B2B Journalist Ethics: An ASBPE Guide to Best Practices

ASBPE Guide to Best Practices


Business-to-business (B2B) publications, online and in print, exist to serve their audiences in the specialized fields they cover, while being financially viable businesses themselves. To provide the publication’s service effectively, editors must maintain editorial excellence and the trust of the communities they serve. These goals are accomplished through constant attention to reader needs and on a publicly expressed dedication to such journalistic principles as:

  • accuracy,
  • fairness,
  • balance,
  • full attribution to sources, and
  • clear separation of reporting from analysis and opinion, and of editorial from advertising content.


These ethics guidelines are an integral part of ASBPE’s dedication to strong online and print journalistic principles and high standards, which the organization instills in its Awards of Excellence program, conferences, online operations, chapter meetings, and other programs.

The guidelines are nonbinding on ASBPE members and others. However, ASBPE reserves the right to cite a disregard of the guidelines as grounds for disqualifying entries in the ASBPE Awards of Excellence and may use the guidelines to discuss or call attention publicly to a publication’s or an individual’s behavior.

Ethics Guide Transparency

ASBPE urges business, trade, association, and professional publications to adopt some ethics code, whether ASBPE’s or not. ASBPE also urges publishers and editors to make their ethical standards transparent, both for internal staff, and externally for readers, advertisers, and others in their markets. Your publication’s ethical standards or guidelines ought to be published on your Web site.

ASBPE’s Web site offers links to the codes of selected journalism organizations and B2B publishers.


Conflicts of Interest

Only the editorial staff should make final editorial decisions. In all ways, editorial coverage must be based primarily on reader needs in the view of the editors. Ideally, this judgment reflects a clear mission statement agreed to by the publisher.

All dealings with non-editorial personnel — including public relations representatives and story sources — should be conducted with the clear understanding that no preferential editorial treatment should be expected from the interaction. It also should be made clear that the journalistic principles stated in the Introduction and elsewhere in this guide will be followed.

Contacts with Advertisers and Advertising Sales Staff

Editors should never be held responsible for soliciting advertising. If they do accompany ad sales personnel on calls, it should be with the clear mutual understanding that the meeting won’t result in preferential editorial treatment. The following should govern the role of an editor as it relates to advertising:

Productive Editorial – Advertising Relationships

Editors should have a productive working relationship with the publisher, and with sales personnel from the online or print publication, about business matters. Editors may refer potential advertisers to ad sales staff and consult with ad sales staff on story ideas. However, it is imperative to make clear to everyone at a publication that final decisions about editorial content rest with the editor, while final decisions about advertising sales rest with advertising sales staff.

“Editorial Calls.” When editors are asked to accompany the publisher or sales staff on an advertising visit, the occasion may be identified to all participants as an “editorial call.” Agenda items may include discussing industry trends, explaining editorial policy and direction, or describing the readership. For any specific discussion of advertising matters, editors should not be present.

Story Leads. If advertisers recommend story ideas or leads, editors should make it clear that they will make an independent judgment about possible usage, based on their analysis of reader needs.

Advertising Negotiations. Editors should not participate in any advertising discussion with a potential advertiser, including in such matters as contracts, ad schedules or payment negotiations. And at no time during negotiations should a publisher or other marketing representative guarantee editorial coverage of an advertiser’s products or services, or assistance by an editor in preparing advertising-related copy.In the case of an advertiser-sponsored section or supplement for which content originated with the advertiser, editors should not be involved. If content originated with the editorial staff, advertisers should not be involved.

Job Titles. Sales and business personnel should never use job titles that seem to describe an editorial function. If the editor/publisher title, or one similar, is used, the individual must make clear to the advertiser whether the individual is acting as editor or publisher, and must ensure that editorial, advertising, and corporate responsibilities are kept separate.


Treatment of Advertisers, Public Relations Personnel, and Sources

Favorable editorial coverage or preferential treatment in an article must never hinge on the prospect of ad sales, financial gain, or other factors that are not related to editorial integrity.

