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In a mature agricultural industry served by ever fewer suppliers, a fixed number of publications must compete for the available advertising dollars.

Such economic pressure puts those in charge of placing advertising orders in a very powerful bargaining position. This can result in pressure to relax ethical publishing standards.

The current trend for some advertisers is to create advertising messages that look like regular editorial copy or are placed "just right" to take advantage of a given piece of promotional material, with the belief that the advertisement will be more readily accepted if it looks like regular editorial copy.

The unintended results of such practices can be reader alienation and mistrust of publications, which have, in the past, commanded tremendous respect. In fact, the very credibility desired by those trying to manipulate article position and appearance is the first casualty when those short-term desires are met.

The result: Everyone loses. Still, the attempts at controlling editorial decisions by way of advertising purchasing decisions continue — and probably always will.

With a number of increasingly common publishing practices, such as cover wraps, unmarked advertorial copy and ad placement demands, that would have been rejected outright in the past, the American Agricultural Editors' Association (AAEA) decided it was time to review its code of ethics.

"Early in 2005, I appointed an ad hoc committee to look at our existing ethics, what problems might exist in today's market with those standards, and what business publishers in other industries were doing concerning publishing standards," says AAEA President Dan Crummett. "That committee returned with a report recommending the adoption of existing American Business Media (ABM) standards, which cover publishing practices and the responsibilities of reporters and editors to maintain an ethical separation from 'the sales office.' "

At its April meeting, the AAEA board voted to accept those standards and embark upon an educational campaign to familiarize publishers, advertisers and agency personnel with the various standards — and reasons they should be followed.

The result has been an increased awareness of the need to maintain editorial integrity, despite the continued tight financial times in ag publishing. Also, it has fostered an ongoing conversation within the industry that will continue to focus attention to the fragility of editorial credibility, Crummett explains.

"Adopting a code that we, the ag media, can support as a whole is an important first step, but our work is far from done," says Karen Simon, a member of the AAEA ethics committee. "We need to create industry-wide opportunities for everyone to understand why it is so important to preserve our ethical integrity. For accountability systems like a code of ethics to work, they must affect every aspect of the publishing industry — writers and editors, publishers and the sales force, advertisers and their agencies, and the farmers who read agricultural publications."

Following its adoption of the ABM "Editorial Code of Ethics," AAEA representatives met with the ABM Agri-Council, which represents the agricultural publishers who are responsible for the business side of their media organizations. "After we heard the AAEA presentation, reviewing the code, and a full discussion about in the council, our members also adopted the code," one publisher on the Agri-Council reports.

"I think this is a very good thing for our industry," the publisher says. "All publishers now have a common set of rules to abide by, which takes the pressure off of any one publisher. Advertisers also now know what those rules are, so they can plan accordingly. And, most importantly, our readers are served with the highest quality editorial content." To review the code of ethics, go to: , access the committee link, then access the editorial link and scroll down to the pdf. For a printed copy, e-mail your request to: j.holden@

1. Maintain an appropriate professional distance from the direct preparation of special advertising sections or other advertisements.
2. Not accept payment of travel and hotel expenses in the course of performing editorial duties from any source other than their employers.
3. Editors must never permit advertisers to review articles prior to publication.
4. The words : "advertising," "advertisement," "special advertising supplement" or similar labeling must appear horizontally at or near the center of the top of every page of the section.

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