Ethics in Business and Journalism
Ethics in Business and Journalism
  • Matthew Weigand
  • 승인 2009.09.08 22:10
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A magazine should be eternally locked into a 3-way tug of war

Ethics is truly a sticky subject - everybody wants to see it but nobody wants to talk about it. And, in a cross-cultural publication such as this one, it can become even more unpalatable, since ethics can be a sticky subject indeed between cultures. However, sometimes, one must bring it up, or nothing could ever get accomplished.

That is one way to look at ethics, actually - a system of rules in order to accomplish something. The practical approach, one could suppose. Everybody needs a certain amount of predictability in life in order to undertake larger projects. In a wild, uncontrolled environment, people can only manage the small things in life - food, shelter, occasional entertainment. But when you get a large body of people together following one code of conduct, things become more predictable. If they are predictable enough then people can start getting some spare time. They can use this spare time to undertake larger projects than the basic grubbing for life - they can get an education, drive to their grandparents house without dying, and visit other countries.

In business there are certain codes of conduct which should apply to either profession. Some of these codes of conduct are supposed to be enforced by law, and some are unwritten laws of the profession. When they are ignored, or bent, bad things happen. The global financial crisis that has been plaguing the world this past year can said to be a result of a breakdown of ethics. Financial companies, while adhering to enough letters of the law to not get caught, violated the spirit of the law in which they should uphold the trust of their clients and creditors. This violation of trust and violation of ethics eventually broke down into chaos, confusion, and economic ruin for millions of people, many more than had violated the code of ethics in the first place. The system broke down, people didn't do what they were supposed to do, and now nobody's happy.

The same can be said for journalism. People expect certain things from newspapers, magazines, and other editorial content. Publications are in a unique position - they are at a nexus of many different stakeholders (to borrow a loaded business term). On one hand, they have advertisers, who are interested in getting word of their product out to a large number of people quickly and willing to pay to do so. On the other hand, they have readers, who are interested in informative, trustworthy news. On a third hand - because most publications are freakish monsters - they have writers, who are interested in getting their opinions or facts out to a large audience.

A good publication must strike a balance between these three forces. The advertisers give money to the publication, and in turn they want to control the publication as if it were their own. The readers also pay for the publication, but much less. They trust that their larger amount of numbers buys them some measure of power against the advertisers, because they are interested in what the advertisers are not - informative, unbiased news. The writers buy a stake in the publication by contributing their words to it, and they trust that their words will reach a large audience and be heard. A good publication will weigh these three forces against each other and keep them all in check with each other.

A bad publication, however, will give in to one of the three forces and forget about the other two. When this happens, a repeat of the global financial crisis happens on a miniature scale. It is miniature, of course, because no publication touches as many lives in the world as the global financial system, but it is a crisis nevertheless. The advertisers might go elsewhere, the readers might evaporate, or the writers might submit their content to another place. Any of these three can break a magazine. Without a careful balancing act, the magazine is broken. It is something that must be watched out for carefully.

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