Article Previews. Generally, non-editorial personnel should not be allowed to preview an unpublished article. Exceptions – allowed to assure the technical accuracy of material – include previews for experts, editorial advisory board members, or other sources who will receive no benefit from the article.This guideline also applies if a company or public relations person suggests an article. However, when a source or a company is referred to in an article in which they participated, it may be acceptable for the editor to ask that the source review quotes or sections to ensure accuracy and clarity. (Also see Section II-A, Fact-Checking.)

Editorial Review. While the publisher is responsible for ensuring that advertising and other sponsored, non-editorial content meets high ethical standards, editors should review these materials to ensure that guidelines in such areas as separation from editorial look, feel, and placement are followed. An editor who has ethical objections to such content should alert the publisher about the objections.

No Quid Pro Quo. There should be no trading of advertising for editorial or editorial for advertising.

Public Relations Personnel. These guidelines outline preferred procedure in dealing with public relations personnel during the preparation of material for publication.

If the contact involves arranging for an expert author to produce an article, at an editor’s request, the author should be identified as a guest contributor, with company affiliation and job title clearly listed. The article provided should meet all editorial requirements set by the editors, and should be edited in the manner of staff-generated or freelance-contracted content.

Public relations personnel may be asked to help arrange contacts with key sources.

When an article idea originates in a public relations department, it is logical for editors and reporters to seek more details from this and other sources.

When additional interviews are needed, public relations practitioners may help make appointments and advise editors on appropriate personnel with whom to speak. To avoid undue influence on the interview subject, however, editors should discourage participation of public relations personnel in the actual interview.

Public relations personnel are logical sources to provide editors with suitable illustrations, photographs, or other “art” to accompany articles, as well as company and copyright clearance for those illustrations, photographs, or other “art,” or for designated personnel to speak to the editors, when needed.

When the same person handles advertising and public relations responsibilities, the editorial staff should seek an alternative source to avoid a conflict of interest.

Advertisement Adjacencies, Use of Trade Names in Editorial, Product Placements, and Advertising Design

Generally, a print advertisement should not appear next to related editorial, to avoid the appearance of partiality or advertiser involvement. Exceptions include buyers’ guides, directories, annuals, or ad-sponsored sections or supplements.

Where appropriate, it is preferable to use generic names of products or services in editorial. When product names are mentioned in editorial material, the trade name alone should be used, without trademark and similar symbols, and capitalized to show that the name is a proper noun.

It is not acceptable to receive paid or implied compensation to mention a brand or place the picture of a product in editorial content. Nor should advertisers be preferentially provided a contextual link in an online story unless it is germane to the editorial content; for example, were the advertiser a news source or provided some information that can be read in its entirety on the advertiser’s site.

All advertising should have a design different from editorial matter, at least in typeface and layout. Advertisements that may be confused for editorial content should be clearly labeled at the top of the advertisement with the word “advertising,” “advertisement,” “sponsored by,” or similar designation, but never the word “advertorial” or similarly confusing terminology.

Regarding a publication’s front cover, in print or its online home page: Because cover or home-page advertising may raise concerns about the publication’s credibility, such advertising must be approached carefully.

“False covers,” designed to resemble genuine editorial format, should not be used, nor should teaser blurbs that refer to advertiser-sponsored sections or supplements.

A full-page cover ad that includes a magazine’s logo, whether a false cover or not, represents a conflict of interest, suggesting that the publication supports or endorses a product or service. Such commitment to an advertiser of what traditionally is regarded as editorial space may create the impression that editorial content inside the publication also has been sold.

Gifts to Editors and Writers

Generally, editors and writers should not accept gifts from editorial information sources, advertisers or prospective advertisers, public relations personnel, or agents acting on behalf of these parties. Further, editors should explicitly discourage such gift-giving. If gift-giving is an established custom, or is otherwise difficult to avoid completely, these guidelines apply for acceptable gifts.

Modest, souvenir-type gifts commonly given out at press affairs or conferences, or distributed to large groups of editors or individual editors during traditional gift-giving seasons, are generally acceptable.

Modest gifts sent to a large number of B2B editorial staff are generally acceptable, although even a modest gift sent to a single B2B editorial staff member should be avoided.

Money or lavish gifts for single B2B editorial staff member or a select few are not acceptable.

