Following reports that firearms industry trade magazine Guns & Ammo yielded to advertiser pressure when it fired a columnist for arguing that Second Amendment rights are subject to regulation, editors at trade magazines that cover other industries are speaking out against such a response, stressing the need for such publications to be independent.
Guns & Ammo fired gun journalist Dick Metcalf after he wrote a piece for the December 2013 edition of the magazine arguing that, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be."
According to The New York Times, Metcalf's column caused two "major gun manufacturers" to threaten to pull advertising support from Guns & Ammo publisher Intermedia Outdoors (IMO) if Metcalf wasn't fired. (IMO is the publisher of 15 sportsman themed magazines and owns The Sportsman Channel, which is known for its Ted Nugent hunting specials and airs the National Rifle Association's daily news show.)
Jim Bequette, the editor who approved Metcalf's column, also apologized to readers and resigned.
Metcalf's firing highlights one of the key challenges that niche trade publications face. While all news outlets have to make sure their ad dollars keep coming in, those who cover specific industries and narrow areas of interest often feel even greater pressure.
That pressure requires trade journalists to manage a balancing act that is paramount to keeping journalistic ethics and reader trust solid. Even if you are reporting for a smaller audience about a specific industry or area of interest, your credibility needs to be as unyielding as any other news outlet.
Perhaps more so because trade magazines in many areas are often the only outlet for relevant news about a specific business or niche interest.
"Writing for a trade magazine can occasionally be tricky, because you're in a unique position: You run the risk of potentially upsetting an advertiser by writing something that they could find objectionable," said Shawn Moynihan, executive managing editor at National Underwriter, Property & Casualty, which covers property and casualty insurance issues. "The truth is the truth, though, for better or worse, and that's your job -- to report it. To do less would violate the trust your readers place in you."
Editor & Publisher has an interesting look at how newspaper editors are reacting to the use of popular social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook by their journalists. As you can imagine, newspaper ethics policies for social networking sites are all over the map...
From Editor & Publisher:
The Los Angeles Times issued a list of guidelines in March, while The Wall Street Journal gained attention in May when it expanded its conduct guidelines to include a host of online-related restrictions, including warnings not to "friend" confidential sources or get into Web- related arguments with critics. The Washington Post, just a day later, did the same (as I observe in my story on p. 5). But not everyone is laying down the law on Twitter. Some papers want staffers to take a casual, open approach, while others admit they aren't sure how to police the social media outlets and still allow them to be useful.
Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, started tweeting, albeit sparingly, last month. "I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper," he told me. "Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing the New York Times."
The Washington Post's new policy on social networking sites, created in mid-May, asks users to avoid "verbal fisticuffs with rivals or critics." The paper's policy adds: "In general, we expect that the journalism our reporters produce will be published through The Washington Post, in print or digitally, not on personal blogs, Facebook or MySpace pages, or via Twitter or other new media. We are happy to have reporters post links to their stories or other Post material.
The Los Angeles Times "social media" guidelines make clear that staffers are always representing the paper when they engage in online activities: "Assume that your professional life and your personal life merge online regardless of your care in separating them. Don't write or post anything that would embarrass the LAT or compromise your ability to do your job."
When I asked Associated Press Director of Media Relations Paul Colford about Twitter and Facebook policies, he cited a portion of the AP's "news values and principles," which states: "Anyone who works for the AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP's reputation as an unbiased source of news."
Perhaps news outlets (print/broadcast/online) should post their ethics policies online. Not just policies as they relate to social networking but the policies that guide reporters in general.
Over the years we've seen numerous examples of media figures breaching the tenants of basic journalistic integrity if not their employers' stated ethics policies. If editors are too busy to police their own reporters, I'm sure the American people would be happy to pick up the slack – on Twitter, on Facebook, on the news pages or on the air.
If you use the social networking site Facebook, be sure to join the official Media Matters page and those of our senior fellows Eric Boehlert, Jamison Foser, and Karl Frisch as well. You can also follow Media Matters, Boehlert, Foser, and Frisch on Twitter.
Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that on CNN, "[o]nly Anderson Cooper at 10 o'clock covered the story" of the slaying of Army recruiter Pvt. William Long. In fact, in addition to the coverage on Anderson Cooper 360, CNN covered Long's shooting on 15 shows from June 1 through June 3.