CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/EDITORIAL INTEGRITY - When advertisers seize control of the editorial reins. Is a publication's editorial integrity at its advertisers' mercy, Jeremy White asks

The moral pillar of journalism is editorial integrity. The concept

is simple enough. No matter what may be threatened, nothing will divert

a publication from objective, disinterested reporting.



On the ground, though, this can get a little complicated - and more than

a little painful.



Last week, five major advertisers were reported to have pulled their ads

from The Sunday Times in response to unflattering editorial directed at

their profession.



The paper had claimed over a series of articles that the investment fund

industry was, among other things, 'cheating' small investors with hidden

charges. This is said to have been too much for the investment fund

big-hitters Schroders, Perpetual, Invesco, Threadneedle and

Aberdeen.



Times Newspapers' director of advertising, John Trickett, maintains that

he is unaware of any boycott. 'No fund manager has spoken to this

office,' he says. 'I'm not sure that it's true.'



However, Trickett adds that such behaviour would hardly be

unprecedented, and is something he has already experienced during his

time at the Evening Standard. 'It is an advertiser's licence to do

that,' he says. 'It's also editorial licence to write what they wish.

These things do happen.'



Steve Goodman, MediaCom's group press director, agrees: 'I've known it

happen with a number of clients in our portfolio where if the editors

are insensitive to the clients, then they run the risk of losing those

clients.'



These editorial balancing acts are not restricted to the national

press.



According to Justine Southall, the publisher of Eve magazine, glossy

monthlies are more beholden to advertisers.



'The national press are in a more precarious position when it comes to

advertisers because they are making news,' she says. 'The nature of our

content doesn't tend to be as potentially provocative.



We are more sensitive to advertisers in the glossy monthly sector. There

would be potential to write, for example, a very damaging piece on the

beauty industry if you chose to. But you wouldn't. So much of the bread

and butter of the glossy sector is based on the beauty market.'



Would the might of advertisers stop Southall if the story were too good

to pass up? 'It's all a matter of degrees. There's a line we all tread

between being commercially aware and sensitive and producing a magazine

with integrity that has something to say. If there were an area that the

magazine felt strongly about and there was a very good story

there ... then we would run it.



'On Eve we have a close bond between sales and editorial and in

magazines generally it tends to be closer than on the national

press.'



However, such a relationship can come under unexpected strain. In 1994,

Revlon's chairman, Ron Perelman, pulled his company's advertising from

all Hearst magazine titles after a piece in US Esquire about his then

companion Patricia Duff. Revlon claimed the decision was due to

unhappiness at the positioning of its ads, but would this explain the

boycott lasting for five long years?



Goodman thinks that editors should exercise more caution: 'They need to

think carefully about tackling certain issues without upsetting too much

of the hand that feeds them. They might say 'Oh, we need total editorial

integrity', but sometimes that has to be tempered with the fact that

they have a business to run.'



'Some advertisers hold a lot of power,' Goodman continues. 'I've heard

of a situation where an advertiser rewards publications on the quantity

of positive editorial that they get. It can go on.'



But what about the exalted editorial integrity? 'That's the party line

to a degree. Editors do think carefully sometimes about what markets

they are going to upset. It's unlikely that they are going to upset a

market that is particularly valuable to them.'



However, when such upsets do occur, advertiser and publication still

usually find a way to kiss and make up.



'There's normally a period of purdah,' Mike Ironside, the managing

director of The Mail on Sunday agrees. 'Eventually, you do deals with

people. Time is a great healer and you tend to do business with these

people again. It's not normally the case that you have so vehemently

affected their business that you can't.'



Southall adds: 'With an article like The Sunday Times piece, which has

every reason to be run, it's very hard to minimise the potential damage

of that. But you can go to the advertisers and inform them in advance of

it running and attempt to manage the process.'



Stuart Taylor, the advertising director for Guardian Newspapers, sees an

opportunity to be had from such potential disasters: 'When a client acts

petulantly and blames someone, they could be denying a very important

truth they were unaware of. In the past, we've had a disagreement over

an editorial line which has led to a meeting of minds and respect for

each other's point of view.'



According to Southall, an advertiser too quick to stamp its foot can

often end up shooting itself in it: 'By pulling the ad, you are suddenly

creating a much higher profile for the feature than it may have had. The

very thing they are trying to dissuade people from doing comes to the

fore.'



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