Avoid acceptance for personal use of “samples” or gifts of items, products, services, or other valued commodities that are or may be the subject of editorial mention.

In the case of samples or copies of books or software being provided — for products reviews or for use in the publication’s understanding of a subject, for example — it is advisable to return them after use or to dispose of them. Expensive products provided for such editorial use should always be returned.

A publication should pay or split the cost for meals purchased in the course of discussing editorial matters with a source, a public relations representative, or an advertiser.


Travel, Entertainment, and Junkets

In the case of transportation, lodging, entertainment, and personal expenses incurred in connection with editorial coverage, the publication or an editorial staff member is responsible for payment. There may be exceptions, however, including the following:

Junkets. In the case of group press affairs attended by editors from more than one publication – so-called junkets – payment is optional if the offer to pay expenses is extended by the information source or advertiser/vendor to all participants. In covering such events, common sense should be applied in avoiding any perceived favoritism or conflict of interest.

Speaking Engagements. This section considers both work-related and non-work-related situations.

Work-related. In speaking engagements at an association, company affair, or conference, accepting reimbursement of travel expenses is optional if the engagement is a direct part of the editor’s job. Editors may not accept speaking fees for talks related to their editing function, since the speaking engagement is considered part of the editor’s work or job description.

Non-work related. If speaking engagements are outside the editor’s job function (e.g., relating to a hobby or other non-work interest) and would have no negative impact on the editor’s publication or company, the editor may accept fees or other compensation.

Expenses. If someone other than the publication has paid travel and other expenses, the publication should disclose the payments to the readers if coverage results from the travel.


Outside Activities of Editor and Staff

The lives of editors and other publication employees outside the workplace can also reflect on their professional lives. Here are several areas where editors must be especially careful of conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts:

Other Employment. Editors and other staffers should not write, work, or consult for, or otherwise contribute to, competing online or print publications, or those publications’ companies, except as permitted by established and authorized business relationships. In doing any freelance work, editors should inform a supervisor, and abide by their companies’ applicable rules. Editors should not hold other non-journalism positions that could represent a conflict of interest with an editorial position.

Investing. Editors and staffers should not invest in, or hold stock of, any company that they will cover or be likely to cover. This constraint generally does not apply in the case of investments held in a mutual fund or a 401(k) plan, or in similar plans that benefit the editor and other group members, and over which the editor does not control sales of individual stocks or other financial functions by which they might gain personally. A prominent holding that could be seen as a conflict of interest, however, is best to avoid in any situation.

Editors should abide by all applicable laws addressing insider trading information.

Editors should never encourage investment decisions that reflect material in, or prepared for their publications, or involving a company that advertises in the publication. (In the case of publications that normally offer investment advice, apparent conflicts can be addressed with a disclosure that there is not preference given to advertisers.)

Actual or potential conflicts from investments of any kind made before an editor’s employment should be disclosed to the proper superior immediately so that appropriate safeguards to avoid conflicts can be instituted.

Political, Community, and Business Activities. Editors should be free to participate in civic, political, business, or religious activities that do not present a conflict with coverage or do not lead to a compromise of trust or respect for the publication.


Working with Freelance Writers and Non-Employee Bloggers

In cases involving non-employees who provide online content, such as blogs and news material, the above standards of conflict-avoidance also should apply. Where bloggers have relationships with companies about which they write, a disclosure should be added to explain the connections.


Standards for Editorial Operations

The constant attention of editors is required to make sure that the entire editorial function, from preparing material for online or print publication to offering a chance for readers and others to respond after the fact, is conducted fairly and in the readers’ best interests.



Print and online editors must be diligent fact-checkers of all material, either staff-written or extracted from other sources. Never assume that information drawn from other media is accurate, including reader comments to blogs, and information on digital social media platforms.

Especially when reporting legal matters, it is advisable to review actual court documents rather than using information from sources or from press releases.

Publications should maintain a system, independent of the original reporter and editor, for checking facts in all printed editorial material.


Anonymous Sources

Sources generally should be identified for readers, except, for example, if it is necessary to protect a source from the repercussions of speaking to the reporter. If cited anonymously, use the most complete and accurate description of the source possible and consider publishing the reasons for granting the anonymity.

