Monday, July 31, 2006

Ag Media Summit stirs ethical discussion

By Elaine Shein

The Ag Media Summit has ended in Portland, Ore. and was called a great success. Number-wise, about 525 people attended the summit that has agricultural communicators from across the country.

However, numbers isn’t the only thing that reveals how successful a meeting can be for any organization.

Meetings such as this summit provide a valuable networking opportunity. There are also opportunities to develop skills, discuss the challenges and opportunities in the industry, and more importantly what are the standards that the agriculture publications should set and live up to if the media wishes to earn or retain the respect of readers.

The American Agricultural Editors Association has followed the leads of other organizations and has now adopted a code of ethics. While this is an effort that should be applauded, unfortunately there is no disciplinary action against any members who do not follow these ethical guidelines. And thus, that is what they remain: unenforceable guidelines rather than laws that govern an organization.

At the very least, the ethical code will stir yet once again within the industry a lively discussion of what is happening and why some media organizations, advertisers, and marketing agencies do certain things that might be seen as questionable in the eyes of customers.

This isn’t the first time such discussions have been held, nor will it be the last, but an excellent point was made at the Portland meeting.

Media executives, as well as someone from the advertising side, stressed how much integrity and respect means to an organization.

They stressed that if a newspaper or magazine has been around for 100 years, 75 years, or even a handful of years, there is a relationship of trust and integrity built with customers. The reputation of that publication is what attracts readers but also advertisers who know that readers put a lot of weight on what they read in those respectable publications.

So why throw away a hundred years of history, credibility, integrity and trust with one stupid decision, was the final conclusion of the panel at the meeting.

One short-sighted decision by a newspaper executive to allow a questionable advertising practice happen at the publication could mar all those years of credibility and hurt the long-term growth and viability of the publication.

Forget the generations who trusted that paper before: if a false cover, unidentified advertorial page, or some other unethical practice occurs and confuses, irritates or strongly upsets readers, it will take a long time (if ever) for the customers to ever trust again that source of information.

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