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Agrimarketing : November December 2009
48 Agri Marketing November/December 2009 SUPPORT GROWS FOR EDITORIAL ETHICS by Karen Simon, Owen Roberts and Dr. Jim Evans Agri-marketers appear to be taking steps to support and strengthen the editorial independence of farm periodicals in which they advertise. Signs of increased support during the past 20 years were apparent in results of research findings our team presented last August at the Agricultural Media Summit in Fort Worth, TX. Through a survey conducted late last year, more than 100 journalists told us they have significant ethical concerns about their profession, but they report advertisers seem to be taking a softer approach. In our presentation, we noted several signs of this softening, in trends described by three surveys --- 1988, 1998 and 2008 --- among members of the American Agricultural Editors' Association (AAEA. • Fewer threats to withdraw adver- tising. In 2008, 31% of the respond- ing agricultural journalists and editors said that during the past year they received threats to with- draw advertising from advertisers displeased by editorial copy. This level is reduced from 39% in 1998 and 62% in 1988. • Less advertising withdrawn. In 2008, 32% of these journalists reported having advertising with- drawn by advertisers displeased by editorial copy. This was signifi- cantly below the reported 42% in 1998 and 48% in 1988. • Less demand for trade-off. In 2008, 37% reported having experienced direct demands for editorial copy as a trade-off for advertising purchased. This represented a drop from 42%, although not by an amount found statistically significant. • Fewer gifts offered. A larger share of the 2008 respondents reported not being offered free gifts that year by sources or business representatives --- 19%, compared with 10% in 1998. These findings emerged through a comparison of findings from three surveys focusing on relationships between advertisers and the editorial content of commercial farm periodi- cals in the U.S. In 1988, Robert Hays and Ann Reisner conducted the first national survey among reporters and editors in the active membership category of AAEA. Stephen Banning and Jim Evans replicated that study in 1998, using the same survey instrument and AAEA member category. Then, during 2008, we replicated the study again within that AAEA member category. STILL CONCERNS Whereas results across the 20 years show signs of less effort by advertis- ers to influence editorial content, findings also indicate that agricul- tural journalists in the U.S. continue to be deeply concerned about pres- sures on editorial content and integrity. In 2008, 87 % of respon- dents said they consider attempts by advertisers to influence what stories appear as "harming the profession" or as "a problem in some cases." This level compared with 84% ten years earlier and 87% 20 years earlier. Findings also revealed evidence AAEA members and the publishers for which they write, show increased regard for ethics and proactive response to advertising-related pressures on editorial content. For example: • In 2006, AAEA members adopted the American Business Media code of ethics, along with some additions that applied specifically to AAEA. In general, the new code provides more specific guidelines and provides a method of enforce- ment. • AAEA also established an ethics committee which has provided information and resources to mem- bers on a regular basis since 2006. • Progress seems apparent. In 2008, for example, 47% of the AAEA respondents said their publications have a policy with regard to free meals. This share is significantly higher than the 30% of ten years earlier and only 9% 20 years earlier. POSITIONS We consider these efforts positive for all involved. In fact, for the 1998 and 2008 surveys we have operated in terms of what's called a "contractualist" model, based on agreement among a triad of agricul- tural reporters/editors/publishers, advertisers and producers/readers. Within the framework of social con- tract theory, this triad concept fea- tures power relations based on mutual consent, pursuit of mutual benefits, and mutual options for departure. It operates on the premise that any party to this triad can step out of the contract when power rela- tionships become untenable to them. We believe this interdependent approach cuts through narrow interests of the competitive day and focuses on long-term value for all partners in the reader-periodical- advertiser triad. Editorial independence and integrity will be the heart of that relationship, as it has in the past, accompanied by keen editorial judgment and high journalistic standards that command the respect and trust of readers. Research during the round that began in1998 included three studies, each of which focused on a partner in the triad. This 2008 survey among AAEA members, is the first in a follow-up effort that will also include research among producers/readers and advertisers. At the same time, we conducted the first comparable survey among Canadian agricultural editors; their responses will be reported separately at a later date. AM Karen Simon is President, American Agricultural Editors' Association (AAEA) and co-chaired its ethics committee. Owen Roberts heads the agricultural communications program at the University of Guelph, ON. Dr. Jim Evans is Professor Emeritus of agricultural communications at the University of Illinois.
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