When anonymous sources are used, top editors may request that a writer — either staff editor, freelancer or other contributor — provide the identity of such sources if that is deemed necessary.



The same guidelines governing regular staff should apply as well to paid or non-paid contributing writers, editors, or artists. Editors should respect the right of freelancers to work for other publications, although editors are entitled to discuss limitations, so that the same contributor doesn’t have bylined work appearing in a competing publication, for example. (Also see Part I-G, Working with Freelance Writers.)



In the case of any research, rankings, “best of,” or “worst of” awards, buyers’ guides or similar editorial products, conflicts of interest must be avoided. Editors should determine the best mix of staff and outside resources to ensure the neutrality of the judging, and the appearance that the judging is fair.

As in any editorial content, care must be taken to confirm that all research methodology is valid and reliable. A clear and complete discussion of the methodology, including methodological and analytical limitations, should be published to allow the reader to make informed judgments about the validity, reliability, and value of the content.


Feedback Mechanisms

Editors should ensure that their publications are accessible to readers, and should arrange for appropriate online and print feedback, which is treated responsibly if published. These standards apply:

Contact Information. Publications should provide a range of ways for readers to offer feedback, including by mail, e-mail, and telephone.

Letters to the Editor. Space should be provided online or in print for letters or comments. Editors should make every effort to verify their authenticity. They must also identify the letter’s author except when disclosing the author’s name may cause demonstrable harm to the writer.

Corrections. Corrections, clarifications, and retractions should be noted online and printed in the next available issue, in a regular, consistent space that is easy for the reader to find in the front of the publication or, in the case of a Web site, the home page.

While it is best to place these corrections, clarifications and retractions in the same area of the publication in each issue, in the case of a major correction it may be appropriate to place it at least as prominently as the original material containing the error.

In the case of confirmed errors in an online posting, such as from a non-contract blogger, the posting should be immediately corrected, or deleted with an editor’s explanation of the action taken. (Also see Sections IV-H, Corrections, and V-D, Correcting Errors.)

Internal Complaints. Staff and other internal suggestions and complaints about a publication’s operations, ethics, or quality should be taken to the editor of the magazine or online operations. If the issue is not resolved through discussion with the editor, the publisher should be informed.


Graphics and Photography

Both online and in print, graphic materials must be prepared with the same care and concern for accuracy, fairness, balance, and attribution as the text component. Copyright ownership and permissions to publish must also be respected. The integration of the graphic and text components, so vital to the overall ability of a publication to present material fully and fairly, must also be done responsibly, to ensure readers’ trust.


Photographs and Photo Illustration

Care should be taken not to modify photographic material in ways that might mislead the reader.

Labels. Photographic illustrations or other computer-generated photos or illustrations should be clearly labeled as such.

Alterations. Whenever content of a photograph has been altered in a major way that may be taken by readers as misleading, the extent of the alteration and the technique should be clearly explained in a caption/cutline or credit line.

Photo credits should be published.


Charts and Graphics

Information graphics (e.g. tables and graphs) should include an explanation of research methodology and give the source. This applies as well to graphics obtained from third parties. Special care should be taken to assure that the charts and graphics are reliable, and fairly and accurately portray the material in the article. (Also see Section II-D, Research.)


Use of the Publication Logo

The publication’s logo should never be used for promotional materials unless the advertising is for a product connected with the publication, such as a conference. The logo may also be used in conjunction with buyers’ guides, directories, annuals, or with contests or competitions that have the editor’s approval and do not mislead readers or jeopardize the integrity of the magazine.


Digital Publications: Web Sites, Blogs, E-Newsletters, Digital Magazines, and Webinars

Digital media’s increasing prominence presents editors with an expanded array of ethical considerations. Some involve long-standing practices in the print world that have to be re-stated in the digital context, for example, regarding the role of the editor as a marketer. Other considerations relate to the kinds of content that digital media specifically presents. Further, in digital media the relationships to readers, authors, and advertisers may require a review of editors’ ethical positions.

