New-media guru Esther Dyson used her acceptance speech at an awards luncheon in New York last week to call for the protection of editorial independence on the Internet. After all, she noted, the Internet is a medium where consumers have to worry whether they're seeing the "real results" or a paid placement when using a search engine. Ditto book recommendations. "Advertising is good," she said, so long as it's clearly labeled and proud to be what it is -- rather than something that tries to mislead or confuse consumers.
Ms. Dyson's speech came on the same day the American Society of Magazine Editors released new guidelines to address such gray areas as custom publishing and single-sponsor issues. Advertisers increasingly demand more than just ad pages, and creative publishers sometimes blur the ad/edit line in their quest for the next big idea. The ASME rules are not designed to stifle creativity or choke off new revenue streams but to clearly mark the boundaries of such projects. "The important point," ASME Executive Director Marlene Kahan told Advertising Age, "is to not fool the reader."
Of course, it's not only the editors and readers who lose if the line is blurred; advertisers lose as well if they damage the very consumer bond they are trying to exploit.
We're particularly glad ASME put some bite behind its bark. The editors' group already has disqualified one magazine's National Magazine Awards nomination for violating guidelines. It stands ready to take similar action against, or even expel, others that flagrantly violate the rules.
In the end, this is not about a battle between editorial and advertising. Aggressive protection of editorial independence, across all media, is the only