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
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
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
These editorial balancing acts are not restricted to the national
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
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