Even when digital media’s ethical principles are not different from those for print media, the principles may need to be established with individuals both inside and outside the company who haven’t been exposed to them before. Editorial teams bear the primary responsibility for educating their own company’s staff and should explore ways to do that in a non-adversarial way. Beyond the traditional publisher/sales teams, editors should seek ways to educate other teams that influence content and content presentation, such as search-engine-optimization specialists, software developers, and product managers.

The arena of online ethics is constantly evolving, and we expect to update these guidelines on a regular basis. The following guidelines are recommended:

Editors should remain in control

The editorial department should control a publication’s digital editorial content, including on its Web site and in blogs, in e-newsletters, and digital magazines. Standards such as accuracy, attribution, fairness, balance, and clear separation of editorial from advertising that have applied to printed editorial material also apply to digital publishing.

Who controls the digital publication should be stated explicitly on the publication’s home page, or on a page linked from there. Publications should list an email contact for readers having concerns or complaints about the fairness or accuracy of a story. Such emails should be checked regularly and answered promptly.

All editorial pages should carry the publication’s title and logo, placed prominently.


Identify Advertising Content

Care should be used online, as in printed material, to avoid placement of advertisements in a way that could compromise editorial integrity or confuse the reader. Print standards for clear distinction between editorial content and advertising apply here, e.g. labeling and design. (Also see Sections I-C, Advertisement Adjacencies, and VI-B-1, Labeling and Appearance.)

Image-based advertising, whether still or video, should be sufficiently set off from editorial text to allow the reader to distinguish between the two. Web sites should not accept image-based advertising that closely resembles editorial content in look and feel, unless the advertising is labeled with “Advertising” or an equivalent phrase.

This extends to micro-sites, special site sections, or other Web pages whose content is controlled by advertisers. These sections should have a unique look and feel and be labeled as advertising.

Purely textual advertising, such as customer-provided content known as native advertising, should not be presented as editorial. The fonts and layout used should be distinct enough to set it apart. The content should be labeled as advertising.

When advertiser content is presented in search results or in any lists of links for readers to read, they should be identified as such. Best practice is to “bucket” them in separate, labeled groups, such as “From our advertisers.” The minimum standard is to label them as advertiser content.


Approve Hypertext Links

Editors should have final approval over all contextual links within editorial content. These should not be sold to advertisers.

Any links within text that are advertising driven should be displayed in a different manner than editorial contextual links, through the use of different underlining or colors. Readers should be able to tell they are advertising before clicking through the use of hover text or other means.

Approve Hypertext Links

Whether for editorial or advertising information, hypertext links used in editorial content should be placed at the discretion and approval of editors.

Advertising and sponsored links should be clearly distinguishable from editorial, and labeled as such, which may also contain the publication’s editorial content, with appropriate disclosures provided. Such disclosure may include a “use with permission” statement or similar language.

Contextual links within editorial content should not be sold. If an editor allows a link, it generally should not link to a vendor’s Web site, unless it is pertinent to the editorial content or helpful to the reader. [Paragraph D revised May 7, 2007, by vote of the Ethics Committee.]


Disclosure Policies

Web sites should state clearly their editorial (and advertising and sponsorship) policies for readers including whether, how, and why information is gathered from readers, news sources, vendors, advertisers, associations, government, and other information-gathering means, including cookies, and provide users a way to opt out of any use he or she wishes to decline.

Terms of service and privacy policies should be prominently placed or referenced, easily accessed, and easy to understand.

Publications should state whether user information is provided to any third parties, including the publications’ subsidiaries and business partners, and allow readers to easily opt out of such information sharing.

Provide complete editorial contact information, including a means by which the community can contact specific staff members directly with questions, corrections, or other input. Contact information may include e-mail, regular mail, telephone, and fax.


Blogs and Other Online Features or Publications

These should be clearly labeled, easily found, and have easily understood user guidelines, including general rules, etiquette, privacy issues, and related policies. Statements concerning expected decorum and the control of an editorial moderator or supervisor over the blogs or other online discussion forums should be explained.


Editorial-controlled webinars: The editor has full and final control of the topics, speaker selection, webinar agenda, and other relevant matters.

Editors may seek and accept advice about all matters as they deem appropriate and are the final decision-makers on webinar matters (including the selection of an advertiser or potential advertiser as a speaker.)

