Magazine editors and publishers are trying to circle the wagons against advertiser attacks on editorial integrity. From where we sit, they didn't quite close the circle with the joint statement released late last month by Magazine Publishers of America and the American Society of Magazine Editors. Their declaration leaves a gap through which advertiser demands will continue to flow.
Much was made of the united front presented by editors and publishers. What's overlooked is their statement was apparently weakened during negotiations to formulate a positioning acceptable to both sides.
The joint statement declares magazines should never give advertisers an early look at stories, photos or tables of contents for upcoming issues. In truth, few advertisers have made such blatant demands (their pressures come in more subtle forms), and the fact that publishers and editors had to go out of their way to denounce the practice is a sorry enough statement on the "new realities" of publishing.
The two groups, however, agree that magazines can "inform advertisers about a publication's editorial environment or direction." In other words, feel free to tell an advertiser there's a story coming up that goes against the advertiser's content guidelines, perhaps by including graphic descriptions of sex or violence. Just don't let the advertiser actually read the article before publication. If that's a line in the sand, it's pretty blurry.
Compare the joint statement to ASME's strongly worded solo statement in June, which expressed "deep concern" about "a trend among some magazines to give advertisers advance notice about upcoming articles." ASME warned "such early warnings may be mistaken by advertisers as an invitation to pressure publications to alter articles in accord with advertisers' wishes."
That's the real problem, and the joint statement doesn't address it forcefully enough. As long as advertisers continue to issue detailed content guidelines, and to insist on favorable editorial environments, magazines will be under pressure to bow to their demands.
There's a simple formula that has worked for magazines for more than 200 years. Editors edit magazines. If readers like them, they buy them. If marketers want to reach those readers, they advertise in them.
Michael Pepe of Time Inc., quoted in The New York Times, issued an eloquent defense that should serve as the industry's joint statement on integrity. "The moment that a publishing team loses courage," he said, "either on the editorial side or the publishing side, is the moment that the franchise begins to decline."
Television broadcasters, having consigned the Advertising Council's PSA campaigns to fringe-time exile, have come to their senses. Their new commitment to the council, unveiled last month, preserves a 50-year tradition of broadcaster service to the public through airing of the council's ad campaigns. It also preserves the council for everyone else in advertising as a proud-and successful-example of the entire industry's contribution to public service work.
Continued TV industry support-through primetime exposure of council campaigns-is critical to the council's future. To win it, the council will change its ways. Even "public service" ads must produce some pay-back for today's network or station "brand," so the council will now take individual TV outlets on as partners and tailor campaigns for their exclusive use. The council regains precious TV exposure for its public service clients. In return, TV executives can stop looking like they thumb their nose at the public by shunning the