Saturday, September 13, 2008

Copywriting v. Journalism and Ethical Considerations

A question about ethics came up recently on a Yahoo list for copywriters. Heather thought my answer might be helpful to others with similar questions, so here it is.

The situation: A business hires a freelance writer to write a profile of their company, and asks the writer to submit it to a magazine.

The question: Is it ethical?

It depends. There's copywriting, and there's journalism. Writers who do both are ethically and morally obligated to know which hat they're wearing.

1. If you're writing a company profile for the company, you do the best job possible for that client. Writing a promotional piece *as if* it is objective reporting is doing a service to your client (the company, not a magazine publisher). The whole point of an advertorial is to get people to read it, so it shouldn't look like an ad.

2. If you are a journalist working for a publication, you will never take payment from the subject(s) of the articles. That would be a conflict of interest and a HUGE ethical no-no. Now, if the editor wanted to run that company profile, knowing what it is and who you're working for, that's up to her. (They do it with press releases all the time.) As long as you don't misrepresent it as objective reporting. And if you REALLY want it to be nice and clear, the client should submit the profile to the magazine. Then there's no question.

Writers have the ethical obligation to clearly be working for either the client or the publication - NEVER both. There may be more to it than that (i.e., should you ever write a reported piece that includes a company you once wrote advertorials for?), but in the context of what we've been discussing, that's the basic difference.

Questions? Comments? Objections? Let me know. We should all strive to maintain a spotless reputation, in my opinion, not only for the good of our careers but just because we're great people.

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