The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.

This small six-letter word packs a whole lot of meaning behind it, particularly in the PR and journalism world.  These professions both present unique and challenging ethical issues, but it is fundamental that as professionals we protect our integrity and adhere to the rules of conduct that have been created.

Recently, I found myself questioning these “rules of conduct” specifically related to working with journalists. Over the years the separation of church and state between editorial and advertising, mostly in working with trade media, has been blurred. For example, shortly after I began writing this blog post today, a colleague informed me that an editor from a trade media outlet (which won’t be named) responded to a media event invitation stating that unless our client purchased advertising space, they would not be attending the event or covering the company’s announcement. Hmm, where exactly is the separation there?

Separately, I recently experienced another situation that made me question ethics in journalism. A freelance writer for a reputable trade publication was assigned to write a feature article on my client’s new product.  While ordinarily this would have been great, the fact that the freelance reporter was also a sales manager for a direct competitor made the interview less than ideal.  Come to find out, my colleagues have recently experienced the same issues with different clients. How can a reporter publish an unbiased article when they work for the competition?

Journalists are not the only ones that need to adhere to ethical standards. To be successful PR practitioners and protect the integrity of our industry, we must also be accountable and follow the PRSA Code of Ethics. Fundamental values like advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity are the key pillars for our ethical practice and interaction with clients and the public. Like journalists, there are many PR professionals who have broken the code of conduct, such as the communications team at BP around the oil spill where they posed as journalist and doctored photos.  

Have you witnessed PR professionals or journalists break the code lately?

— Deana Goodrich is a senior account executive at Airfoil Public Relations, a high-tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.