Sponsorships or advertising for editorial webinars may be sold, but sponsors are not allowed to preview the content of the webinar (in much the same way as they would not see a preview of a print publication before advertising in it.) In an editorial webinar, sponsors may be thanked by the moderator and given some time to present information about their companies.

Non-editorial-controlled webinars: The editor does not have full and final control of the topics, speaker selection, webinar agenda, and other relevant matters.

This lack of editorial control might be due to a publisher’s decision to control the content and speakers or the publisher giving that control to a sponsor or advertiser or other non-editorial person. Thus, advertisers might pay to have their representative included as a speaker or even determine the webinar topic.

Even if the material presented is instructive in nature, such webinars must be treated as paid or bartered content (e.g. similar to special print advertising sections/supplements. (Also see Section VI, Single-Sponsored Issues.) Editorial staff members must not be directly involved in the creation or production process. Further, editors should not participate in the “live” webinar, including introducing, moderating, or speaking. For non-editorial-controlled webinars, the publisher or a member of the sales staff, or other non-editorial staff person is the appropriate choice for moderator.

In any webinar, all non-editorial-controlled or paid/bartered content must be clearly identified and distinguished from editorial-controlled content in a manner consistent with Section VI-B, Single-Sponsored Issues, Special Advertising Sections and Supplements.



Corrections should be made within 24 hours of notification of an error, and noted in the original material as well as in a separate correction section, if one is employed. The correction should include any needed explanatory information.

To maximize exposure for the correction, consider carefully whether to issue the correction on other social media, or via your Web site or by email.

Consider having a policy for “requests to un-publish.” (Also see Sections II-E-3, Corrections, and V-D, Correcting Errors.)

Social Media

Social media are important tools for gathering information for your audience and sharing it. As online and print publications become more involved with using Internet-based mechanisms for story leads, and to allow members of their audiences to communicate with one another, and with the publication, standards for this social media use should be as strict as they are for the B2B publication itself.

For example, when using social media on behalf of the publication, adopt the same approach to transparency, verification of information, attribution, and prompt issuance of corrections that apply to the publication.

Further, individual representatives of a publication should identify themselves as journalists, act in a professional manner, and should clearly differentiate between fact and opinion — their own or others’ — in their social media posts.


Among the guidelines that should apply:


Reputational Considerations

Be aware of the potential dangers from blending personal and professional activities, as is common in social media. Everything posted on social sites has the potential to influence both the publication’s credibility and the individual’s professional standing.


Editorial Use of Social Media Material

No matter how widely the material is disseminated, information taken from social media requires verification, and a source’s identity and level of responsibility in some cases requires confirmation and reporting. This includes documents and Web sites that you link to.

Refrain from spreading unconfirmed information, regardless of whether other journalists or news outlets have shared the reports. (You do not know how well they confirmed the same information).

When using information gathered in social media sites, or elsewhere online, follow copyright law and “fair use” provisions.


Chat Groups

When entering a chat group for professional reasons, reporters should identify their affiliation and say how they intend to use information gathered. Consider that any joining of a chat group might imply to observers that a reporter’s participation in that group favors that constituency above others. Where competitive groups exist, the publication drawing on one such group should consider joining all groups.


Correcting Errors

All digital publications should have a policy – easily accessible from the home page of the Web site – for social media corrections.

When inaccurate information is shared in a social media site, acknowledge it promptly and visibly in the social medium originally used. To maximize exposure for the correction, consider carefully whether to issue the correction on other social media or via the Web site or by email.

Corrections should be made within 24 hours of notification of an error.

Take steps to delete the information as technically reasonable. For example, Twitter apparently allows for deleting tweets by the original person, but cannot delete re-tweets or information posted from tweets elsewhere. (Also see Sections II-E-3, Corrections, and IV-H, Corrections.)


Single-Sponsored Issues, Special Advertising Sections and Supplements

Special advertising sections and supplements, and single-sponsored issues, are a normal part of business, but must be handled responsibly.

Single-Sponsored Issues

Labeling and Appearance. In the case of an advertiser sponsoring an entire issue, full disclosure must be made of the relationship in a prominent part of a publication’s pages, e.g. the cover, table of contents, or in a special introduction by the editor or publisher. Special care and explanation must be given to readers to avoid the appearance of editorial content being affected by the sponsorship.

