struck.
The journalist agrees to hold fire on the story in exchange for more information a few days hence – at a time more expedient for the company concerned.
Then, before this arrangement is concluded, the company feeds the story – with a more positive slant – to another title.
The journalist has been mugged, and faces explaining to her colleagues and editor why she has fluffed the scoop.
"It’s cock-up, not conspiracy," she is told. "It won’t happen again."
But it does, and it makes an editor like me start to wonder whether we’re all being taken for a ride.
I’m seriously tempted to tell my journalists: "No more deals."
After all, our primary duty is to our readers, more so than to the companies about which we write.
The more PRs and company directors double-cross journalists to optimise a content opportunity or achieve damage limitation, the more we will seek to bypass them.
The internet is full of churnalists – ‘cut and paste’ merchants for whom being first is more important than being right.
They won’t seek a comment or offer a right of reply.
And they certainly won’t accommodate favours.
It’s cheap and it’s nasty, but it’s a content service of sorts.
Perhaps it would just be easier if we all behaved like that, levelling the playing field and removing any scope for further misunderstanding.
Next month – why editors will no longer be complicit in replacement of advertising with PR.