Use of the Logo. In a single-sponsored issue, the publication’s logo may be used, but the editorial content must be held to the same standards that apply for a non-single-sponsored issue.


Special Advertising Sections or Supplements

Labeling and Appearance. All advertising should have a design different from editorial, at least in typeface and layout. Special ad sections and supplements should be clearly labeled with the word “advertising,” “advertisement,” “sponsored by,” or similar designation. The words “advertorial” or “infomercial” confuse the readers about the nature of the material, and should be avoided.

Use of the Logo. The publication’s logo may not be used with a special advertising section or supplement.

The Editorial Role. While the publisher is responsible for ensuring that these materials meet high ethical standards, editors should review the materials to ensure that guidelines in such areas as separation from editorial look, feel, and placement are followed. An editor who has ethical objections to such content should alert the publisher about the objections. (Also see Section I-B-2, Editorial Review.)

A senior-level editor may work with sales personnel to ensure that no conflict exists between the advertiser-sponsored content and editorial content. Thus, the editor may suggest topics for the sponsor, but the publisher or the sales staff should be the ones to communicate these suggestions to the sponsor. (In other words, the editor should not directly communicate with the advertiser.)

A publication’s editorial staff should not write, edit, design, or lay out special advertising sections or supplements. This role should be handled by:

a freelancer hired by the sales staff or publisher or

a separate non-editorial department.


Conferences, Trade Shows, and Sponsored Contests

Ancillary products/services offered by publications, including the operation of publication-sponsored contests and rankings, present potential threats to the reputation of your publication. Editors should assure that high standards apply in these areas.

Editorial Duties

At conferences and trade shows, the editor’s primary duty is to collect news, learn industry trends, attend press conferences and program sessions, obtain articles, and meet with writers, readers, and other editorial sources. Caution should be taken at such event not to give preferential editorial coverage to advertisers.

Keeping Contests Transparent

Rules and judging criteria should be fair and explained fully, and prominently featured, and sponsors and contest judges should be identified clearly in the publication.

Contest or Ranking Results

These should not be changed at the request of anyone in order to reflect an outcome different than what actually resulted, for example, to gain advertising or to make an advertiser look better in the marketplace.


Nonprofit, Membership, Professional, and Trade Association Publications

Some industry publications are published by nonprofit professional or trade associations with a mission that their readers or members expect them to promote. When such publications also offer their readers information and advice about their industry, following this guide will help them maintain reader trust, legitimacy, and balance.

Addendum: Guidelines for Association Editors

To better serve association editors, ASBPE has approved guidelines that will become part of this Code of Preferred Editorial Ethics. The new best practices were developed in partnership with the Society of National Association Publications (SNAP).

Association publications need guidance to maintain standards of objectivity within the context of the association’s mission. “The goals of publications and the associations they represent are one and the same,” said Robert Freedman, senior editor of Realtor, published by the National Association of Realtors, who oversaw the effort between ASBPE and SNAP to write the new language. “Editors serve their associations best by ensuring high standards of objectivity in their publications, because with high standards comes the credibility that redounds to the associations’ benefit.”

Six issues addressed

These guidelines cover six individual subject areas: objectivity and association goals, ghost writing for association staff and officers, content review by association staff, content sources, online forums, and other association communicators. Three representatives from ASBPE and three from SNAP drafted the language in late 2008.

Representatives from ASBPE were Jeanne LaBella, vice president of publications, American Public Power Association; Erin Pressley, editor in chief, the NACS Magazine, National Association of Convenience Stores; and Freedman. Representatives from SNAP were Chris Durso, executive editor of Convene, Professional Convention Management Association; Apryl Motley, editorial director of Community Banker, American Bankers Association; and Amy Lestition, executive director of SNAP.

Reconciling association goals with journalism objectivity

One of the principal ways an association publication is unique within the journalism field is the primacy of its parent association’s mission.

The publication exists to advance that mission, and it can best perform that function by developing a reputation for credibility and objectivity in the delivery of its content.

When it enjoys such a reputation, it exerts influence over its audience separate from the influence of its parent association.

Thus, it should be possible for an association publication to take an editorial position on issues that are consistent with the mission of its parent while still fostering trust among its audience groups by weighing all sides of issues and by including voices of opposition in its coverage.

Supplying content on behalf of association officers, staff, and members

Although it is not a recommended practice, it is not uncommon for editors to draft columns, editorials, blog posts, and other publication content on behalf of officers, staff, and members of the association.

Neither is it uncommon for editors to craft quotes for insertion into news and feature articles and other publication content on behalf of officers, staff, and members of the association.

It is appropriate for editors to use this ghost-written material as long as the content is validated by the person under whose name it has been written.

It is also a practice for editors to insert into publication content quotes and other material written by association staff on behalf of officers, members, and other association staff.

When editors use ghost-written quotes and passages from other association material, such as press releases, speeches, podcasts, videos, and presentations, they should provide appropriate attribution to the source material.

Editorial review of publication content by other association staff

Association staff are often experts in their field on issues of concern to the association. Because of that, it is not unreasonable for editors of association publications to seek expert review of editorial copy from their colleagues in other departments within the association and in for-profit and nonprofit subsidiaries.

Such review by association experts should be limited to questions of accuracy and should not include matters of tone and position on issues.

Editors should manage this technical review process and have the last word on what appears in the publication.

Sources of editorial content

It is not uncommon for association staff to enter into alliances or work on projects with other entities and public agencies.

In some cases, association staff offer editorial space in the association publication to the other entity or public agency as part of the alliance or project agreement.

It is also an accepted practice for associations to bundle together benefits of association membership into a package made available under an “associate,” “service,” or “affiliate” member category. In some cases, a bundled package of benefits includes making publication editorial space available to that class of member.

In any instance in which editorial space is offered to an outside entity or type of member, editors should have the final word on the inclusion of any such content in the publication.

Using material from online association member forums

Many associations maintain member forums, chat rooms, listservs, blogs, and other vehicles through which they seek to build active member communities online.

It is common practice for associations to provide a disclaimer informing users that the venues are public forums and that anything written in them is publicly available for use elsewhere, including association publications.

Editors using material from these venues should, as an upfront courtesy, inform the person who submitted the material and include appropriate attribution to the venue.

It is acceptable to maintain the anonymity of the person who submitted the material if that is the preferred attribution.

Other association communicators

Thanks to innovation in technology, association staff other than editors have access to cost-efficient and user-friendly tools for producing e-mail and print newsletters, audio podcasts, Web video, and other communications media.

As the staff professionals whose editorial expertise represents their value-add to the association, editors should encourage non-editor communicators within the association to be sensitive to the kinds of issues of objectivity that concern editors.

Editors should thus encourage non-editor communicators to familiarize themselves with the ethical issues discussed in this code of ethics and the rationales behind the recommendations.


Realizing that new ethical challenges are always arising — including those that reflect technological changes — ASBPE maintains an Ethics Committee to consult with members in using these guidelines, to issue statements as situations warrant, and to recommend revisions as they become necessary.

Through the committee, whose members have their contact information posted at the www.asbpe.org Web site, ASBPE welcomes recommendations on how these guidelines can be made clearer or more relevant.

In preparing this guide, ASBPE studied the ethics statements of numerous journalism associations, business-to-business publishers, educators, and consultants, as well as the desires of the ASBPE membership.

ASBPE especially acknowledges the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Business Media, American Society of Journalists and Authors, American Society of Magazine Editors, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, Association of Health Care Journalists, the Canadian Association of Journalists, IDG, The New York Times, Pennwell, Poynter Institute, Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Society of Professional Journalists, Society for Technical Communication, Paul Conley, Jeff Seglin, and David Shaw.

This August 2013 update replaces the ASBPE “Guide To Preferred Editorial Practices,” as revised in September 2010, June 2008, and May 2007. These versions have amounted to substantial rewritings of the initial November 2000 ASBPE “Code of Preferred Editorial Practices.” The guide is available to anyone at www.asbpe.org.

Publications are welcome to adopt this guide or to use it along with the codes of other organizations.

Source: ASBPE